I wasn’t impressed when the Peloton bike first arrived at my house in 2018, and it’s because of how much that screen’s potential feels wasted.
Nothing against exercise or even filling up some of my precious house space with a large and expensive stationary bike. But once my partner’s Peloton arrived and got set up, I instantly saw what simultaneously felt like the tech’s great potential and greatest flaw: that built-in display.
For anyone who may not know, Peloton’s big twist is the service side of its product. The screen that’s attached to the company’s stationary bikes and treadmill is a conduit for Peloton’s paid membership, a $39-per-month proposition. That monthly fee brings streaming fitness classes, social features, and progress tracking to whichever Peloton brand of hardware you’re using. (A separate $13/month app-only subscription is “not compatible” with the bikes or treadmill, as a Peloton support specialist informed my partner.)
While the subscription thing is theoretically a smart way for Peloton to keep customers from becoming one-time buyers, reality hasn’t been so kind. The company is reportedly shopping itself around for a buyer, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, after a bruising start to 2022 led by chatter about stalled bike and treadmill production.
I can’t read that news without thinking back to my first encounter with our Peloton bike in 2018. The first question out of my mouth, eagerly asked as I saw that screen get attached: Can I watch Netflix while I ride? The answer was “no,” of course. Peloton’s built-in display is for Peloton features only. You can hack your way into a browser and stream stuff from there, but something like that ought to be a feature rather than a bug.
That oversight has always bothered me. Yes, Peloton’s primary interest is in getting you to sign up for the monthly subscription. But structured, hosted exercise time isn’t what I want when I climb on a machine like this. I just want to get in a workout, and do whatever I can to distract my overactive brain from fixating on the strenuous activity.
You can hack your way to Netflix and stream stuff from there, but something like that ought to be a feature rather than a bug.
So I’ve skipped using the fancy $2,000 bike that sits in my home and sought out other exercise options that are more easily tailored to my personal preferences. That’s what gets me about Peloton: It seems like such a perfect solution for someone like me who wants to stream things while exercising.
I admittedly haven’t thought much about any of this in the past four years, ever since coming to terms with Peloton’s walled garden. But the puzzling thought exercise was rekindled this week by a pair of news stories: First, that Peloton is looking for a buyer; and second, that Google is reportedly de-prioritizing its Stadia cloud gaming service in favor of a business-facing product that provides the tech to other companies.
Insider’s story about the current state of Stadia names Peloton as a potential destination for the re-dubbed Google Stream technology. In fact, the report notes that Peloton’s video game, Lanebreak, is powered by Google. The moment I read that, my mind was once again filled with all the “what if” possibilities for the stationary bike I’ve never touched.
Peloton has shown no inclination toward expanding the functionality of built-in displays beyond company-made products. So I greet this news of a potential buyer for the company with some excitement purely as a customer (technically, the husband of a customer).
Just think about Amazon, the only potential “suitor” named in WSJ‘s story. Is it so hard to imagine an Amazon-owned Peloton that can link up with other subscriptions? Baking in support that lets subscribers stream their Prime Video library seems like a no-brainer. The same goes for Luna, Amazon’s Stadia competitor which is still charging subscribers an “early access” rate. Bringing Luna to Peloton could even boost the fledgling service. I’d happily spend time on the bike if I could fool around in Everspace 2 while I’m pedaling.
The best outcome, of course, would just be a proper app store where you could find Prime Video and Luna, yes, but also Netflix, Hulu, GeForce Now, Stadia, and so on. But any change that lets a Peloton owner officially use their hardware’s built-in screen for… really anything other than Peloton-specific activities would be a welcome and frankly overdue change for the struggling exercise machine’s prospects.