Why bikes are the most individual mobility devices, and what it means for personalisation
Bikes are a fun business: There is no market leader, there are gazillions of makes and designs, and since the bike was invented back in the 19th century, it is in use in every corner of the globe by all ages and demographics. Bikes are a tool so universal, it’s actually hard not to overlook.
One thing that stood out to me watching the Micromobility Revolution unfold, is the fact that there are again lots of startups and new ideas that have sprung up all over the world. One example that stuck with me is Bikxie from India, a bike taxi service exclusively for women. It takes advantage of all the possibilities from smartphone and app availability, contactless payment, fingerprint authentication in the bikes, and female empowerment. How they out it all together is mind-blowingly impressive for a white male European like me.
Bikxie offers a great amount of integration both in hardware and software as well as services (think of anyone?), and still the mobility market in India is famously diversified across hundreds of modes. It’s a prime example of millions of people on bikes, however none of them look like the other. The same applies to the great bicycle capitals of the world, of which we see more and more each year.
The level of hardware personalisation in bikes is unbeatable, even by today’s standards of making software individual. Of course, this was in part driven by the lack of consolidation in the bike market over the last two centuries, but it is also due to the design of bikes itself, that can easily be manufactured locally in a decentralised way, can easily be customised and serves as a canvas for creative expression. Countless accessories beat all other consumer products, if you think about it. What do you use every day that has this level of personal expression? I would argue not even your home, and certainly not your car. Homes in the Western world are driven by broad trends and stereotypes of how to live, driven by big global corporations like IKEA. An accessory you get in Austria you can also get in Australia. It’s so homogenic, it can turn you on and off at the same time.
Cars are a similar story. Here, the designs are driven by heavy market research which makes everyone follow the safest path and not take any risks. This results in the fact that the top selling cars (SUVs) all look the same. However, all SUVs are marketed as making you stand out. The opposite is true: Cars that stand out from the crowd are old VW buses. Pimped rides. Super rich or super poor cars. We take photos of single cars that are exceptional and unique.
Compare this to bikes: You take photos once you actually find two of the same make. You’d hardly ever take a photo of a single bike because it’s so different than other bikes. They all look different. This is true testament to the individual style that is present in bikes – the most personalised device you use.
Smartphones are said to be the most personal computers you use. Let’s ask ourselves: When bikes become smartphones of wheels, a mind for the bicycle as Horace puts it, will they become our most personal computer? Or will that still be Apple Watch?
What does the level of personalisation found in bikes imply for the customisation of Apple Car?
When we consider the Apple product line of the last 20 years, there hasn’t been a lot of customisation. In fact, Apple products were mocked repeatedly for not being as open and accessible to personalise as other manufacturers’ lines. Android phones vs iPhone is a typical battle ground of the argument who gives you more choice and more options to express yourself. However, a billion people still took to the iPhone to show their style and make use of the rich MFi ecosystem to accessorise. And other Apple products have stubbornly shown little interest in becoming more diverse than the classic black or white that started with iPods and MacBooks. The first iMacs offered a handful of colours, but later went to one single design for all.
So, if not the hardware let’s you customise, it’s certainly the software? One can make the case that iOS with its icon based app grid on the Home Screen made huge gains in the number of options to style it. Compare this to macOS which only recently gained Dark Mode in order to make your interface totally different to before. But consider on recent entrant into the Apple ecosystem: The Watch.
Apple Watch was actually heavy on hardware personalisation from the start, and gave little customisation options in the software. Different to any other Apple product, the design team understood that it need to offer much of the individual styling choice on their own since the product is so heavily vertically integrated. On the other hand, the software had so many constraints performance-wise and the user interface was so small that a lot of personalisation simply didn’t make sense. But the hardware needed to be better and more individual than regular watches found in the market.
So, what does this mean for Apple Car? For its entrance into the transportation market, Apple again needs to find ways to be better than anything else currently available. They can easily be better than other cars in software customisation, and better than public transport in hardware customisation, but what about the bike? Can Apple Car ever be more personal than your bike?