June 14, 2024

Chapter 25: Fun

The Rabbit R1 chronicles.

I think the big aspect of Rabbit R1 that people have missed is the fun factor. The device was literally designed by combining a walkie talkie and a Tamagotchi. It’s regularly been described as an AI Gameboy. And features that come along have been serious, but with some fun thrown in.

An example is the R1 Magic Camera. If you’ve been following along, you know that the camera was never intended for photo-taking like the ones on your phone. At 8mp, it pales in comparison to high-end phone cameras because it was really intended to be an input device for the AI and not to take photos you’d ever see. But still, users have been pushing to make the R1 do what their phone does. That’s despite the fact that, from the start it’s been stated (even in the keynote) that the R1 is not a phone replacement. But push as some users did, Rabbit turned on the camera for photos. Immediately there were complaints that the photos had an orange cast when shot in bright sunshine. (These were the result orange rabbit parts inside the camera mechanism reflecting back into the lens.)

Then Rabbit did something interesting: They quickly shifted from taking photos to taking Magic Photos with AI assistance as seen in the selfie above. You never know what you’ll get and each one has a rabbit placed somewhere in the photo. Of course there were immediate complaints from users that they wanted real photos back, so I guess they could complain more about the lack of quality?

The point is that R1 has always been promoted as an AI companion. It’s a dedicated device the gives you a fun way to integrate AI comfortably into your life. It’s almost like a game. You can have it ask you a trivia quiz. Or play role-playing games with you. Or have it tell you a story. I honestly think there’s a future in R1s connecting with each other when in Bluetooth distance or on the same wifi. Imagine a trivia game on multiple R1s in a bar full of people.

And I think the companion aspect is what many people have missed about the R1. It’s cute, cuddly and fun. By contrast, your phone may always be with you, but it’s designed to feel like a sleek machine, not a companion. Nor is it cute, cuddly or fun. I think we need to let the R1 head down the road it’s always been intended for: as a powerful AI device, but in fun form factor.

And of course, what Rabbit really did was wake up the device world to the importance of AI. Immediately after the keynote in January seeing 10,000 R1s pre-sold on the first day, the phone makers all went scrambling to catch up to the lowly Rabbit. They realized R1 revealed a huge flaw in their humanization of AI.

Last week Apple made a big announcement about Apple Intelligence at their dev conference. What’s curious is that Apple had been accused of being way behind on AI. But that’s not true. Apple was at the forefront of integrating machine learning into your phone. Siri has been around for 13 years. And many of the cornerstones of AI (like facial and object recognition in the iOS Photos that’s been here for eight years) continue to improve. But it was the R1 that made Apple and other companies make a leap into branding AI so people could attach function to the buzzwords. But honestly AI is already so deeply integrated into our lives that it only needs to be brought to our attention when it could be wrong and harmful.

Will phones and AI devices surpass the capabilities of the R1 in short order? Quite possibly. But I don’t think they’ll ever surpass the spirit of fun that the R1 was born from. One thing is for sure: we won’t be reluctant to hand our toddler the $200 R1 to play with like we are with our $1500 phones. And another thing that’s for sure: R1’s AI selfie of me looks much better than any camera has ever taken.

Read the next article in the series: The Fun Factor

Check out the Chronicles.

I have no affiliation with Rabbit Inc. I’m just an early adopter. If you want to support this journey into the Rabbit, buying me a coffee below helps keep the articles coming.

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