Rabbit R1 is a very cool but dubiously useful portable AI assistant

Unveiled at CES and designed by Teenage Engineering, the device tries to bridge the gap between the smartphone and the future of digital interfaces: nothing a smartphone app couldn't do.

At CES 2024, AI startup Rabbit unveiled the Rabbit R1 AI Assistant, a portable handheld device that sits at the intersection between a camera phone and a virtual assistant speaker. What the Rabbit R1 is exactly supposed to do is kind of hard to explain. The device sports a camera, a microphone/speaker combo, an eSim for cellular connection, and a small screen, plus an embedded scroll wheel. Users can talk to the gadget to activate an AI assistant based on a Large Action Model trained on a very large number of smartphone interactions. According to Rabbit, thanks to this training, the on-device predictive AI can act as an app controller to manage tasks, boo a Uber ride, order delivery food, and some other basic actions.

Just like the Humane AI Pin, the R1 is trying to interpret what the future of post-smartphone, AI-enabled interfaces can work and look like. 
In this regard, a design-trained eye would immediately interpret the retro, playful look and the integrated wheel as telltale signs of the collaboration between the startup and the Swedish electronics design powerhouse Teenage Engineering.

While Rabbit’s effort in finding a new way to leverage AI as a UX disruptor is commendable, we are still left with a question: why would someone prefer a standalone device to commandeer an AI assistant that could easily live in a smartphone app? The current answer is probably just “to be cool” and “to use the smartphone less.” That was clearly enough of a motivation for the 10.000 people who have already pre-ordered the first Rabbit R1 batch and depleted the startup’s stocks for the time being. Preorders for the $200 gadget are now open for a second round of deliveries due in the spring.

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