AI everywhere: will AI gadgets eventually replace your smartphone?


Snake Oil is getting a digital upgrade as tech companies increasingly begin their sales pitch or promo video with, "Is your smartphone stealing your attention?" This is usually followed by another nudge aimed at making you feel guilty by saying, "Would you like to break free of your smartphone addiction and doomscrolling to be more present in your life?"

Of course, you’ll nod in agreement to questions designed only to have one logical answer. But alarm bells should go off after being told that an AI-powered gadget will help you break free from your smartphone and cost just $699.

Smartphone manufacturers and makers of AI trinkets will make many promises in the months ahead. Every new device will automate tasks and help you work faster than any human without AI at their fingertips.

New concepts around how we interact with technology will emerge. Some will master the user experience, and many more will be put into room 101 with other out-of-favor technologies that failed to secure the adoption of another tech, the Metaverse and NFTs. Here are the most talked-about devices that we have encountered this year.

Humane's AI Pin: ambitious goals, real-world challenges

The AI Pin from Humane has generated a mix of reactions, underscoring the challenges and opportunities inherent in developing cutting-edge technology.

On the one hand, the AI Pin is a bold attempt to redefine our interaction with technology. It aims to reduce screen time and enhance convenience through voice control and gesture-based commands. Its ability to project images onto the hand and function independently of a traditional smartphone shows potential for future innovations.

However, this vision has yet to materialize fully. Reviewers like Marques Brownlee highlight the product's significant shortcomings, such as poor performance, frequent errors, and practical inefficiencies, suggesting that the device often fails to deliver on its promises. Additionally, its high cost and the necessity for a separate data plan further complicate its value proposition.

On the other hand, the AI Pin's ambitious goals also reveal critical flaws that need addressing. Reviewers have pointed out its unreliable performance, with tasks often executed slower and less accurately than existing smartphone functionalities. Issues like poor battery life, overheating, and visibility problems with the laser display in bright light have been common complaints. Furthermore, the lack of integration with existing smartphones and the absence of bespoke apps limit its usability.

Despite these setbacks, Humane remains committed to improving the device, suggesting that the AI Pin is the beginning of a longer journey toward creating a more seamless and integrated AI experience. The mixed reviews underscore the growing pains of pioneering new technology, highlighting the potential for transformative impact and the immediate need for significant refinements.

Humane envisions the AI Pin to manage tasks like sending messages, setting reminders, and looking things up. At the same time, traditional phones remain the go-to for activities like watching videos and scrolling social media. But why would anyone spend an additional $699 on an AI PIN and an extra data plan when you can have GPT-4o on your phone?

From hype to reality: the Rabbit R1 journey

Earlier this year, The Rabbit R1, heralded as the best-selling AI device to date, made waves in the tech community with impressive preorder numbers and substantial revenue. Jesse Lyu, Rabbit's founder, proudly announced at the launch that the R1 stands out as the only native AI device that doesn't require a subscription, unlike its competitor, Humane's AI Pin.

This competitive edge, coupled with the allure of cutting-edge AI functionality, positioned the R1 as a promising product in the rapidly evolving AI market.

With over 100,000 preorders and more than $20 million in revenue, the initial business outlook seemed robust, suggesting a bright future for the R1. However, the reality of the Rabbit R1's performance has yet to live up to its early hype. Early users and reviewers have encountered significant issues, including a buggy interface, short battery life, and a need for more basic functionalities.

Critically, Mishaal Rahman revealed that the R1's interface is powered by a single Android app, raising questions about the necessity of the dedicated hardware. This revelation has led to comparisons with Humane's AI Pin, with some suggesting that both devices may fall into the unnecessary tech category.

Despite these challenges, Lyu remains optimistic about the R1's potential, emphasizing ongoing updates and future enhancements that could eventually fulfill the device's ambitious promises.

Jony Ive and Sam Altman's ambitious AI hardware project

The Rabbit R1 and the AI Pin bring a new type of AI interaction by allowing users to operate phone apps on their behalf. This innovation hinted at a future filled with AI-driven devices, including the rumored "iPhone of AI" from Jony Ive and Sam Altman.

However, while these devices promise to revolutionize our interaction with technology, the reality is that we already have advanced AI capabilities integrated into our daily devices, like iPhones and Android handsets. These existing platforms are faster and more consistent in handling tasks, suggesting that new AI hardware must offer significant advantages to justify their existence.

Reports have emerged that Jony Ive and Sam Altman are collaborating on an ambitious new AI hardware project, seeking a staggering $1 billion investment. Their vision is to create a groundbreaking device distinct from smartphones, though details remain scarce.

Despite the challenges, the project has attracted interest from notable investors, including Laurene Powell Jobs. This venture could set the stage for a significant shift in AI technology. Still, it will face stiff competition from established tech giants like Apple, which is already enhancing AI features in its upcoming iOS updates. As the landscape of AI hardware evolves, the success of these innovative devices will depend on their ability to offer unique and compelling user experiences.

Can AI gadgets truly replace smartphones?

AI gadgets promise a transformative shift in how we interact with technology, offering benefits that could significantly reduce our dependence on smartphones. These devices, designed to handle specific tasks such as managing notifications, setting reminders, or controlling apps via voice commands, can streamline daily routines without the distraction of countless app notifications.

By focusing on functionality rather than screen engagement, AI gadgets like the AI Pin or Rabbit R1 allow users to stay present and minimize the cognitive load associated with traditional smartphone use. This shift would promote better focus and productivity and align with growing research advocating for more mindful tech interactions.

The unique form factors of AI gadgets also introduce exciting new ways to interact with technology. Unlike smartphones, which largely remain rectangular touchscreens, AI devices incorporate innovative features such as gesture-controlled projectors and analog interfaces. These novel interactions make tech engagement more intuitive and enjoyable, adding a layer of convenience and fun.

For instance, the Rabbit R1's scroll wheel and the AI Pin's laser ink display projector provide fresh, engaging alternatives to the standard touchscreen experience. But if you look beyond these sales gimmicks, can it really replace the smartphone?

Why AI trinkets may end up in your tech drawer

AI gadgets are marketed as tools to keep us from being overly absorbed in our phones, promoting staying present and using our devices less frequently. However, the sales pitch often needs to include that paying $700 for a slow and clunky AI device makes little sense when the smartphone you already carry can perform the same tasks more efficiently.

2024 will be remembered as the year of the AI phone. But it also highlights that our current smartphones remain indispensable and are here to stay. Ironically, these shiny new AI gadgets can become yet another unwanted distraction.

The simplicity of carrying just our phone and a pair of headphones with us when leaving the house will take something special to undo. Despite what AI gadget makers will tell you, the best gadget you can currently purchase is the one you already own. If your goal is to reduce phone usage, simply keeping your phone in your pocket or at home can achieve this without spending $700 on a device that might be forgotten in a drawer along with a Microsoft Zune.