What if Apple built an e-bike?
For seven years, Horace Dediu has thought about an idea almost every day. Dediu, 54, a longtime cellphone industry analyst and avid Apple supporter, popularized the term “micromobility” to describe a growing number of small electric vehicles that aren’t cars. His obsession lies at the intersection of all these interests: Dediu believes that Apple Inc. should make an e-bike or something similar.
“I fundamentally believe that there is no better product for Apple in mobility than micro-mobility,” says Dediu. “It’s so Apple, so Jobs-ian, it just slaps you in the face… Steve would have been up for anything.”
It’s an open secret that Apple has been working on a car for almost a decade. “Project Titan,” as it’s called internally, aims to bring a self-driving electric vehicle to market by 2025. Apparently the idea makes sense. Apple sits on a mountain of cash bigger than GM, Toyota and Volkswagen combined. It produces battery-powered hardware on a colossal scale and with staggering profit margins.
And it already inhabits the dashboards of millions of drivers using its CarPlay software. In September, consumer research firm Strategic Vision released a survey showing that more people are “definitely considering” buying an Apple car than a Tesla. Without rendering a single vehicle, Apple beat all but two (Toyota and Honda) of the more than 45 brands included in the survey.
But building a car is harder than it sounds. The likelihood of a company selling a self-driving passenger vehicle in 2025 is zero, and anything else puts Apple in an already crowded market. It’s a no-win situation that has messed up executives in Cupertino.
E-bikes are now booming and still have a lot of room for improvement. There is no viable path to net-zero emissions that does not involve the spread of light electric vehicles. And this gives Apple the opportunity to do something it hasn’t done since the iPhone: create a category-defining product that also rewires how humans relate to time and space.
At the moment there’s no evidence Apple is working on an electric bike, and the company hasn’t responded to a request for comment — despite Apple filing a patent for integrating an iPod into a bike 12 years ago.
In a conference call on the results last year, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said Apple executives are asking two questions about potential new products: (1) Is it something they plan to use themselves? and (2) Is there a sufficiently large market? Given that framework, it’s not surprising that a tech giant with executives full of California commuters would go for a car. “They’re definitely drivers out there,” says Dediu.
But the personal car, even electrified, is an increasingly archaic idea — a giant, oversized, complicated piece of hardware that endures because people are trapped in an outdated infrastructure network. Cars are also degradable to manufacture, expensive to maintain and store, dangerous to operate, and generally not a very efficient means of moving people. You are the fixed line of traffic. Forward-thinking cities and citizens are looking for ways to get rid of them.
“Apple is changing the way people think about and interact with the world,” said Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who helped create the iPod and later founded thermostat startup Nest Labs Inc. didn’t co-found that. It doesn’t change much in the way we live. Apple’s strength will be in getting people to think about different ways of being mobile – on two-, three- and light four-wheelers.”
As for market size, it is estimated that global e-bike sales will surpass $40 billion by 2030. That’s paltry next to a rapidly electrifying auto market: In the US alone, automakers sold more than 15 million cars last year at an average transaction value nearly $50,000. (E-bike prices vary widely, but the average commuter model costs around $2,600.)
On a global scale, however, it is clear that the future of electric vehicles benefits the little ones. BloombergNEF estimates that by 2040 there will be over 750 million electric two- and three-wheelers and 700 million electric cars on the road worldwide.
From a practical point of view, there is also more freedom in micromobility. “If you look at the automotive world, there are all kinds of regulations and rules and established practices; the same applies to motorcycles. There’s not much out there for electric bikes,” said Ed Benjamin, Founder and Chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association. “You want to innovate? Here’s a place that’s open to innovation.”
You can even choose the name of the product category. Benjamin argues that “electric bicycle” is related to “horseless carriage,” a transitional term for a novel technology that will almost certainly evolve into something else.
Today’s electric bikes are basically just that – bicycles with attached electric motors – but there is a Cambrian explosion of small battery-powered vehicles. “What will these things be in 20 years? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it will be different,” says Benjamin. “There are some incredibly talented people working at Apple. Maybe one of them has a clear idea.”
There is an opportunity, as Jobs once said, to find out what people want before they do it and show them.
Some companies are already building high-end e-bikes, which are essentially iPhones on two wheels. Dutch startup VanMoof and its Belgian competitor Cowboy, whose latest models start at over $3,000, are prime examples. Both make bikes with handlebar mounts that allow riders to use their smartphones as dashboards showing maps, speed and battery charge.
Riders can also use their bikes to lock and unlock the bikes and track them if they are stolen. These e-bikes even look like iPhones — batteries and other electronics are encased in simple, monochromatic exteriors — and perform like iPhones, with motors that turn on automatically and sensors that adjust the assist level so riders don’t mess with it Have to mess around with buttons or dials.
“VanMoof is probably the most innovative in that regard,” says Ryan Johnson, co-founder of car-free residential property development company Culdesac and an e-bike evangelist who owns 70 different models. “But Apple obviously has the pedigree to really take that to the next level.” (It could also buy VanMoof and Cowboy on the fly if it wanted to.) However, from Apple’s perspective, it might make sense to let someone else handle the hardware . Why bother drivers with chassis, wheels and engines when drivers are already on their iPhones?
In the non-hypothetical world, the company already has a new hardware product in the pipeline: Apple plans to release its first mixed reality headset soon. Dediu and Benjamin agree that the introduction of augmented reality wearables only reinforces the case for an Apple e-bike.
Imagine riding an Apple e-bike while your Apple AR glasses share turn-by-turn navigation, your Apple Watch provides biofeedback, and the bike itself collects—and maybe broadcasts—power, speed, and air quality information the cafe in front of you will have a discount coupon to entice you to stop by. In this scenario, an Apple e-bike becomes the kind of product Cook said Apple loves in the same conversation with analysts: one where hardware, software and services come together.
“If Apple delivers on the promise of a wearable over the eyes,” says Dediu, “they could paint a new alternate reality onto the surface of the world.”
Dedius’ other argument – that Steve Jobs would have wanted an e-bike – is impossible to prove, but it’s fun to think about. Jobs famously called the computer a “bicycle for our minds”. He rode a motorcycle and allegedly said that the Segway (if redesigned) would be as big as the personal computer. But perhaps most importantly, an e-bike could do what Apple and Jobs did best: make an old way of doing things instantly seem obsolete.
“There’s so much latent demand for people to ride bikes and for cities to be transformed by bikes,” says Johnson. “When people try an e-bike for the first time, their eyes light up, especially when they feel the engine start for the first time. It’s not just a little bit different than a bike, it’s a lot different than a bike. ”
Jobs Apple 1 prototype computer sold at auction for nearly $700,000
2022 Bloomberg LP
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Citation: What if Apple made an e-bike? (2022, October 12) Retrieved October 12, 2022 from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-10-apple-e-bike.html
This document is protected by copyright. Except for fair trade for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is for informational purposes only.