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Pin: A new product attracting attention and skepticism

We’re about to see the rollout of a new tech gadget that’s receiving attention like few others since the iPhone. It’s been previewed at a TED talk and has attracted almost $300 million in investments from a who’s who list of Silicon Valley players.

The product is called Pin from the company Humane with its strange looking URL: It’s a flat rectangulat box about half the size of an ID badge that clips to your shirt, blouse or jacket, held in place with a magnet. The product contains a camera, microphone, speaker, cellular radio, and a laser projector that projects a fairly crude image onto the palm of your hand. It’s always on waiting for you to interact with it.

What’s created so much interest is that it’s the first hardware product built around the new artificial intelligence software such as ChatGPT. It uses AI in formulating responses to questions you ask it or images you place in front of its camera. The premise is that you’ll be able to get much more intelligent and relevant results.

The Pin works as a standalone device connected to the cloud and not connected to your phone in any way. If you believe some of their PR, it could even become a replacement for your smartphone, although I don’t buy that.

While it replicates some of the things your phone does, such as calling and reading and sending email and messages, its missing many of your phone’s capabilities, such as a GPS, keyboard, and color display.

The Pin requires it’s own cellular phone number serviced by T-Mobile for $24 per month. The Pin device will go on sale in a few weeks at a cost of $699.

The product’s premise is that AI software is so powerful and all knowing that by providing a hardware interface to it, it will solve problems and provide assistance beyond what other devices can do. It’s also more passive than the phone, more of a constant companion standing by waiting for it to be used.

Some of the examples in the company’s promotional video are simplistic. For example it shows a user holding a book up to the camera and speaking into the Pin requesting to buy the book with no further interaction such as where, how much, etc. It holds up a bunch of almonds in front of the camera, asking for the amount of protein in the nuts.

Another application is asking for the device to search your email to find a bit of information you need about a gate code. There’s an example of using it as a real-time translator to help you carry on a conversation in a different language.

The device requires learning an entriely new set of user interfaces that include hand and finger gestures and voice commands. Information is delivered to the user using audio and a small monochromatic image projected on your hand.

As the user, your interactions with others can be recorded with its forward facing camera. That was enough of an issue to kill Google goggles, because people didn’t like facing a camera that could be recording you. Humane has a light on it to convey if the camera is recording.

The company goes to great lengths to compare itself with Apple because its two founders are ex-Apple employees. They’ve adopted some of Apple’s expertise in creating recyclable packaging and a range of costly accessories.

My reaction to all of this matches the skepticism of the press. It’s a product that’s hard to learn to use, of dubious value, and will not replace a smart phone. In fact, it’s likely we’ll see more use of AI in our smartphone or even in our watch that may reduce the importance of a product such as this.

I’ve spoken with a couple of investors that say it’s hard to appreciate without using it, but from my experience in reviewing and developing scores of products, I don’t get it and am skeptical.

This is the first attempt to create hardware built around the new AI software, and won’t be the last. Just as we don’t fully understand how AI works and whether it will turn out to be beneficial or harmful, we don’t know exactly how hardware will use it. This is the first attempt, but won’t be the last.