Will you be paying £250 to get an Apple Watch? (Note - estimated price only. Final RRP may differ.) The launch of the much-heralded device has raised a chorus of questions about what it will be used for. Even Apple does not have much of an idea, but is hoping an army of developers will come up with some killer apps. Those who buy into the concept of wearable tech are betting that something will emerge to reward their investment which is either fun, useful or saves them money.
So how about a smart meter? It will cost you less - about £215 spread over the next 15 years - and you don’t actually have a choice. This technology is being rolled out by Government edict as a way to reduce energy bills. Yet according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, households will only save 2 per cent of their typical bill each year up to 2020, rising to 3 per cent by 2030.
That’s quite a bet to be placing when the reality is likely to be significant savings in year one, followed by few (if any) in subsequent years as the technology gets ignored or superseded. It could even become a nuisance - I have been told one story already about a divorced man using the smart meter phone app to keep the heating running 24/7 in the house he used to share with his ex-wife...
Both of these devices face the typical problems of technology adoption. If they can achieve critical mass (a given in the case of smart meters, less certain with wearable tech), they might become a standard part of the consumer’s life, just as mobile phones have in the last decade. Or they could join the heaps of other, failed technologies heading for the recycling yard.
What makes the smart watch and meter different, however, is the volume of data which they generate. In both cases, this is likely to be highly sensitive - when you are not at home and the lights are off, for example, or your exact location and activity rate. (By the way, the description of the data collected by smart watches as “health information” is a massive overstatement. They only record heart rate, movement and location, so you could just be running from one branch of McDonalds to the next.)
During their active life, vendors will no doubt apply the right data security and governance measures to this information because they have a commercial imperative to do so. But should either or both fail to gain market traction, they will leave behind a mass of personal information with no ongoing value. Do you trust Apple or your energy company to ensure very private data continues to be protected (or gets thoroughly deleted) once they are no longer making money from it?
That is a big question which should concern all of us as the latest stream of technology gets unleashed, all of it built around forms of behavioural data. Investors scarcely understand the question, not least because they are only thinking a couple of years ahead. Let’s hope they have a smart solution for dealing with the data legacy they are building up.