🎯 The r1’s Positioning Playbook

How to challenge established mental models

Read time: 3 minutes 50 seconds

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As fun as it is reflecting on proven strategies -

it’s equally exciting to break down forward-looking bets being placed today.

It’s a rare thing for a product to truly contradict established industry norms. 

It’s also a rare thing for a new consumer device to sell 10,000 units in 1 day.

Today’s breakdown covers a project that’s done both. 



The r1’s Positioning Playbook

Chess Move

The what: A TLDR explanation of the strategy

The rabbit r1 stands out in the ocean of smart devices.

Even at a glance, one would immediately notice its:

  • Conspicuously striking colour

  • Unusual square form-factor

  • Curious no-app interface

With over 50,000 preorders selling out in five days, and over 30 million in funding in a matter of months, a deeper investigation reveals a unique suite of differentiators spanning its hardware, AI technology, and community experience that work together to influence its desirability.

In Sketching User Experiences, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) pioneer Bill Buxton warns against the corporate tendency of focusing on "n+1" products (i.e. adding features) rather than building something new: 

"This is not sustainable in the long term... companies will eventually have to release truly new products or see their business shrink to the point where it is likely no longer of interest to investors, and perhaps not even viable."

Recognising this writing on the wall, rabbit Founder & CEO Jesse Lyu chose not to follow convention by creating an app since:

  • He would have to share his code (i.e. intellectual property) with Google and Apple

  • The rabbit r1 would be served in the same way as every other app 

Instead, The rabbit r1 is designed to create a space of its own with its bold mission of becoming "the future of human-machine interface" through a thoughtfully considered positioning strategy as a paradigm shifter.


Strategy Playbook: Remix conventions throughout your product or service for compelling differentiation

Here’s how they did it:


The how: The strategic playbook boiled down to 3x key takeaways

1.  Leverage the familiar as new

The rabbit r1 is intentionally designed to not be a smartphone

A singular push-to-talk button provides tactile feedback to engage the assistant with a core interaction resembling a walkie-talkie.

By leveraging this familiar mental model:

  • Users aren't overwhelmed (the AI already brings plenty of novelty)

  • Ease and efficiency are prioritised (first responders rely on similar devices)

The nostalgia-inspired form factor offers a differentiated product experience in Mcluhanistic fashion

Its form and function also lean into a reemerging trend towards hardware devices. The r1 device was designed in collaboration with Teenage Engineering, who have famously built iconic premium music hardware products that garnered a cult following in music circles.


2. Use conceptual naming for product storytelling   

The rabbit r1 offers many use cases, from recipe recommendations based on what's in your fridge to instantaneous Uber hailing.

It grounds all of its contextually advanced AI functionality in a simplified concept: action.

This is where Lyu posits that current tools are missing the mark:

Their frequent use of the term large-action-model (LAM) suggests a new paradigm where you can do much more than merely converse.

Furthermore, the mechanics of how it works are explained visually and literally through an anthropomorphic metaphor: a rabbit "companion" that one can effectively train to perform tasks.

3. Ignite curiosity with open possibilities

The problem that rabbit purports to ultimately solve is huge. 

Its ambition is reminiscent of Apple's conceptual precursor to Siri and the iPad: The Knowledge Navigator, which features a virtual assistant with human-like contextual understanding. 

Even with initial critique and speculation about the accuracy and feasibility of performing such advanced feats, the open-source flexibility of "teach mode" (where users can train their own rabbits) makes a compelling case for community potential. 

Even amongst critical voices, there's been excitement around how modding communities might do "some really cool things with these." 

Software communities have benefited from the flexibility of plugins and other customisations that can automate or introduce new functionality to their respective platforms. 

While currently an experimental pursuit, the rabbit website asks:

"What if you create a rabbit that could be useful to others? You can monetize and distribute it on our upcoming rabbit store."

For those curious to see the possibilities firsthand, $199 is a low barrier to participate in the action.

Rabbit Hole

The where: 3x high-signal resources to learn more

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— Written by Carver Wilcox, edited by Tom Alder

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