Can Humane's AI pocket projector really replace the smartphone?

For years, people have been saying wearable tech will replace the smartphone, but so far, smartwatches are more accessories than communication devices in their own right. Humane's been working on a project that could change things, but our first glimpse of the product had us wondering about that.

It's developing a stand-alone AI-driven mini projector that you wear on a shirt pocket and which can handle calls, scan objects and translate your voice. It's been keeping the product under wraps, but we finally got a glimpse during a Ted Talks demo. It looks impressive, but the demo raises more questions than answers (if you're not convinced, see our pick of the best camera phones and the best iPhone 14 prices).

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Humane was founded in 2018 by two Apple veterans: former director of software engineering Bethany Bongiorno and designer Imran Chaudhri, who worked on the iPhone user interface. Its first product is a kind of mini projector that you would wear on your shirt or coat’s breast pocket and control via gesture and voice. A built-in camera can recognise objects and text, and AI will allow the user to ask questions to get information about what they're seeing.

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One clip shows Chaudhri taking a call on the device (see the tweet from Ben Geskin above) To see who's calling, he holds his hand out in front of him, and the called ID is projected along with icons, such as a mute button. It's flashy, but looks a little awkward, and it's not clear from the short clip whether the icons are usable as buttons.

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Another clip from the presentation shared on Twitter by Ray Wong shows Chaudhri translate a phrase from English into French (in his own voice!) at the touch of a button. This is also impressive, but it's not clear how the device knew he wanted to speak French or even translate at all – we don't yet know if it chooses a language via an AI-driven assumption based on location or has to be set up in advance.

Humane's device also has a handy Catch Me Up feature, which can give users a summary of important things they may have missed (emails, calendar invites and other notifications), replacing constant notification pings. But while voice-controlled UI has advanced massively, it's hardly silky smooth even in the comfort of home. I'll be interested to see how well this works in crowded public places.

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While the demo shows some clever features, Humane's not the only company working on a product like this, and we're still not quite sold that the concept solves any existing problem. It doesn't seem that it can necessarily do anything that a smartphone couldn't do with the same AI model.

"I'll be impressed when it can play candy crush. Why is this any better than a cellphone in your pocket and a headset saying, 'Call my wife?' " one person asked on Twitter, and it's a fair question. Moreover, much like people haven't been that keen on wearing AR glasses, I'm not sure everyone's going to want to wear a device on their shirt.

It's not yet clear how Humane's device is getting its data either. Humane's wearable doesn't pair with a smartphone, so presumably, it will have 5G connectivity to keep it connected to a cloud-based service, but we'll have to wait to see the full demo or for Humane to release more information to find out for sure.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.