Rabbit’s R1 is a little AI gadget that grows on you

Image credits: Brian Heating

If there’s one takeaway from last night’s Rabbit R1 launch event, it’s this: hardware can be fun again. After a decade of undisputed smartphone dominance, consumer electronics are once again generating excitement. The wisdom and longevity of any individual product or form factor – while important – can be put aside for a while. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Although I leave an airport every month, last night was my first night at the TWA Hotel, nestled among the labyrinthine exits of JFK’s Terminal 5. After all, we rarely stay in the hotels where we live. The space is a nod to another era, when people dressed up to board flights and smiling chefs carved up whole legs of ham.


Image credits: Brian Heating

A rental DeLorean emblazoned with Rabbit branding was parked out front, serving as a postmodern homage to the event’s embrace of the past, regardless of decade. Less egregious was the Ritchie Valens song sandwiched between Motown hits over the elevator speakers as we traveled three floors to the underground event space.

Hundreds of attendees were already lined up by the time I arrived in the space. Familiar faces from the world of tech journalism were thinking, but a considerable number of them were enthusiastic early adopters. The two groups were distinguished respectively by “Press” and “VIP” cords. A man standing in front of me in line said he had left Los Angeles specifically for the event.

Like Humane, the Rabbit team is clearly invested in the show. The approaches are similar, but different, with the former investing a lot of money in viral videos, including an eclipse teaser which clearly saw itself as a sort of spiritual successor to Apple’s famous “1984” spot. It feels like Rabbit really didn’t anticipate just how much buzz the company’s CES 2024 debut would generate, though.

“When we started building R1, we said internally that we would be happy if we sold 500 devices on launch day,” the company said. posted on. “In 24 hours, we have already beaten this figure 20 times! »

It would have been difficult to time the release better. The hype around generative AI had reached fever pitch. Humane had revealed but had not yet released his Ai Pin. Intel declared 2024 the year of the AI ​​PC and soon, Samsung would do the same for the smartphone. Apple, meanwhile, promised big news on this front in the coming months.


Image credits: Brian Heating

When putting on a big show, a tech company also needs to dress appropriately. Another key parallel between Rabbit and Humane is its focus on product design. Although the form factors are very different, the Ai Pin and R1 demonstrate the value of industrial design. For its part, Rabbit took a page from the Nothing playbook, enlisting the stalwarts of Teenage Engineering to create a wildly original product. Indeed, the R1 looks as much like a work of art as anything else. It’s a chunky, orange object – something you might want to mount on your bike’s handlebars in inclement weather.

While the Ai Pin’s defining physical characteristic is its lack of a screen, Rabbit embraces the screen – if only modestly. The screen is only 2.88 inches and at times seems almost incidental to the cause. That goes double for its touch functionality. While, much like the Ai Pin, most of your interactions are done with voice, a combination of analog scrolling and button mostly fills in the gaps.

Beyond entering a Wi-Fi password, there’s not much reason to touch the screen. It’s for the best. The most monumental and ongoing task facing the nascent AI device space is justifying its existence outside of the smartphone. After all, anyone with a half-decent mobile device (and many not-so-decent devices) has access to generative AI models. These are currently largely accessible through browsers or standalone apps, but models like ChatGPT and Google Gemini will increasingly be integrated into mobile operating systems in the months and years to come.


Image credits: Brian Heating

When I asked Humane, co-founder and CEO Bethany Bongiorno shared the following anecdote: “(Humane’s co-founders) had gone to this dinner and there was a family sitting next to us . There were three kids, a mom and a dad, and they were on the phone all the time. It really started a conversation about what an incredible tool we’ve created, but also some of the side effects.

The Ai Pin’s lack of a screen is, essentially, a feature. Again, there are many reasons to question the wisdom and effectiveness of this design decision, but regardless, it is crucial to the product. It’s worth noting that at $199, the price justification barrier is significantly lower than the Ai Pin’s asking price.


Brian Heating

The truth is that at this early stage of the first generation, novelty is a major selling point. You either see the appeal of a dedicated LLM access device or you don’t. The Rabbit’s relatively affordable price opens that world up a bit. You should also consider that the R1 does not require a monthly service fee, whereas Humane charges you $24/month for the feature. This, coupled with the touchscreen (albeit limited) and a truly stellar design, and you can see why the product has taken a bit of wind off the Ai Pin’s sails.

Neither device swaps apps like modern smartphones do. You interact exclusively with the onboard operating system. This can, however, be connected to other accounts, including Spotify, Uber, Midjourney and DoorDash. The system can take voice recordings and perform two-way translations. The system can also obtain environmental context via the on-board camera.

One of the first tests I ran was to come up with a description of my library. I pointed the camera at a row of four bound books: “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville; “The Barbary Coast” by Herbert Asbury; “Understanding Media” by Marshall McLuhan; and “Dodsworth” by Sinclair Lewis. He universally struggled with the last book – understandably, as it was the least clear of the group.

He largely spotted and understood what he saw with “Moby Dick,” calling it a “classic” and sometimes offering a brief summary. It recognized the two middle books in 50 to 75% of cases. He also attempted to provide some context regarding conservation choices and sometimes took risks to complete said conservation.

There were times, however, where the context was a little heavy. I asked R1 when the Oakland A’s were playing (I added the city after an initial investigation so only the “A’s” showed up as “Aces”), and that gave me the game time tonight, before making a list of the next 10 or so. so the teams they play. But hey, I’ve always been a fan of A. I relish such defeats.


Image credits: Brian Heating

It’s worth noting for all of these first articles that these types of devices are designed to improve and personalize results the more you use them. I’m writing this after picking up the device last night. I’ll send it to Devin for further editing.

Having only played with the R1 for a few hours, I can definitely tell you that it’s a more accessible device than the Humane Pin, thanks to the touchscreen and the price. This doesn’t solve the cultural obsession with the screen that Humane is interested in – nor does it seem to be aiming for such grandiose ambitions in the first place. Rather, it’s a beautifully designed product that offers a compelling glimpse into where things might be headed.

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