In 2024, New Gadgets Imagine a Future Beyond Phone Screens

Commentary: The year is full of new types of consumer electronics that aim to change our relationship with screens.

Lisa Eadicicco Senior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Expertise Apple | Samsung | Google | Smartphones | Smartwatches | Wearables | Fitness trackers
Lisa Eadicicco
6 min read
AI powered mobile phones

New devices may well alter how we deal with screens. But we aren't there yet.

James Martin/CNET

We're not even halfway through 2024, but it's already an interesting year in the world of gadgets. Though tech giants usually release the typical assortment of new phones, smartwatches, laptops and tablets on an annual (or semiannual) basis, this year saw the debut of a few firsts. 

Apple and Samsung, the world's two largest smartphone makers, both expanded into new categories, with the iPhone maker releasing its Vision Pro mixed reality headset and the Korean tech giant announcing the Galaxy Ring, a wellness tracker meant to be worn around the finger. Startups Rabbit and Humane AI also generated plenty of hype with their AI-fueled gadgets, both of which require you to dictate commands to portable AI agents rather than swiping on screens. 

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So what do the Apple Vision Pro, Samsung Galaxy Ring, Rabbit R1 and Humane AI Pin have in common? Not much it seems, at least on the surface. But all these gadgets share one common goal: to change our relationship with screens. 

With the Vision Pro, Apple aims to extend apps beyond the confines of a physical screen. Samsung's Galaxy Ring, though not the first of its kind, wants to track wellness without the distractions of a miniature display on your wrist. And both Humane and Rabbit are on a mission to prove you don't need to open apps to get things done quickly.

All these gadgets have big ambitions, and they're all deservingly being met with large doses of skepticism.

The Apple Vision Pro's high, $3,500 price makes it inaccessible to most people, and there aren't many apps optimized for it yet. Rabbit's and Humane's products don't feel ready for prime time. And the Samsung Galaxy Ring hasn't even launched yet. But they all hint at a future in which we may spend less time tapping and scrolling on the tiny devices in our pockets. 

Read more: Rabbit R1 Explained: What This Tiny AI Gadget Does

Are we ready for a world with fewer screens?

That's the biggest question I had after trying both the Humane AI Pin and the Rabbit R1. Though I was intrigued by the idea of a palm-size AI agent that could save me time, in their current state neither device provides an experience that's superior to that of the smartphone.

My colleague Scott Stein, who spent more time than I did using the Humane AI Pin, found the voice-controlled AI assistant's answers to be inconsistent. Humane also has what sounds like a novel and futuristic way to make up for the device's lack of a screen: laser projection. The device can project text and images onto your hands in situations that call for a visual interface to interact with, such as typing in a passcode. But this system takes getting used to; as Scott writes, you must tilt and move your hand to make selections in this interface, which can feel inconvenient. 

Hand holding the Humane AI Pin

The Humane AI Pin is a tiny wearable AI device. 

Scott Stein/Viva Tung/CNET

I briefly tried the Pin and agree that it comes with a sizable learning curve. At that point, I'd rather just reach for my phone. Not to mention, the Humane AI Pin costs $700, which is more than most people are willing to spend on a device that's not essential. 

The $199 Rabbit R1 is a bit more intuitive, since it has a screen (albeit a tiny one), but it also has too many shortcomings to recommend right now. The R1's funky retro design and natural language smarts can make it fun to use, but I haven't found a compelling reason to use it over my phone. 

The services it currently works with, such as DoorDash, are much more limited than the app that lives on your phone. DoorDash, for example, surfaces only a handful of options. Spotify's interface is restricted to little more than the song currently being played and a queue. The Rabbit R1 can also connect to your Uber account, but I couldn't get it to work during my testing. 

Many of the Rabbit R1's key features and integrations aren't available yet, making it hard to truly grasp the app-free future envisioned by founder Jesse Lyu. 

Apple Vision Pro floating in the air against a purple background with a faint apple logo

The Apple Vision Pro is Apple's first mixed reality headset. 

Numi Prasarn/Viva Tung/CNET

Apple's Vision Pro boasts stunning and immersive visuals that put apps and virtual screens all around you. The ability to make a FaceTime call as large as you want will make you never want to speak with someone through a tiny 6-inch screen ever again. But the Vision Pro still feels like it's in search of a main purpose. It took years for the Apple Watch's health and fitness direction to take shape, and I imagine the case will be the same with the Vision Pro.  

TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who's known for his Apple product predictions and close supply chain ties, recently reported that the company slashed its Vision Pro shipments. It's perhaps an indication that demand has been weaker than expected so far. 

Samsung hasn't launched its Galaxy Ring yet, so it's difficult to say how the gadget will be perceived. When it comes to wearable tech, smartwatches and wireless earbuds have become well established over the past decade, making up the bulk of the market, according to the International Data Corporation, but smart rings are expected to account for only a sliver of shipments. 

Smart rings do offer several advantages over smartwatches, particularly in that they're more discreet and offer longer battery life. But Samsung already faces competition from Oura, which is largely credited with popularizing the space.

The potential of a screen-free future

The Rabbit R1 AI assistant

Even though the Rabbit R1 has a screen, you interact with the device primarily through voice prompts. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

AI devices, expensive headsets like the Vision Pro, and smart rings each have a long road ahead of them when it comes to proving their places in our lives. But the future they aim to create is compelling.

Rabbit wants to normalize using an AI agent to operate apps on your behalf. Instead of opening several different apps to book a vacation, what if you could use just a few simple commands to ask a virtual helper to find the right hotel and flight? That's Rabbit's aim, though it feels like a far stretch from the experience available today.

Humane is similarly trying to build the case for a wearable AI companion that can help you get things done without reaching for your phone.

The Vision Pro, meanwhile, has huge potential as an entertainment and communication device, among other things, making it possible to watch a movie or call a loved one on a much bigger screen than you could ever hold in your hand. 

Photo of a smart ring

Samsung's Galaxy Ring aims to be a simpler alternative to the smartwatch. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Samsung's Galaxy Ring could push us closer to a future in which gadgets masquerading as jewelry can passively monitor vitals throughout the day -- without the incessant pings of notifications and the temptation to stare at another glowing rectangle. And even better, what if your AI assistant could provide tips and insights based on the data from your ring, without you having to open an app at all?

None of these gadgets claim to replace your phone or attempt to reduce screen time. But data indicates there may be demand for tools that can do those things. A study from Harmony Healthcare IT, a health-data management firm, found that 40% of survey respondents are trying to cut down on screen time in 2024. The survey, which included answers from more than 1,000 Americans, also found that on average they spend 4 hours and 37 minutes staring at their phones each day.  

It's a future that feels close but also very far out of reach at the same time. If one thing is certain, it's that tech companies large and small are looking for ways to move beyond the screen, for better or worse. But supplanting the tiny screens that fit in our pockets won't be an easy feat, and it's a goal that likely won't be fulfilled anytime soon. 

Check Out Apple's Vision Pro Headset and Everything in the Box

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