The Rabbit R1 may suck, but it's not 'just an app'

Trying to set a timer on the Rabbit R1
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

I'm seeing a lot of folks repeating the same thing about the Rabbit R1, saying it's just an app and you can install it on your Android phone. All of those people are wrong, but it's not really their fault.

You can indeed sideload a semi-working version of what the device does on your Android phone, but enthusiasts have been able to do similar things since the beginning of the Android explosion. HTC's Sense UI ran on a lot of Motorola Droids.

This makes it feel like the software is just an app. However, saying it leaves out some things to think about. I think there are a lot of similarities between what the company is doing and the phone in your hands right now. Calling it an app is missing the point.

Services and features are what sells phones

An iMessage chat showing blue and green bubbles

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

The Rabbit R1 is a hardware-based gateway to the company's software services. It ties other services like Spotify and Uber together so you can use them through a single interface by talking to the device or tapping a few buttons.

It's centered around a custom launcher that runs atop the Android Open Source Project. That shouldn't surprise you because Android powers plenty of devices besides phones; things like car and airplane infotainment systems, network appliances, toys, and even industrial machinery can be found using Android for the "smart stuff."

It's not difficult to sideload this onto your phone and get a taste of what the company is trying to do. You won't get everything working, and things that worked one day may stop working the next as Rabbit tries to put Pandora back in her box.

This is because the company uses the R1's hardware to authenticate that you're an authorized user. This means the company can place barriers on any or all of the device's software features so they only work if you're actually using the R1. 

This is nothing new, and almost every phone manufacturer does the same. If you want to use the Pixel camera software features, you need to buy a Pixel. If you want to use Samsung's One UI, you buy a Galaxy phone. If you want to use iMessage, you buy an iPhone. We see software that could potentially run on many devices being exclusive to one brand all the time because it's being used to make people want to buy them.

You can sideload some of these features to another phone, but not everything works as expected. It's easy to install the Pixel camera app onto another phone with a great camera, but it's not the same. The software is looking for specific hardware because it was written that way. Rabbit's software is doing the same thing.

Spotify playing on the Rabbit R1

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

I'm not defending Rabbit or the R1. I've never used it, nor do I want to use it, and I think the idea of a device that duplicates things your phone can already do is really dumb. Other people think it's great, and I'm not trying to change their minds. Buy the things you like. I'd totally buy a high-end music player built inside the same body as the R1, but many people would think that is silly.

I'm just trying to explain that what Rabbit is doing isn't really that different from what Samsung or Apple is doing. That's the problem with trying to explain tech "stuff" — no matter how hard you try or how many words you write, some people aren't going to understand what you're trying to say.

I think that's what happened here. Yes, you can install the software on your phone. No, not everything works because it's not just the app doing the work.

If you really want a dedicated AI device to do what the R1 does, you'd be better off buying one and hoping the company stays around long enough to support it.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • itistho
    So what I got from this article is that
    1. It's just an app, with artificial limitations to restrict its functionality to the hardware
    2. Other companies do this, which somehow means that it's not just an app? Like seriously, what kind of argument is that? No one's saying that this company is the first to ever make an unnecessary device. Literally any device with Internet connectivity is a "hardware-based gateway to the company's software services".

    The sentence "You can sideload some of these features to another phone" infers that the R1 is basically a phone, which makes its software basically an app.

    "it's not just the app doing the work"... Right, the other part is on the servers. That's how a lot of apps work.

    I feel like, in an attempt to split hairs, you missed the point of the discussion that's happening.
  • martinst-uk
    I might be totally off but, isn't this the missing piece to the smart watch?

    We definitely don't need yet another device to carry, but having this in the smart watch just seems to make a hell of a lot more sense.

    Agree with the sentiment about just side loading the app. Why use the R1 If the phone can replace it.

  • dartarian
    So just an app. The front end is on the device. Could of been on a phone since everything is happening on a server somewhere.