Apple's "Smart Bike" Could Squash All Other Bike Tech

iPhone's nifty compass and gyro could be used to track everything about a ride, from speed to altitude. And that's just the beginning.

 At next year's Tour de France, we won't be seeing Lance Armstrong racing along the Champs-Élysées—but we may see plenty of iPods.

A patent filed last year but just uncovered Thursday shows that Apple is at least considering a "Smart Bicycle System" that would use iPods or iPhones to track cyclist data and help teams communicate on the raceway. Similar to Nike + iPod, the small fitness device that recorded a runner's pace and distance, Apple's new technology will enable bikers to measure "speed, distance, time, altitude, elevation, incline, decline, heart rate, power, derailleur setting, cadence, [and] wind speed," according to Patently Apple. Clearly, the Smart Bike is squeezing everything it can from Apple's accelerometers and gyroscopes (which allow the iPhone to track the biker's exertion, based on acceleration, and altitude, by recording tilt relative to the ground).

What's more, the system is designed specifically for audio and video. Wireless communication will allow cyclists to talk on-the-go and share data, so teams can coordinate during practices and races. The patent also indicates integration with external displays—possibly a tiny LCD or LED screen that would attach to a bike's handlebars for real-time data tracking.

This new system might crush the competition in the sports training tech. While other advanced fitness programs employ computer-trackers, most of them are either: A.) Complex and wonky or B.) Relatively limited in functionality. So while cutting edge bike computers track almost all of the things that Apple's Smart Bike would, nothing out has much by way of networking capabilities—and nothing integrates it all in one UI that's already so popular, ubiquitous, and proven. Would you rather have Jonathan Ive, or the dudes at Garmin design the UI on a tiny screen you only look at while grunting with exertion? Moreover, Smart Bike's tech could readily be applied to mapping—and move real-time bike data into the mainstream and beyond the realm of biker geeks.

Also packed into the patent is a cover-your-ass bet about the future of cell phones—and the possibility that they'll come with video projection of some sort. Smart Bike may include "a video projector, head-up display, or three-dimensional (e.g., holographic) display," just in case cyclists get an itching for Avatar during the last lap of the Ironman.

That sort of innovation sounds far off—but several other companies, including Motion Research, make motorcycle helmets with heads-up up displays. It makes sense for bikes to move in that direction.

Also, did we mention it can play music, too?

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  • Cosmo

    Programs already exist in the App store that do 90% of these things—mapping "beyond the realm of biker geeks" included. While I'll admit none have windspeed or derailleur awareness, as Darrell Armstrong so eloquently notes, no power monitoring is a big problem as far as serious (or seriously well-heeled) cyclists are concerned.

    All the existing apps—and yes, Garmin's stuff, too—are weak on UI, but Apple is pretty weak on water resistance, which is critical for a cyclo-computer. Then there's the fact that touch-displays don't really work when your fingers are sweaty—Apple would have to make some pretty huge hardware upgrades to make this viable.

    If Apple does come to market with a product, the real leap forward will be the ability for riders to easily communicate their realtime data with each other—I believe this feature is still limited to the pro ranks, and even then, only to a few select riders.

    Outside of that, though, all these features a) already exist and b) have been widely adapted from non-Apple sources. PC desktop/laptop share is just now beginning to fall—it will probably take a while for Apple to muscle its way into this market as well.

    Also, I'm not sure Jon Ive does UI; I think he's more a hardware guy.

  • Sid Richard Morris

    Like da Vinci (1452 - 1519) painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, & scientist ... it's the "idea" that moves the man, integrates the system, tracks the data ... could social net-working inspire higher-nobler achievement in all of us? Thanks Austin Carr for this.