The Humane AI Pin: A Case Study in Poor Strategy and Poor Execution

Dare Obasanjo
5 min readApr 24, 2024

The Humane AI Pin is a wearable voice controlled device with a digital assistant that aims to replace your smartphone for a number of common use cases and costs $700. It is also one of the worst reviewed tech products in recent memory.

I was inspired to write this post by the review below by Marques Brownlee where he separated his review into what he product was supposed to do (aka the product’s strategy) and what his experience actually was using the product (aka the product team’s execution).

The Humane AI Pin Product Strategy

A strategy is the unique steps you take to achieve your goals in a way that provides a durable competitive advantage.

The signs of a good strategy are that it is hard for a competitor to copy or replace your product either because you are uniquely able to do these things or successful execution creates a structural advantage that they can’t just copy.

The core thesis product is that it would be useful for people to have a smart personal assistant they can ask questions without having to pull out their smartphone because that can often be inconvenient. Arguably, this has been the core value proposition of Apple’s Siri that they’ve been running ads for since 2011 and is possible today when you use Siri with Airpods Pro. Thus the entire value proposition for the Humane AI Pin is that Siri sucks.

The product opportunity for the product goes away if Apple ever executes well on Siri. While a risky bet, it’s not unfathomable. Zoom became a huge company betting that Microsoft and Google wouldn’t execute well on video conferencing software that was easy to use and was proven right.

The way to evaluate a strategy is to consider what happens if your assumptions are true and you execute perfectly.

For $700 and a $24/month subscription, a person can buy a smartphone that does everything the Humane AI Pin does and thousands of things it doesn’t do and a ChatGPT subscription.

The device argues it is a smartphone replacement but that clearly undersells what a smartphone does by a country mile so it is unlikely anyone will buy one instead of a smartphone. Anyone who can afford one of these likely also has a smartphone and the device chose to not integrate with smartphones (after all it’s replacing them) which means instead of having a screen you have to project a light on your hand to read its responses and you point your chest at things to take pictures of things you want it to recognize instead of using your phone.

Secondly, there is nothing really unique about the most impactful part of this product, being a Siri replacement. It’s just a wrapper around ChatGPT and OpenAI models. You could build one tomorrow which communicates with a person’s smartphone via Bluetooth and is more useful than the Humane AI Pin and doesn’t cost $700.

This product costs too much for the value it provides and it has no durable competitive advantage since the most useful thing about it isn’t unique (i.e. being a voice activated ChatGPT wrapper) while the unique things about it aren’t useful and in fact can be seen as negative (e.g. a light projecting monochrome text and images on your hand instead of using your smartphone screen). The strategy is poor.

The Humane AI Pin’s Product Execution

Product execution is measurable and focused. It is the short term actions that enable the achievement of your strategy. Execution is the sort of activity you measure progress against with quarterly OKRs or goals each half.

A perfect strategy doesn’t matter if the execution is imperfect. There is a lot of imperfect execution in the Humane AI Pin.

  • “The projector is basically unreadable when you’re in the sun.” — Washington Post
  • “The Pin starts to overheat pretty quickly when you’re making back-to-back requests or using the Pin’s projector for too long. When that happens, don’t be surprised when the Pin cuts off contact for a while as it cools off. This has happened four or five times in two weeks” — Washington Post
  • “Oh, and the camera? At best, it’s hit-or-miss. In daylight, the results can be pleasant enough, but if you’re anywhere dim, expect to see lots of grain and blurry faces.” — Washington Post
  • “Except, oh wait, the AI Pin can’t set an alarm or a timer. It can’t add things to your calendar, either, or tell you what’s already there. You can create notes and lists — which appear in the Humane Center web app that is also where you connect the device to your contacts and review your uploaded photos — but if you try to add something to the list later, it’ll almost always fail for some reason.” — The Verge
  • “And everything gets in the way, too. My backpack straps rubbed against it, and my messenger bag went right over it. Both my son and my dog have accidentally set the AI Pin off while climbing on top of me.” — The Verge
  • “Every time the AI Pin tries to do seemingly anything, it has to process your query through Humane’s servers, which is at best quite slow and at worst a total failure. Asking the AI Pin to write down that the library book sale is next week: handy! Waiting for 10 seconds while it processes, processes, and then throws a generic “couldn’t add that” error message: less handy. I’d estimate that half the time I tried to call someone, it simply didn’t call. Half the time someone called me, the AI Pin would kick it straight to voicemail without even ringing. After many days of testing, the one and only thing I can truly rely on the AI Pin to do is tell me the time.” — The Verge
  • “My issues with the AI Pin’s language model and features don’t end there. Sometimes it just refuses to do what I ask of it, like restart or shut down. Other times it does something entirely unexpected. When I said “Send a text message to Julian Chokkattu,” who’s a friend and fellow AI Pin reviewer over at Wired, I thought I’d be asked what I wanted to tell him. Instead, the device simply said OK and told me it sent the words “Hey Julian, just checking in. How’s your day going?” to Chokkattu. I’ve never said anything like that to him in our years of friendship, but I guess technically the AI Pin did do what I asked.” — Engadget

Good execution is about delivering well designed and non-buggy features or at least features with enough utility that people are willing to tolerate the bugs. The Humane AI Pin has a surprising number of buggy experiences and poorly designed features for a product that doesn’t even do that much in the first place.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank the Humane team for providing such a great example of how strategy and execution can impact product outcomes and wish them luck in the next iteration of their product.



Dare Obasanjo

"Everything you touch you change. Everything you change, changes you" - Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower