Humane (hu.ma.ne) debuted a connected pin that leans into the power of artificial intelligence to give consumers access to digital content and services through voice-, touch-, and gesture-based interfaces. The pin’s price is $699 and requires a $24 monthly fee (plus possible taxes and extra fees) to cover cellular access through T-Mobile and related services. The launch is well timed given the explosion in interest of natural language, generative AI, and OpenAI’s first developer conference. Here’s a quick overview of key features.
From its announcement, Humane’s Ai Pin:
- Leans heavily into AI (many varieties) to use voice (primarily) to control the device.
- Is about the size of a smartwatch, but there is no screen. It does have a camera.
- Ships with a second battery. Total battery life is unknown and will depend on the use.
- Projects monochrome images (i.e., “Laser Ink Display”) on surfaces such as the palm of your hand to display simple content such as time, text message, temperature, alerts, and more.
- Uses the camera to offer computer vision capabilities (e.g., “How many grams of protein are in the almonds in the palm of my hand?”).
- Depends on an off-device portal for the user to customize the services. The portal is called the Humane.center service.
The idea that this device would replace a smartphone is a fun and provocative headline but is a distant and — in the near term — unlikely aspiration. I don’t have firsthand experience with the device. Following are a few initial impressions from reading the press and watching the demos. Keep in mind that demos are demos — they show the best features without showing us the frustration of the learning curves, setup, etc., that it takes to get a device up and running. What impressed me:
- The engineering and processing power in the small device is incredible. Humane has created a combination of hardware and services that resemble early smartwatches built by large well-resourced corporations. The engineering tradeoff between features and functionality versus size, battery life, speed, etc., are always hard. My favorite portion of the demo was the use of computer vision to estimate the number of grams of protein of the almonds in the hand. Many previous devices (e.g., Amazon Fire) struggled with quick computer vision due to more limited processing power and network speed.
- It offers a great demo of an early version of a reactive virtual assistant. We expect virtual assistants to understand us, including our needs, intent, different voices, and more. The Ai Pin demos showed use of context gained and retained from earlier interactions. Doing so simplified the voice or language needed to control the device or get access to information. For example, one could say, “What is my next meeting?” rather than using command language to invoke a voice assistant to ask “What time is my next meeting? Who is it with? How long does it last?” A more proactive virtual assistant would anticipate my need to tell me what I need to know.
- The demo showed us a new paradigm for engaging with digital experiences. Brands have trained consumers to come to them when they have a need (i.e., visit their website or app) and do the heavy lifting of navigating through menus to find what they need. The use of natural language creates shortcuts for consumers in the right scenarios. For example, imagine asking your bank app if your check has cleared or if a vendor has received payment, rather than opening an app and scanning lines and lines of transactions to find just the one you want. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (who is also an investor in Humane) showed similar demos from OpenAI.
The Ai Pin won’t see mass market adoption in the near term. Here’s why:
- The device doesn’t yet offer enough utility at this price point. The smartphone (which 95% of US online consumers own) has been the “it” device for nearly 20 years due to the combination of utility and price point. The smartwatch (which 26% of US online consumers currently own) has been working its way toward being that “must-have” device for at least a decade, and it still isn’t quite there. Consumers expect these connected devices to be their identity, to support payments, and to help them navigate, communicate, transact, track workouts, and more. Humane likely intentionally set the price points high to get a few into the market, test, learn, and continue to evolve its product. Consumers who pay service fees are also more likely to be committed to the device or service.
- Conversational interfaces aren’t the only ones we’ll need. It is important to match the interface to the customers’ needs. Conversational interfaces such as text-based chat or voice create tremendous efficiency when the assistant (i.e., machine) understands our intent and can help us with a verbal answer or picture. If a consumer is shopping for a new car or camera, they may want to see side-by-side comparisons of the features of the device. If a consumer is designing their annual holiday card, they’ll want to see the layout and adjust color, font, messaging, and more. Also, spoken words won’t always be possible given the situation (e.g., consumers may want privacy in public spaces) or the ability of the consumer to articulate their specific need.
- Consumer comfort with conversational- and gesture-based controls is still nascent. Consumers will need time to change their behaviors and adjust. Forrester believes that consumers’ propensity to use interfaces progresses from awareness to adoption, usage, comfort, and, ultimately, preference. Currently, just 23% of US online adults are comfortable using voice to access information, and just 13% prefer to use voice to control connected devices. Consumers will need “hands-on” experience and time with new interfaces to develop this comfort level. Humane doesn’t yet have the advantage of a physical retail distribution footprint to demo to consumers live.
- Consumer confidence in the longevity of the device and company has yet to develop. Consumer devices come and go, even from the largest and most well-funded companies (e.g., Amazon’s Halo, Amazon’s Fire smartphone, Microsoft’s Kin mobile phone). Consumers will question whether Humane is committed to being a consumer (or enterprise?) device company long term. Or is this a proof of concept of new interfaces that remind us of things only possible in science fiction from 10, 20, or 50 years ago? Ultimately, will the operating system, developer tools, and IP be the value that the company creates?
A few additional questions that you may be asking as a business:
- Can I build services for this device? No — not yet, at least. The Ai Pin runs on a proprietary operating system (Cosmos) focused on AI. This OS is not yet open to third parties. The introduction of a new device does remind us that the number of digital touchpoints that consumers have to access content and services continues to grow. It also reinforces the importance of more natural or conversational interfaces.
- Which device represents the future: the Apple Vision Pro — or the Ai Pin? The answer is both. When consumers are focused on entertainment or education, they will lean into more immersive experiences. When consumers need quick answers or peace of mind, they’ll seek convenience and efficiency. They’ll even expect brands to anticipate their needs and serve them proactively. My smartphone has the technology to tell me when I need to go to my gate at the airport. The Ai Pin can tell me when I need to be at the gate if I ask it. This Ai Pin might become the “must-have” device when it becomes the Remy from the movie “Ratatouille” to each of us (e.g., helping us get to where we need to be on time, coaching us on what to eat to meet our nutrition goals, teaching us to ride a bike).
- Should I buy one of these devices and try it out? I can’t predict its longevity in the market. I would like to use one to experience use cases firsthand. But at a minimum, you should find ways of trialing conversational interfaces to get a sense for what they do well today and what they don’t. By experimenting with devices or services that use conversational interfaces broadly, you can better internalize how good they are at understanding intent, offering helpful answers efficiently, and more. You can get firsthand experience with the efficiency of natural language and how it might transform how your customers want to interact with your brand.
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