Modular design is something interesting, exciting and innovative. The driving idea behind it is simple: allow consumers to purchase separate modules so they can piece together their own device. It’s pretty awesome when you think about it. For example, if you wanted a smartphone without 3G support – sticking to just Wi-Fi and 4G – you could leave out the related module when building your phone.
If the idea of piecing your own smartphone together sounds too good to be true, take a look at Project Ara. It’s exactly the kind of modular device we’re talking about.
The benefits don’t just stop after you pick and choose what modules you want and build your phone, however. You may have noticed that most mobile devices are outdated shortly after they hit store shelves? Less than a year after you’ve had them, much more powerful devices are already becoming available leaving you to feel left out in the cold. With a modular phone, you can just swap out older modules for new ones. For example, you could swap out a module with an old processor for a newer and more powerful one. In the end, this would essentially make your device more relevant – and keep it up to date. In turn, that would mean you can always take advantage of the latest software apps and games, provided you stay up to date with your hardware.
Cue In Blocks, the Modular Smartwatch
Now let’s take that concept and shift it over into the world of smartwatches. Imagine being able to choose whether or not the display on your watch was round, or square, or rectangular. Imagine being able to choose whether or not you want a camera in your watch. Perhaps, you would rather skip the fitness tracking features like the heart-rate sensor? Would you like to choose between a low-power LCD, high resolution touchscreen, or e-ink display? With a project, aptly titled Blocks, you can do just that.
Blocks is a modular smartwatch project that borrows the same basic concept from Project Ara. With proprietary hardware modules, you can piece together a device yourself – choosing the various components and features to fit exactly what you want.
You buy the basic core module and then you can expand it gradually – or all at once – with “blocks” that include more features. What kind of functionality and modules can you buy? Here’s a list that was lifted right off the official Blocks website:
- Rectangular screen
- Circular screen
- E-ink screen
- Motion – includes accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer
- Gesture control – includes EMG and MMG sensors
- Location – GPS
- Heart rate – includes infrared heart rate sensor
- Blood Oxygen – includes infrared O2 sensor
- Environment – includes temperature, altitude and pressure sensors
- Fingerprint scanner
- Audio jack – 3.5mm
- Camera – 3, 5 or 8 megapixel sensor
- Extra battery
- Storage – USB or SD card slots
- Contactless – includes NFC and RFID modules
- LED Flashlight
- Programmable button – adds a physical button to the device
- SIM card – includes support for standard, micro or nano SIM
- Kinetic charger port
Of course, these would only be the intitial offerings. Over time there would be more modules available and since the Blocks developers have made the platform open, third party manufacturers may offer new modules after the device is on the market.
How Difficult Is It to Assemble a Modular Smartwatch?
Take a look at the demo video embed below from Blocks, it explores the concept in more detail. You can also see in the video how the developers have designed the different modules so they snap together nicely. The final product may look slightly different from what’s demoed here, but the idea will remain the same. You should easily be able to piece together the different modules to create a more complete device.
Judging by what the developers have shown off, the Blocks modular smartwatches should be easy enough for even the average consumer to assemble. You will need to know at least a little bit about the hardware inside the watch, but you won’t have to know anything about creating it, that’s more advanced. That said, you’ll have to understand what you want your watch to do and what modules will be necessary for that to happen.
For example, if you want to track fitness and health data you’ll want to pick up the heart rate sensor module as well as the motion module that includes the accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer. With all of those modules you should be able to track calories burned, distance traveled and some more basic stats. If you want to track stuff like your blood oxygen level or your body temperature, you’ll have to pick up different modules for those.
Let’s just say you want a simple – more traditional – smartwatch that can handle calls, texts and notifications. You’ll need an advanced display with a touchscreen, a Bluetooth module to connect to your phone or a SIM card module to connect to a wireless network, and more.
The necessary modules are going to differ depending on what kind of device you want, and that’s the point we’re trying to make. That said, it should be fairly easy to put together a smartwatch that does what you want. The developers have even said that each “block” or module will be built using replaceable covers. You can swap out the covers at any time for those of another color, allowing you to further customize the appearance of your watch.
How Much Will A Modular Smartwatch Like This Cost?
Perhaps the best part about the modular designs is that they are meant to be affordable and budget-friendly. If you really wanted to, you could purchase the core module and expand it gradually over time as you saved up enough. In that respect, you could add more features to the device as you found you needed them.
The Blocks development team has said several times on their official site that the final product should cost somewhere in the vicinity of $200. That means it could be a little more expensive, or it could be less but ultimately that’s the price range it’s going to stay close to.
You can pay $50 now to earn a membership with blocks that will net you a 20-40% discount when the first “early-bird” models become available. That price goes towards the final price of the device, so it’s not like you’d be losing the money if you decided to join up.
“To become a founding member of the blocks community we are asking for a $50 deposit. The deposit will count towards your future blocks purchase, deducting $50 from the total price. For example, if you purchase a colour touch screen block with 5 additional sensor blocks for $250, your total bill will only be $200.”
A crowdfunding campaign for the project is coming soon, though no confirmed date has been mentioned. Backers will be able to pledge money to the project in exchange for one of the first models available – provided they spend enough money. As with most crowdfunding campaigns, the Block smartwatch packages will be cheaper for early backers.
What do you think of the modular smartwatch idea? Is it something that interests you? Are you going to back the project when the crowdfunding campaign kicks off? What kind of watch would you build, as in what modules would you choose?