The inventors of Blocks, the modular wearable system, have set themselves a deadline to turn this swappable smartwatch dream into gadget reality.
Looking a bit like a wrist-based version of Google's Project Ara, Blocks has already received heaps of cash in funding after a campaign on its own website.
Early bird members who have already pledged US$50 each and backers of the Kickstarter campaign scheduled for April 2015 will receive Blocks units by November 2015, according to Omar Al Fakir, the team’s product designer.
What will they get? For around US$250 (S$323), they'll get a package including a display module containing the screen, processor and battery running Tizen OS and a clasp module. Extra Blocks from the planned Blocks Store will be available for US$20 (S$26) to US$40 (S$52) each, and will come in two formats: empty, for making the strap bigger; and filled with tech goodies. Potential examples of the latter include a GPS module, heart-rate monitor module, extra battery, Barclays bPay contactless payment chip and even 3G connectivity via Orange.
Blocks was outlining its bold plans at Intel’s Make It Wearable Challenge. The team was beaten to the US$500,000 Grand Prize by wearable camera drone Nixie but won the Fan Favourite award, based on votes from attendees at the event.
"Google is currently developing the modular phone Project Ara and we’ve been in touch with them," says Hakeem Javaid. "The Advanced Technologies and Projects group has confirmed that while it’s up to 25% more expensive than having the device fully integrated, the price of going modular today is much cheaper than it was in the past.
"But the fact we are separating it means that when better technology comes along, you can just unplug the old GPS or heart-rate module and plug in a new one. So your watch will live on with you as you change your habits."
The Kickstarter campaign will feature the display module with the larger rectangular screen, built to accommodate the Intel Edison chip, whereas the smartband-style and circular display module will be made available later. Blocks say that a display module, clasp and four peripheral modules will fit nicely around a small-sized wrist, while those with bigger wrists will be able to slot in an extra fifth Block.
As well as making the prototypes smaller, the team has a lot of work to do on the connections.
"The most important thing we are going to do in the next few months is refine the connector design between the Blocks," says Al Fakir. "We have an adviser who is ex Sony, specifically on audio components. At the moment we are using 3.5mm jacks, he told us we’re not going to be able to use jacks and we’re going to have to design something completely new.
"The reason we made [the rectangular display] wider is to fit the Edison inside. The Edison doesn't fit in the smaller display and that's the one a lot of women have told us they like and would buy. The other is a bit masculine and large. They say that by the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 they'll have a smaller version. That's outside our timeframe but maybe they can fast-track something for us."
If you can’t wait until the Kickstarter campaign in April 2015, check out our top ten wearables you can buy right now. Just don’t try to snap bits off any of them.