New e-Riders – Apple should make an e-bike

Horace Dediu is convinced that Apple should make an e-bike, or something like it

An e-bike from VanMoof. VanMoof is the most innovative in this. But Apple obviously has the pedigree to take it to the next level. (Photo: Release)

“I fundamentally believe there’s no better product for Apple in mobility than micromobility,” Dediu says. “It is so Apple, so Jobs-ian that it just smacks you in the face… Steve would have been all over this.”

In an earnings call last year, CEO Tim Cook said Apple leadership asks two questions about possible new products: 1) Is it something they would want to use themselves? and (2) Is there a big enough market? Given this framework, it’s not surprising that a tech giant with executive ranks full of California commuters would pursue a car. “They are definitely drivers out there,” says Dediu.

“Apple changes the way people think about the world and how they interact with the world,” says Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who helped to create the iPod and later co-founded the thermostat start-up Nest Labs. “Doing another car is not that. It doesn’t change much of how we live. Apple’s strength is going to be getting people to think about different ways of being mobile — on two-, and three- and lightweight four-wheel vehicles.”

Some companies are already building high-end e-bikes that are essentially iPhones on two wheels. Dutch start-up VanMoof and its Belgian competitor Cowboy, whose latest models start at more than $3 000, are prime examples. Both make bikes with mounts on the handlebars that enable riders to use their smartphones as dashboards that display maps, velocity and battery charge. Riders can also use their phones to lock and unlock the bikes and to track them if they are stolen. These e-bikes even look like iPhones — batteries and other electronic guts are encased in simple, monochromatic exteriors — and work like iPhones, with motors that kick in automatically and sensors that set the level of assistance so riders don’t have to fiddle with buttons or dials.

“VanMoof is probably the most innovative in this,” says Ryan Johnson, co-founder of the car-free residential real estate 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 both VanMoof and Cowboy in a heartbeat if it wanted.) From Apple’s point of view, however, it might make sense to leave the hardware to others.

“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 motor kick in for the first time. It’s not just a little bit different than a bike, it’s a lot different than a bike.”

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