Humane finally actually announced their first product: Ai Pin. Here's their introduction video.
I love technology, and I think I'm generally enthusiastic about new tech that pushes things forwards. I'm enthusiastic about the ways LLMs are creating so many new things that weren't even possible literally one year ago, and I'm cautiously optimistic about products like the Apple Vision Pro, which show a new (ahem) vision of what computing will look like in the future. Hell, I even think folding phones are a very cool product category, I just wish they were cheaper. I go into these things with an open mind, and I want them to win me over because I want to be excited!
Sadly, the Ai Pin introduction left me feeling hollow. Some of the criticism of the video focuses on the presenters' slightly odd tone, but my hesitation has much more to do with the product and use cases they demoed. If I had to sum up my reaction simply, I'd say that over and over, I saw them show off a feature, thought it was okay, and then really lost interest when I thought about the user journey for a few seconds.
Although I will note the flow was strange. They opened with, "look, you can have a pocket full of batteries" before they even showed what the product did. What?
Here’s a good example, they pretended they were in a bookstore and held up a book, asking their Pin how much it was online. Apparently it was cheaper online, so he asked the Pin to order it for him. I have so many questions and concerns we've dealt with in the smart speaker e-commerce world already. What does "online" mean? Amazon? Barnes and Noble? The author's website? How much is shipping? What payment method am I using? When will it arrive? Is it new or used? Is it the hardcover, paperback, or ebook? Is it the same edition? No idea, but it's coming sometime between today and 5 weeks from now and will cost at least $28, but no idea how much more.
This is actually the same problem people have with buying things with voice interfaces already today. Years ago people thought you'd be ordering things from your Alexas, Google Homes, and HomePods, but that really hasn't taken off. A big reason is that when people are buying things, they want to know the details and have confidence that they're getting the right thing, it's being sent to the right address, and they know how much they're paying. There have been attempts to address these things in voice assistants, and they've been slow, tedious, and honestly hard to follow, while a checkout page on a screen can do all of this in a fraction of the time.
Then there were the text messages he was sending people. They specified near the end of the video that this has a completely distinct phone number, so it's not linked to your phone's line at all. I presume this man still has a phone, probably an iPhone, so not only are the messages sent through the Pin not iMessages, they're not even coming from the same number, so they're a whole separate conversation for the other person, and they're totally inaccessible from the messages on his phone. Maybe not the end of the world for everyone in every situation, but it definitely seems janky to me.
I know this isn't what Humane wants, but I kept thinking, "wow, this would be so much more compelling if it was paired to my phone," as they showed features. One example, the camera looks decent for a very specific sort of photo or video, but I bet you it's going to be manual work to get those into my actual photo library, which is a pain. Another is the separate phone number. My Apple Watch has a unique number, but it's linked with my phone so even when I'm on my watch's cellular connection, messages I dictate into the watch show as coming from the same number as all my other messages.
Then there's the way you can project the time or now playing controls on your hand. Once again I have to admit I'll wait and see, but I got real Pixel 4 Soli (or that HTC phone where you could wave your hand over your phone to skip to the next track) vibes from this.
And what's the deal with 2023 being the year of the pinch?! It feels like you can't go a few weeks without new tech product coming out that uses pinching as a prominent gesture. Was there some breakthrough in pinch detection recently or did everyone just settle on this on their own at the same time. I don't dislike it, but man, if you're user interaction doesn't involve a pinch at this point, you're falling behind 😛
Again, I want to be excited for this, and I do think it's interesting to see people experiment with new interfaces, but this product feels very much like it's for people who want to be on the bleeding edge of technology and no one else. I think people will certainly buy this, and I think some people will really like it; I hope they do! But I also think that most people who buy this will still use their phone just as much, they'll be annoyed by many paper cuts of using this day-to-day, and it will live in a drawer somewhere within the first few months. That's cynical, I know, but what can I say, I just wasn't impressed with the selling points they showed today, and I'd love to be pleasantly surprised when people get them and love them. Maybe I'll see some reviews on YouTube that show off the use cases better and I'll order one in a few months!
Oh, and before I go, I did want to call out the hardware design, which I do think looks great, and was clearly done with thought and a commitment to excellence. Whether that hardware was built around a product with real use cases is yet to be seen.