March 10, 2024

The Rabbit R1 chronicles.

Chapter 5: That’s where the old folks play.

I’m noticing a small trend among people who have pre-ordered Rabbit R1: The elderly are buying them. What? People who shun technology anxious to get a Rabbit? Well, as an oldster myself I can see why. Our phones are always with us, but not really easy-to-use for those born in the pre-internet and even pre-PC days.

All the time I hear the elderly saying a family member bought them a smartphone to make their life easier. But it’s too complicated to use and they just wish they had a plain-old phone to make a pain-old phone call. Many seniors have never adapted to text or even email on their phone. More than half of those over 65 still have a land line. If they have a smartphone at all, they probably have an insane amount of apps they don’t remember installing or don’t know what they do. And there’s a distrust of virtual assistants, like the one that just start talking to you when you mention searing steak. And the worst part is that for most seniors—They feel abandoned when it come to technology because there’s no one around to help.

I’ll give you an example of the issues we elderly face. I was helping a friend in the early stages of dimentia with his iPad and iPhone. He kept entering the same incorrect password until the systems locked him out. After using his Mac to get them open, I discovered an old text conversation he thought he was having with a friend. The problem was all the messages were in blue. He was just conversing with himself and sending texts into the void. And it isn’t that he didn’t know his way around technology: He’s a licensed engineer.

It’s easy to think that those in their golden years and technology don’t mix. But I do believe that rabbit will be worthwhile for them for a few reasons:

  • Input is easy. You don’t have to deal with the tiny little letters on the onscreen keyboard. Just hold the button and say it. It’s expected that Rabbit will have great voice recognition with its understanding of natural language. That’s a necessity since the elderly’s voices can get feeble. And the powerful speaker may be a better than a screen for failing eyes.
  • No apps to lose. Once someone elderly has more apps than will fit on the main home screen of their phone, many can’t find them. An appless interface makes things so much easier.
  • Rabbit only listens when you want it to. As we get older we become less trusting, the always-listening Siri and Alexa can be scary to the elderly. A family member may have set up Siri to respond when she hears her name, but when she seems to respond out of the blue, some seniors may think she’s trying to take over their life. By contrast you have to hold the button to command Rabbit. It’s just more trustable.
  • It’s a confidence builder. The elderly can use technology when it’s not threatening to them. Rabbit is inert until you hold the button and command it. And believe me—old people are really good at telling others what to do.
  • Minimal setup The iPhone’s Settings app has become bloated and very confusing. The elderly find themselves in there (often accidentally) changing settings and then frustrated that their phone doesn’t do what it used to. In the beginning, I imagine Rabbit’s settings will be quite simple.
  • The Home button returns. Many phones have dropped the hardware Home button that used to provide an easy way to escape from the apps you’re lost in. Since Rabbit has no apps, it doesn’t have a Home screen to go back to, but the physical button returns you to command mode whenever you hold it.

As the population ages, the elderly could become a huge market for Rabbit. We’re already at the point that more than ⅓ of the US population is over 50 and despite the whining that they can never retire, the median retirement age in the US is 61. So the question is: While Rabbit is more senior friendly than a smartphone, can it fill their needs?

The three biggest issues for seniors are health, wealth and companionship. On these fronts Rabbit could likely do all the tasks that a senior’s smartphone would, like sending a photo to their doctor, checking to see if the social security payment has been deposited and paying the bills. But Rabbit’s AI/LAM capabilities jump a level over smartphones without the complications of apps. Maybe Rabbit could remind them to take their meds and then it could look over the pills in their hand to verify they’re taking the right ones at the right time. Or take a send an image of their meal to a caregiver to verify their eating right.

And I guess I should note that Rabbit’s two-watt amp and speaker are designed to play music nice and loud, whether grandma likes Bobby Darin or Iggy and the Stooges. Rabbit could truly be the assistant to the elderly that other startups don’t even have on the drawing boards yet.

But even with Rabbit’s more humane interface, the elderly will still need help with simple setup, like entering credentials and connecting to services. It’s likely that Rabbit’s Learn feature will be very useful to them eventually, provided they’re trained in how to use it.

What I think would be most helpful is Rabbit Hutches. You know—live user groups at libraries, senior centers and retirement homes for us oldsters who have Rabbits. When they see that others have the same issues and are accomplishing their same tasks, they won’t feel so lost. And getting together monthly (with tech-savvy seniors and younger volunteers) is probably the best way for them to learn and make the most of Rabbit.

I’d be delighted if I could show another senior that I can press the button on my Rabbit, say “Bring me pizza” and get my $8 Little Cesar’s senior-special delivered. (That’s just how us old folks roll.)

Read Chapter 6: Privacy (and piracy) in the age of AI

Check out the entire Chronicles.

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Chapter 6: Privacy (and piracy) in the age of AI. There always will be bad actors out there. You know: those who illegally take the advantage of opportunities. And today’s online privacy cracks and
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