How one startup wants to make the smartwatch smarter
Blocks Wearables is working to design a customizable smartwatch that would let users choose from modules with different features.
Most smartwatches try to have as many key features as possible, but none will have all the things you're looking for. A startup called Blocks Wearables wants to change this: It will let you make your own modular smartwatch out of pieces you can mix and match to get the features you care about most.
The company has been working on a customizable smartwatch since last fall, but recently announced that its product will be powered by an Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset, with modules using low-powered ARM processors. It will also run a modified version of Android Lollipop rather than Google's Android Wear.
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Blocks' concept gives users the power to not only customize the features of a smartwatch, but also the design. On its website, Blocks offers square, round or rectangular screens, in addition to modules that provide basic features such as motion tracking (using the traditional accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer sensor trio), microphone access, GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring.
There are more unique modules that include features such as NFC/RFID sensors, blood-oxygen monitors, fingerprint sensors, a camera and a SIM card to turn the watch into a phone.
Modularity in wearables is a growing idea, as we saw at CES 2015, where Pebble announced it would let developers create interchangeable "smart straps" that would add specific functions to smartwatches. However, this is the first smartwatch running a Google OS that wants to be truly modular, mimicking Google's Project Ara for smartphone customization.
A big issue to consider is price. With the Apple Watch starting at $349, and most Android Wear watches listed above $249, it's unlikely that a smartwatch with the freedom of customization would be priced less than those competitors.
While a modular smartwatch seems intriguing on paper, we have yet to see a working model from Blocks. According to The Verge, the company stated it would be launching a Kickstarter campaign in June. Interested potential customers can sign up on the Blocks website for information as more becomes available.
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