The AI Pin.
A product review.

This review is an analysis through the eyes of a Design Generalist and an entrepreneur.

When I wrote [a product review] in the title, I meant that.
I've used Product levels and simplified market definitions to frame the lenses I look through. Hold tight if the words in the previous sentence sound strange; it will get weirder before [hopefully] making sense.

To set this right, I'm talking about the AI Pin brought to market by Humane.
If you need to know what an AI Pin is, check the link above. I'll wait.

Ready? Let's go!

The AI Pin Project was and is an opportunity to break away from screens and form new, healthier relationships with technology.

I think the AI Pin can be an opportunity for a generation or two to grow without accounts on social media - a chance for all of us to break bad habits, forge healthy social skills in the real world and build reliable societies.
Sounds idealistic? In the current context, it is.

We have become accustomed to coarse discourse; most are either numb or cynical about the current context.

The Market [read - context].

The AI Pin brings a different point of view and new touchpoints with the digital world. This point of view is necessary for building a new market and a strong differentiator.

In this story, the markets are defined by their categories, and the products define those categories through the needs they fulfil and the value they add. Markets, categories and products are connected systems that compete for resources. In this case, it is mainly for our attention.

Humane sketched a category with their product and started dreaming about a market. We call that dream the product vision.

It takes courage and dedication to do this, and any designer walking this path puts themselves in a highly vulnerable position with a proposition of this kind.

Great ideas are fragile, and blunt [read stupid] opinions/reactions will eat great ideas for breakfast.

Anyone can kill an idea in its early stages. We'll come back to this.
The market/context for AI Pin doesn't exist [yet].

This is why, for an untrained eye, the product looks like a solution looking for a problem to solve.

The Product Category / Segment.

Right now, AI Pin is alone in this blurry and undefined category - Rabbit R1 made a mess entering this playground, but that story is still unfolding.

The product category also needs consumer validation to exist. It is always validated by fulfilling consumers' needs and consolidates when new players join to compete.

The investors got excited and poured 230mil+ into this idea.
The product is here; why does the product struggle?

There are several reasons, so let's take them one by one.
For the last time, I will look at them through the lens offered by the product levels.

The Proposition.

At this point, Humane did not appreciate the resistance [of the context] with the right attitude.
They also don't seem to understand the size and importance of the proposition this new device is making - not through the eyes of the consumers, anyway.

As I see it, it is a proposal to give up on a long-term relationship.
For most of us, it is an evil, asymmetrical relationship.
To break that relationship, the core product must address the pain and adverse effects that we are all aware of but keep making excuses for.

Let's get specific and see what I consider blindspots for Humane.
But first - below, you can see the frame I'm using.

The Core Product.

The core product for the AI Pin is not [yet] articulated, so it can't be informed at the other levels.
To be specific - the waste of our resources and our attention, the effects on our mental health, the depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal tendencies sourced through these black mirrors we carry everywhere in our pockets are problems worth solving.
The pain is real; most of us will agree.

If you work from there and get that narrative right, you will find your core product—the collection of benefits and the value you can transfer to your customers.

Humane could talk about calm, a chance for meaningful relationships, a better attention span, and healthier habits—a powerful proposition for change in a strong/articulated core product.
Once again, it is a big ask to break a relationship where most of us have been prisoners for a long time—a great example of Stockholm Syndrome.

The Actual Product.

I'll spend the least of my energy here because Humane executed an abstract plan well. They proved their ability to design and build.
The technology, design, and engineering—the physical object with its features—are well done as a first iteration.
However, I believe they got somehow distracted and brought way too much to the market at this stage—too many accessories and things that take away the focus from the benefits and affect costs/pricing.

The Augmented Product.

This level is an essential part of the product.
It significantly impacts user experience and long-term satisfaction, tapping into the deeper emotional connections and behavioural incentives they create.
It is also the space where the differentiator is visible and fights for the brand. It is where you build the ecosystem, where tiered subscriptions and other benefits make sense.
This product level quickly becomes irrelevant if the core and actual product levels are poorly articulated.
If the core product is undefined or confused with features, the brand, marketing, and sales team's work will be hell. If the actual product is not functional and has big usability issues, the rest of the product will be affected.

