For the past week, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Humane’s AI Pin.
As someone who’s worn and reviewed wearables of every shape and size, this pin baffles and befuddles. The premise is that it’s supposed to help you look at your phone less — something for which many people say they use their smartwatches. For $699 with a $24 monthly subscription, you’ll purportedly be able to call friends (like smartwatches), talk to voice assistants (also like smartwatches), interact with a camera (like smart glasses), and project a screen (also like smart glasses).
None of these concepts are new, so it’s wild to me that this thing has blown up the way it has. Sure, the form factor is flashy, but it flouts the chief rule of good wearable design: you have to want to wear the damn thing. Preferably, as much as possible. In public. Where people can see you, judge you, and interact with you.
I see Humane is going the fashion route. To me, that’s a mistake. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Humane seems to think making this fashionable will do just that. The pin debuted at Paris Fashion Week on the lapel of supermodel Naomi Campbell. But ask Apple how going the fashion route worked for the first Apple Watches (poorly). While style is key, the most important thing about wearables is that they be versatile enough to wear all the time. This is effectively a high-tech brooch. And with brooches and pins, you typically wear them with outerwear. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that if you peruse Humane’s marketing images, nearly all show the device pinned to blazers or hoodies. But what happens when you go inside and take your outerwear off? What exactly are you going to pin this to in spring and summer?
Considering that this weighs about as much as a tennis ball, it’s going to drag down any T-shirt and forget flimsy blouses, dresses, or button-downs. I’ve used lighter magnetic lavalier mic clips when filming videos and if your shirt doesn’t have structural integrity, you’re going to have a bad time. If you want to use this pin every day, you’re going to have to be extremely intentional with your clothing, too. In the announcement video, Humane co-founder Imran Chaudhri certainly wasn’t. You can see the pin drag his sweater collar when he puts it on.
This is less of an issue with most other wearables. Smartwatches, hearables, smart rings, smart glasses, and AR / VR headsets are worn on the body. Once you put the device on, it stays put regardless of what else you’re wearing. You don’t have to transfer the device from outfit to outfit, which is a hassle and increases your chance of losing it.
The other issue with wearables? Water. A few years ago, I reviewed L’Oreal’s My Skin Track — a wearable sensor you pin on your clothes to measure UV exposure. I wore it on jackets and on my shirts. And then I threw it in the wash and accidentally destroyed it. Granted, this sensor was tiny and this would be harder to do with the AI Pin. But still, there’s a reason why earbuds, smart rings, and smartwatches have anywhere from IPX4 to 5ATM water resistance ratings. People get wet! An unexpected rainstorm, sweat, washing dishes, spilling drinks, getting splashed by a passing car because you stood too close to the curb — these are all things successful wearables can withstand. Meanwhile, in Humane’s product FAQ, it says that “For optimal performance, your Ai Pin and power accessories should not be exposed to water.”
Seriously, though, most of the marketing puts this pin on outerwear. Image: Humane
These things combined are just inconvenient enough that I can see most people leaving this pin in a drawer to collect dust. But wearability aside, emerging tech like this has yet another hurdle: culture.
I’ve seen the AI Pin compared to Star Trek’s communicator badges, but there’s a big gap between that and what Humane’s making. It’s a fictional device in a fictional universe that has established norms for how these devices are used. When an officer needs to talk to a crew member, they lightly tap the badge and speak into it. It’s not weird because everyone around them understands what’s happening. That’s not a luxury Humane and other bleeding-edge wearable makers have in the real world.
Let me put it this way: In public settings, would you rather yell at your chest to talk to a voice assistant or pull out your phone to look up the information yourself? I know what I would choose, because I recently had to.
I said “Hey Meta” in public exactly once and it was so cringe I never did it again. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
When I was reviewing the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses, the thought of saying “Hey Meta” in public made me cringe. I did it once on my commute to see how I would feel. It was embarrassing, and I never did it again. And that’s on a device where there’s a mic that sits directly in the nose bridge, pointed straight at your mouth. While some people have no problem hollering at Siri, it’s still a social faux pas to do it public. Humane’s pin has a “personic speaker,” but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of ambient noise. Even with the Meta glasses’ excellent nose mic and omnidirectional speakers aimed at my ears, I still had to speak quite loudly for the AI to register what I was saying. These glasses were discreet, so at least I looked like I was talking to thin air. Yelling at my shirt… that’s a step too far. That’s nothing to say of the camera, and how we as a society still don’t really know how we feel about body cameras at large.
These are a fraction of the scenarios and questions rattling around in my brain. But they all boil down to this: we don’t measure a wearable’s success by how well it replaces your phone anymore. The best wearables either act as an extension of it or do something your phone can’t, like collect real-time health data. So why is Humane trying to bridge a gap that doesn’t truly exist?
While I have my doubts about this pin, I would be thrilled to have my wearable world disrupted. But for that to happen, I’d need to try one of these myself. So Humane, ball’s in your court.