Apart from modular phones other customizable devices are being designed vigorously these days. One of them is a modular smartwatch from Blocks Wearables.
The idea behind Blocks smartwatch is similar to that of Project Ara. Users can customize their smartwatch with interchangeable parts. The concept of the modular smartwatch suggests that the modules are the components of the strap. But the heart of Blocks is the watch dial, where a specific module contains the screen and main hardware components.
We have recently contacted Blocks Wearables team and received an update on the smartwatch development status, new photos and some info about the history of the device.
Alireza Tahmasebzadeh is the man behind the idea of Blocks. Back in November 2013 he developed a new method to recognise the gestures of fingers using small sensors on the wrist. At the time he was an early adopter of smartwatches. It seemed a good idea to implement advanced finger gesture detection capabilities in a smartwatch. Imagine touching your index fingertip with you thumb and the music starts playing.
After Alireza partnered up with a friend Serge Vasylechko, they started asking people of other features they wished to see in a smartwatch. The response and expectations were rather disparate. Some people wanted extended battery life, others preferred health and sports sensors, some leaned toward techie features while others wanted it to be standalone. But the space on the wrist is limited and the price point of the device needs to be fixed.
So they had to make a decision on what features and sensors to include. Like any other smartwatch, it could come with set specs and features. It was back in December 2013 that Alireza came up with the idea of modularity when he was taking a shower!)) So, instead of manufactures choosing what features to include in the smartwatch, the users themselves could pick the right ones. It instantly made sense to make it an open-platform and allow any other company not only to develop apps, but also modules.
Alireza, Serge and a couple of friends have founded Blocks Wearables company and began acquiring a solid team of engineers, received some funding, enlisted users, drew press attention, and here they are at the point of launching their project. Currently, Blocks team is based in London, UK and consists of 7 people. But they are continuously hiring and growing, and will be expanding to San Francisco soon. More than 1000 developers from all over the world expressed interest in Blocks and joined the forces through their website. Over 15000 users signed up as well.
Blocks team took part in recent Intel’s Make It Wearable challenge, and ended up as one of the top 10 finalists. This got them not only the monetary award of $50,000 for project development needs, but also Intel’s latest processors.
Moreover, they have got funding from angel investors. Some of their investors had previously ploughed money into billion dollar companies.
According to Alireza, they are going to launch a crowd-funding campaign soon, so the very first Blocks supporters will be able to receive a smartwatch in the first half of 2016.
Currently Blocks team is directing most of their efforts to developing the core module, which includes the processor, color touch screen, main battery, Motion Tracking, Bluetooth Low Energy, WiFi, microphone and vibration motors for feedback. The core module may have variants that include GPS and LTE connectivity as well, but this is not finalized yet. Peripheral modules in development are NFC for contactless payments and access, Heart Rate monitoring, Environmental (Outside Temperature and Pressure), a pressy button module (a push button to control some applications or trigger some actions on demand, e.g. trigger the camera on your phone) and, most importantly, an extra battery module.
To clarify, all of modules mentioned above may not be released during the initial launch. However, they will be definitely released at a later time. Among other module ideas there are a core module with a different screen type, Galvanic Skin Response, Skin Temperature, various Gesture Control detection modules, GPS, Air quality sensor, etc.
Right now Blocks has a small community of their most devout fans and early-adopters that help build the product based on their ideas and feedback. After the crowdfunding campaign launch Blocks team plans to release the Module Development Kit (MDK), so any engineer could implement their own ideas of modules (similar to Project Ara).
The base set of modules is expected to be priced at around $220 (core plus dummy modules), a medium set (the core plus 3 functioning modules) to be around $270 and the high end set (the core plus 5 functioning modules) close to $320.
The first smartwatches will be shipped to supporters some time after the crowdfunding campaign. Then Blocks team is going to launch an online BlockStore where customers can order a smartwatch or just modules. They are planning to distribute the product through telecom carrier shops as well.
If you want to keep updated with their progress and get your hands on Blocks smartwatch first, sign up in their website ChooseBlocks.com