No Rabbit Out of the Hat

Sadly, it sounds like Rabbit's R1 AI device sucks too
Rabbit R1 review: nothing to see here
This device is nowhere near the super-smart assistant we were promised.

Well, so much for David Pierce seeming to like the Rabbit R1 device more than he did Humane's AI Pin:

Over and over in my testing of the R1, I’ve run into moments like the taco encounter, where the whole thing just feels broken. It misidentified a red dog toy as a stress ball, then as a tomato, then as a red bell pepper that it assured me is totally safe to eat. I’d start playing a song on the R1, and then the device would stop responding but keep playing so that I couldn’t even pause it or turn the volume down.

For a while, the R1 couldn’t even tell the time or the weather. Rabbit finally fixed that with a software update on Tuesday, and the company promised many more updates to come — though now, instead of the weather being wrong by thousands of miles, it gives me the weather from about 15 miles away. I guess that counts for something.

A software update to be able to tell the time. Why did Rabbit ship this?

Ever since the R1 debuted at CES, with a keynote filled with big promises and impressive demos, this device has been sold as a super-clever, ultra-helpful AI assistant. Rather than just answer ChatGPT-style questions, it was supposed to do just about everything your phone can do, only faster. A few months later, this device on my desk bears no resemblance to the one we were told about, that more than 100,000 people preordered based on promises and demos.

That last bit is the key here to me. It's nice that the R1 is $199 and not $699, but at the end of the day, I'm not sure how much that actually matters if both are essentially paperweights. Or soon to be. The fact that Rabbit allowed 100,000+ people to pre-order this device and then shipped it in such a state is borderline criminal.

The long and short of it is this: all the coolest, most ambitious, most interesting, and differentiating things about the R1 don’t work. They mostly don’t even exist. When I first got a demo of the device at CES, founder and CEO Jesse Lyu blamed the Wi-Fi for the fact that his R1 couldn’t do most of the things he’d just said it could do. Now I think the Wi-Fi might have been fine.

While Pierce appreciates the cute/fun design of the R1 (MKHBD did not, for what its worth), you'll recall that design is also how something works. Or in this case, doesn't. But if you squint, perhaps you see what this too could have been:

Without the LAM, what you’re left with in the R1 is a voice assistant in a box. The smartest thing Rabbit did with the R1 was work with Perplexity, the AI search engine, so that the R1 can deliver more or less real-time information about news, sports scores, and more. If you view the R1 as a dedicated Perplexity machine, it’s not bad!


There’s a handy note-taking and research device somewhere inside the R1, I suspect.

To that point, actually: my single favorite feature of the R1 is its voice recorder. You just press the button and say, “Start the voice recorder,” and it records your audio, summarizes it with AI, and dumps it into the Rabbithole. $200 is pretty steep for a voice recorder, but the R1’s mic is great, and I’ve been using it a bunch to record to-do lists, diary entries, and the like.

The latter here sounds similar to what Limitless is trying to create with their pendant. The former is basically what it feels like the first versions of these devices should have been, as I wrote last month:

But there are perhaps ways to play here, it just likely has to be at such a smaller scale and scope to start. To pick on Humane again – and, to be clear and fair, they were working on their project long before the explosion of ChatGPT onto the scene – I probably wouldn't do an AI pin with a camera to start (and certainly not with a superfluous projector!). I would probably start with a super simple voice-only pin. One that's tied to your phone which you're going to have on you anyway. You tap it, you ask it questions, you get your information, you go about your day.

Yes, an Apple Watch can do something similar now, but the advantage there can be leveraged as a weakness too: because that device can do so much more and is better known as a health tracker and/or notification device, whereas the AI element via Siri is largely a laughing stock, a new AI pin could be billed as just a simple, fun way to interact with AI at a tap. That's it. That's the product. It's almost like a toy. And that's the point. And that's the path.

Ultimately, Pierce concludes:

Lyu and the Rabbit team have been saying since the beginning that this is only the very beginning of the Rabbit journey and that they know there’s a lot of work left to do both for the R1 and for the AI industry as a whole. They’ve also been saying that the only way for things to get better is for people to use the products, which makes the R1 sound like an intentional bait-and-switch to get thousands of people to pay money to beta-test a product. That feels cruel. And $199 for this thing feels like a waste of money.

It will really be sad if these poorly shipping AI hardware startups poison the well for everyone. To the point where Meta maybe the only hope (or not)?