Rabbit's R1 is a little AI-powered gadget that grows inside you

Image credits: Brian Heater

If there's one overarching takeaway from last night's Rabbit R1 launch event, it's this: hardware can be fun again. After a decade of undisputed smartphone dominance, there is once again excitement in consumer electronics. The wisdom and longevity of any individual product or form factor – while important – can be put aside for a moment. All you have to do is sit in the last rows and enjoy the show.

Although I fly out of the airport on a monthly basis, last night was my first night at the TWA hotel tucked between the labyrinthine turns of JFK's Terminal 5. One rarely stays in hotels where one lives, after all. This space is a nod to another era, when people dressed up on flights and chefs smiled Whole pork legs.

Image credits: Brian Heater

A Rabbit-branded rental DeLorean is parked outside, a post-modern tribute to a decade-old embrace of the past. Ritchie Valens' song was less evident sandwiched between the Motown tunes on the elevator speakers as we walked three floors down to the underground event space.

Hundreds of attendees were already lined up when I arrived at the venue. Familiar faces from the world of tech journalism were considered, but a large number of them were enthusiastic early adopters. The two groups were distinguished by “Press” and “VIP” stocks, respectively. A man standing in front of me in line volunteered that he had flown in from Los Angeles specifically for this event.

Like Humane, the Rabbit team is clearly invested in the scene. The approaches are similar, but different, with the former investing a significant amount of funding into viral videos, including video clips Eclipse teaser It clearly envisioned itself as a kind of spiritual successor to Apple's famous “1984” spot. However, one gets the sense that Rabbit didn't really anticipate the amount of hype the company's debut at CES 2024 would generate.

“When we started building the R1, we said internally that we would be happy if we sold 500 devices on launch day,” the company said. Published on X. “In 24 hours, we've already beaten that by 20 times!”

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It would have been difficult to time the release better. The generative hype for AI has reached fever pitch. Humane has revealed the Ai Pin but has not yet launched it. Intel announced the year 2024 Artificial intelligence computer Soon Samsung will do the same for smartphones. Meanwhile, Apple has been promising its big news on this front in the coming months.

Image credits: Brian Heater

When giving a big presentation, a technology company also needs to dress appropriately. The focus on product design is another key parallel between Rabbit and Humane. While their form factors are vastly different, both the Ai Pin and R1 are a testament to the value of industrial design. For its part, Rabbit took a page out of Nothing's playbook, contracting with the brave souls at Teenage Engineering to create a very original-looking product. In fact, the R1 feels like a piece of art as much as anything else. It's an orange object, and it's something you might want to attach to your bike's handlebars in case of inclement weather.

While the Ai Pin's defining physical feature is the lack of a screen, the Rabbit embraces the screen — albeit modestly. The screen is only 2.88 inches, and at times it looks almost horizontal for what reason. This goes double for the touch functionality. While, just like the Ai Pin, the bulk of your interactions are done with voice, with analog scrolling and button mostly filling in the gaps.

Other than entering your Wi-Fi password, there aren't many reasons to touch the screen. This is for the best. The most massive and enduring task facing the emerging AI hardware space is justifying its existence beyond the smartphone. After all, anyone with a half-decent mobile device (and a lot of crappy ones) can access generative AI models. They are largely accessed via browsers or standalone apps at the moment, but models like ChatGPT and Google Gemini will be increasingly integrated into mobile operating systems in the coming months and years.

Image credits: Brian Heater

When I posed the question to Human, Bethany Bongiorno, co-founder and CEO, offered the following anecdote: “[Humane’s co-founders] We went to this dinner, and there was a family sitting next to us. There were three kids, a mother and a father, and they were talking on their phones all the time. It really started a conversation about the amazing tool we've created, but also some of the side effects.

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The absence of a screen in the Ai Pin is essentially an advantage. Again, there are plenty of 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 barrier to justifying the price is much lower than the Ai Pin's asking price.

Brian Heater

The truth is that at this early stage of the first generation, novelty is a huge selling point. You either see the appeal of a dedicated access device to an LLM or you don't. The Rabbit's relatively affordable price point opens up this world a bit. You should also keep in mind that R1 does not require a monthly service fee, while Humane charges you $24 per month for the functionality. This, coupled with the (albeit limited) touchscreen and really great design, and you can understand why the product takes a lot of wind out of the Ai Pin's sails.

Neither device trades apps the way modern smartphones do. You interact exclusively with the onboard operating system. However, this can be linked to other accounts, including Spotify, Uber, Midjourney and DoorDash. The system can take audio recordings and perform two-way translations. The system can also obtain environmental context via the on-board camera.

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One of the first tests I did was to give a description of my bookshelf. I point the camera at a row of four volumes: Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; “The Barbary Coast” by Herbert Asbury; “Understanding Media” by Marshall McLuhan; And “Dodsworth” by Sinclair Lewis. I had a hard time engaging the last book globally, which is understandable since it was the least straightforward of the bunch.

She observed and understood pretty much what she was seeing with “Moby-Dick,” calling it a “classic” and occasionally providing a brief summary of it. The middle two books were recognized 50% to 75% of the time. I also tried to provide some context regarding curation choices and at times went out on a limb to compliment said curation.

However, there were times when the context was a bit much. I asked R1 when the Oakland A's were playing (I added the city after an initial query for the “A's” only showed up as “Ace”), and he gave me a game time for tonight, before running a list of the next 10 or so. Even the teams they play. But hey, I'm a lifelong A fan. I enjoy such defeats.

Image credits: Brian Heater

The noteworthy thing about all these early-stage write-ups is that these types of devices are designed to improve and customize results the more they are used. I'm writing this after I picked up the device just last night. I'll send it to Devin for a more in-depth write-up.

Having only played with the R1 for a few hours, I can definitively tell you that it's a more accessible device than the Humane Pin, thanks to the touchscreen and the price. It doesn't solve the cultural screen obsession that Humane is concerned with — nor does it seem aimed at such grandiose ambitions in the first place. Rather, it's a beautifully designed product that offers a compelling vision of where things might be headed.

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