There was almost nothing to build a credible marketing campaign with.
With missing blocks, you can't build relevance, you can't show a vision that consumers would support, you can't get traction, and you can't position. Should I go on?

If calm or a healthier habit had been part of the core product, your marketing message would have been simple and made sense: 30/month for a healthier, more balanced life with less anxiety and no distractions.
Boom, done. The alternative to Humane's solution is whatever we have today: anxiety and exhaustion delivered 24/7 via screens.

This approach would have positioned AI Pin in relevant categories, from health to fitness to tech. You can't start a revolution looking exhausted with bland messages.

The Product Launch.

The Humane Team, individually, is a collection of seasoned professionals and some have been defying gravity for a while, but as a team - as a startup - they still need to obey this natural law of the markets.
Imran and Bethany worked for Apple, which must account for something.

Because of the missing parts [read above], the product launch was nowhere near what AI Pin needed—the monotone delivery and tone of voice didn't help.

The presentation looks like it took place after the last meeting when the office was quiet, and both Imran and Bethany know that this is the last thing on their to-do list for that day.  See for yourself.

Their lack of stamina did not position Humane where it should.
The content was delivered in the style of an established company, hoping to impress the audience with the presence of its founders and product features. Sorry, that's not enough - we've seen these results before [Apple VisionPro, Metaverse, etc].

The MKBHD Effect.
From going viral to full contagion.

The last major mistake, and possibly the one that will end AI Pin as a product, was confusing tech reviews with whatever top influencers produce in their media companies. You can watch MKBHD if you haven't already, beating the crap out of the AI Pin - here

With a platform with 18 million subscribers, MKBHD is not a tech reviewer.
He runs a media company and produces content that generates returns.
At this size, when he sneezes, the world will hear it.

His team is young, smart, hungry, and motivated by social media algorithms to produce engaging material rather than thoughtful analysis or exciting stories. They have expensive production setups and know exactly what they are doing.
There is no room for: we don't know, we don't understand, it is too soon to tell or let's wait.

This team needs to produce programs and collections of opinions delivered as "honest reviews" - in a context where none seem to have direct experience building a product.
For those who argue that their product is their content, nope, that is not the product - there is no product. The merch they sell, is mainly personalised/overpriced SWAG.

MKBHD is a prominent voice with a strong brand, not a product.
It is a valuable brand, and the value it delivers is the ability to capture attention. In short, it is a loud engine in the attention economy.
An economy where Google, TikTok, X and Meta take most of the cheese back home.

If you are looking for a product in this context, the product is our attention. Combined with thousands of other data points, it gets packed and sold to the highest bidder in different forms—eyeballs to watch ads and data for studies and experiments.

Like Joe Rogan and others, influencers react to events and generate opinions.
This can be entertaining if you are into "Did you see the video with the bear?" or "They launched their latest product, and it is the worst product ever..."

It sounds innocent and fun if you don't think of the size of their influence and the effects on ideas and markets.

Context matters here. The most popular channels have voices supported/promoted by an algorithm that looks for ingredients that make the content viral.
When things go viral, they can morph into a contagion, infecting the views of other influencers and setting the tone for future "reviews".

The audience gloats or argues in the comment section, and here we are.
In this context, a fragile idea like AI Pin must survive, make sense, and change the world. It is a pretty hostile environment if you ask me.

Apple is one of the first companies to seem to understand this phenomenon.
Last year, before MKBHD released a "review" of the MacBook Pro, during the Apple event, they mentioned MKBHD by name during the presentation, almost putting words in his mouth. This was a brilliant PR move designed to "condition" MKBHD before he published his content.

The perfect storm.

Let's bring this home.
All of the above can ruin a 230mil $ endeavour.
At this moment, it looks like Humane overestimated their expertise and underestimated the laws of physics [read market].

Almost six months after their first demo, Humane appears to be looking for a buyer. But this is also a distraction.

I hope that Humane will have the energy and will to hire people to save the AI Pin and raise awareness about our [unhealthy] relationship with technology and the content we consume.

To be continued...
Copyright © Alin Buda. All rights reserved. Trademarks, brands and some of the images are the property of their respective owners.
Some images were sourced from Pexels™ and Unsplash™.