This Kickstarter project wants you to build your own smartwatch
The Blocks smartwatch is meant to be customized and upgraded piece by piece to give you a choice of features like better battery life and GPS.
Katie CollinsSenior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
If the current crop of smartwatches fails to impress you, why not build your own?
The world's first modular smartwatch, made by London-based Blocks Wearables, is heading to Kickstarter after 18 months in development.
The Blocks timepiece consists of a simple round watch face that serves as the core module, to which owners can clip in a set of additional modules, each with its own function, that string together to make up the band. The main module offers the same basic range of features that you might expect of a typical smartwatch, including notifications, activity tracking and voice control. The rest of the watch can then be pieced together to suit the individual owner's preferences or needs.
It's a radical take on a type of gadget that has yet to truly capture consumers' attention, even in a slick and finished state. Analysts estimate that the Apple Watch surpassed 4 million shipments during the first quarter it was available this year, enough to account for three-quarters of the global smartwatch market but a far cry from iPhone sales volumes. A long list of establish tech companies and ambitious startups, from Motorola to Samsung to Pebble, have also given several generations of smartwatches a go.
The build-your-own smartwatch brings to mind Google's Project Ara, which provides users with individual modules for constructing a custom smartphone and taps into the growing do-it-yourself mindset. The benefit is that owners can upgrade individual modules for better features such as the quality of the camera or size of the battery, both now and in the future. The technology, though, has not proven polished enough to get into the hands of consumers.
The release date for Project Ara, for instance, keeps getting pushed back, and Blocks itself has been around for a year and a half. Last year, the creators were finalists in Intel's Make It Wearable competition, which was run with the aim of supporting the most promising concepts in this area.
The Blocks smartwatch will actually launch on Kickstarter with support from Intel competitors Qualcomm and ARM, which make processors that power smartphones and tablets. It will also run an optimized version of Google's mobile operating system, Android Lollipop, instead of its wearables software, Android Wear. The watch will be compatible with Android phones, as well as with iPhones and iPads.
The company has announced an extra battery module, a GPS module, a heart rate monitor and a module using chips that let you pay at the register with the watch. An "adventure" module will offer live readings of temperature, pressure and altitude, which would be helpful for those who enjoy extreme sports and spending time in the mountains.
"From smartphones to wearables, current technology is one-size-fits-all," said Blocks co-founder Serge Didenko. "This means that we're all forced to compromise on what we want from our devices."
Two additional modules will be announced in the course of the Kickstarter campaign, with more to come. Blocks said that it anticipates dedicated blocks for gaming, sports, health care, work and academic research.
Blocks is available to back on Kickstarter for $195 for the core module, or $275 for the core plus a selection of four modules. Early-bird backers will be offered the opportunity to buy Blocks at a lower price, and the first watches should ship to backers in May.