January 26, 2024
📰 FEATURE STORY
Does the Rabbit R1 signal the end of smartphones?
If 2024 is going to be the year of AI, then we await the devices and products that will integrate AI into some or many of its core functions. Household appliances could be the next big bet for AI. In the smartphone world, Google and Samsung are betting big on AI. They’ve integrated it into several of their apps and functions.
But what if there’s about to be a world where there’s no smartphone? What if it’s a small device that does a bunch of functions just using voice commands? That’s the Rabbit R1. Will it go beyond smartphones? Or will it become just another voice assistant like Alexa?
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called the R1 the “most impressive launch presentation” since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007. This impressive launch happened earlier this month at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
This year is a big one for technology. Amidst all the hype about Apple and its Vision Pro headset and other smartphone and AI advancements, a relatively unknown Los Angeles-based technology startup called Rabbit unveiled what some called the most exciting launch at CES. The announcement video has garnered millions of views online and had people buzzing.
Rabbit founder and CEO Jesse Lyu no longer believes the smartphone is intuitive. It was a bold way to begin his presentation. He then unveiled the $200 pocket-size AI device called R1. It’s a standalone gadget with a 2.88-inch touchscreen, a rotating camera to take photos and videos, and a scroll wheel/button to press to navigate.
The product is co-designed by Teenage Engineering, which designed the Nothing Phone. It runs on the RabbitOS based on a large action model (LAM). This means it can perform tasks on the user’s behalf. That means apps can be used without needing a smartphone. The company is ambitious and talked about the R1 performing basic tasks, from quick internet searches to complex ones like grocery shopping, booking an Uber, finding a recipe, etc.
Here’s how it works. The R1’s AI foundation trains personal AI assistants called “rabbits” to replicate a user’s typical app and web interactions. Since there aren’t traditional apps, the device connects to services through an online portal.
Unique product design doesn’t come around too often. Perhaps the last great one was the iPhone launch. It ushered in a new world in smartphone design and capabilities. Since then, the line between software and hardware has blurred. There are more advanced devices on the market today. The question is, is the R1’s launch on par with the iPhone’s, in terms of impact? Is this the future and not smartphones?
VIEW: It’s one to watch out for
The device and launch certainly got people buzzing. The company announced that its initial 10,000 units and the second batch were already sold out. The device is perhaps somewhere between a smartphone, without the traditional design elements, and voice assistants like Alexa, but it’s with you everywhere. Functions like internet searches and booking rides can be done on smartphones. However, the R1 is meant to be a less intrusive and more focused digital experience.
Perhaps the USP of the R1 is the LAM, designed to be adaptable. It can learn and interact with new applications in addition to the pre-installed ones. This training aspect makes it versatile. It means the company didn’t have to convince developers to support the R1 and build many Application Programming Interfaces.
One of the themes of technology and hardware manufacturers this year is likely to be better integration with existing OS like iOS and Android. With smartphones getting bigger and bulkier, perhaps the next revolution will be something much smaller. Most companies and their AI-powered devices connect to a chatbot. The R1 is more like a super app. Think of it this way – what ChatGPT is to web search, Rabbit OS could be to the app store.
COUNTERVIEW: Too many unknowns
The broader question of whether it can replace smartphones seems easy to answer – no. For starters, it’s unclear what the company’s vision is for the R1. It’s not as powerful to replace a smartphone. While the company says the Rabbit OS has been designed with security and privacy, users still need to log in to some of their most used services through its interface.
Plenty of the R1’s functions and capabilities sound good on paper, but there are too many caveats. Many of its promised functions, like searches, booking cab rides, or shopping, have yet to be shown full-fledged. Some have called it just a glorified Google Assistant or Siri, but it’s small and orange. One example Lyu talked about was Photoshop. What if someone wants to remove watermarks from photos in an album? While it takes about 30 seconds for the OS to process and perform the task, how will it work with many users on multiple devices and platforms?
Also, who’s to say Siri or Alexa won’t do all the things the R1 does in the future? Given the rapid advancements in AI and learning models, even Lyu believes the device could just be a software offering. Also, AI agents, which the Rabbit employs, could be used to pursue dangerous goals, as outlined by a paper published by the Center for AI Safety. Some of the R1’s ideas might have their merits, but perhaps the reality is that most consumers don’t need this device. More intelligent phones would do.
- The Rabbit R1 is an AI-powered gadget that can use your apps for you – The Verge
- Rabbit reimagines the digital experience with AI-powered R1 device – Dezeen
- What Is The Rabbit R1 AI Assistant And Why Is Everyone Going Crazy For It? – Mashable
- How design drove $10M in preorders for Rabbit R1 AI hardware – Fast Company
- Startups Are Racing to Create the iPhone of AI – Time Magazine
- Why the Rabbit R1 might be the first meaningful departure from smartphone design – Creative Bloq
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Rabbit R1 could signal the end of smartphones.
b) The Rabbit R1 doesn’t signal the end of smartphones.
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