While listening to the wonderful Hard Fork podcast, my ears perked up when I heard them say that some people think the Humane AI Pin will fail, but a bunch of product types and engineers and saying “there’s a lot of amazing tech in there.” To the host’s credit, he then said that both sides can be right. You can have a product with great tech that still fails. Sign me up for that point of view.
For those that don’t know, the Humane AI Pin is a magnetic computer you affix to your shirt. It has a camera for seeing the world and a speaker for talking to you. The best summary for a product like this is simple: “what if Siri was great?” In the demo, two people speaking different languages can have a conversation because the pin hears each person and translates the text into the other’s language. The pin can see that you’re holding almonds and tell you how much protein is in them. You can ask the pin to look things up for you on the internet and it will return answers. It’s an AI-based, voice-based, internet-connected, $699 computer with a camera and a laser projection system you pin on your shirt like a Star Trek communicator.
When things like this come out, I am usually on the enthusiastic side of the spectrum, and nearly everyone I know is more on the cynical side. When iPod came out, I bought one immediately. Same with iPhone and Nintendo Switch. I am an early adopter. I overlook the warts in products when I see something useful somewhere underneath it all.
Another important detail to know about me is that I am not a gadget hound. I do not collect hardware. I don’t keep the original packaging. I do not have nostalgia for old technology. I don’t care about technology for technology’s sake. If I think a product will address a need that I genuinely have, I will buy it. If it’s just some neat gadget, but I can’t actually fit it into my life, I notice pretty quickly and give up. I feel this way about Android, Raspberry Pi, Miracast, Microsoft’s Surface products, Siri, Playstation VR, Smart Home stuff, etc.
So that’s the background. What do I think of the Humane AI Pin? Simple:
- Everyone can benefit from a better Siri
- There are scenarios where you are hands-free, like driving
- Audio is an extremely low bandwidth communication channel
- No one wants to navigate hardware with a laser projection
- No one wants to give up their phones
- Therefore this product will fail
Being able to talk to a really fantastic Siri has legs, as a concept. What if you could set a phone on the table and have a great conversation translated for you in real time? Or show some almonds to the camera and have it tell you the amount of protein? Or get detailed results from the internet in a conversation, the way the audio version of chatGPT can? All of those scenarios sound great, and will be coming, either via first or third party apps. But none of them require abandoning your phone and using an entirely different piece of hardware. In fact, in each situation, the Humane AI Pin makes it harder than it needs to be, not easier. And for any scenario that is even slightly complex, like ordering dog food, becomes much harder when you have to do it blindly using only voice.
The best example of their myopic product vision is how they’re handling music. Because the pin has no apps, you have to rely on whatever apps they bundled via partnership deals. Did they get Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon Music as a partner? No. They got TIDAL, a partner and experience that will appeal to practically no one. Whereas if they had accepted that people like their phones, and expect their hardware to augment rather than replace them, it’d be a whole different product. A better one. One that might not fail.
Instead we got this.