AI Pin by Humane pricked by poor user reviews

15 April 2024

Fans of Star Trek series The Next Generation will be familiar with the communication devices crew members used. Or should I say: wore. The small, yet high powered, long range devices, were typically attached to the shirt of a crew person’s uniform.

With a mere tap, those on the surface of a planet could contact their vessel, which was usually somewhere in orbit, and speak to whomever they desired. Instantly, and with perfect clarity. What Star Trek fan didn’t want to own such a gizmo? A wearable that actually, really, worked?

For a time, it looked like Star Trek fans might see science fiction become fact. In March 2023 word seeped out that Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, both former Apple employees, were developing, through new venture, Humane, a device reminiscent of the venerable communicator.

Chaudhri and Bongiorno intended their device, powered by AI, and aptly named AI Pin, to be far more than a simple means of two-way communication though. In addition to making phone calls, the AI Pin can send messages, make appointments, take notes, answer questions, take photos, and record video, among other things. In fact, I’m surprised Star Trek creators never beefed up their wearable communicators, considering the devices would have had several hundred years of technological development behind them, by the time of the twenty-fourth century.

But weeks ago, after a year of hype and anticipation, tech journalists were given AI Pins test units to try out. Their experiences, however, have not been much to write home about. Humane claimed the AI Pin will replace the smartphone, but as David Pierce, consumer tech writer for The Verge found, the device is presently in no danger of replacing any phone, let alone a smartphone:

I’d estimate that half the time I tried to call someone, it simply didn’t call. Half the time someone called me, the AI Pin would kick it straight to voicemail without even ringing. After many days of testing, the one and only thing I can truly rely on the AI Pin to do is tell me the time.

Making phone calls (perhaps) isn’t the AI Pin’s only capability. It is, as noted above, meant to do all sorts of other things. Answering questions, that might otherwise be asked of a search engine, is one of them. But Cherlynn Low, writing for Engadget, struggled even with this:

When the AI Pin did understand me and answer correctly, it usually took a few seconds to reply, in which time I could have already gotten the same results on my phone. For a few things, like adding items to my shopping list or converting Canadian dollars to USD, it performed adequately. But “adequate” seems to be the best case scenario.

The AI Pin does not have a screen. Instead it projects information onto your hand. Your hand also doubles as a keyboard, which is needed to enter a passcode to unlock the device. This sounds well and good in theory, but practice is another matter, as Julian Chokkattu, Wired’s review editor, notes:

I’m going to say it now: Humane’s laser projector display is never going to take off as a viable method of interacting with a gadget. It’s overly sensitive and slow to navigate. When the projection lands on your palm, you have to tilt your hand around in a circular motion to scroll through the icons until you land on the one you want to select. But tilt too much, and it moves past the icon you want, landing on the thing next to it. It’s just plain annoying. Using the projected interface to run through old text messages is also a chore — and yes, you can ask the Ai Pin to read your messages, but that’s just not going to work all the time.

It’s fair to say early reviews are not encouraging. Which is disappointing, as I had high hopes for the concept. I’d watched Chaudhri and Bongiorno’s various presentations, and was impressed by the potential of the device. But I noted many of the trials we saw were conducted indoors, in relatively quiet environments. Which made me wonder; how might the device perform outside, in stormy conditions? Could you hear what a caller was saying? Could they hear you? Of this I am not sure.

It seems to me AI Pin shipped too soon. The device just seems to have too many problems for one deemed market ready. But these are early days, for both AI Pin, and the AI technologies that underpin it, so perhaps a device that performs to expectations, will eventually come forth.


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