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The Blocks modular smartwatch will always be a concept

The Blocks modular smartwatch will always be a concept
From Engadget - January 9, 2018

It's at CES 2018, the biggest tech show of the year, that Blocks hopes to generate a renewed interest in its vision. The startup does actually have some news to share. It shipped its first, so-called "beta" units, to the most fervent of Kickstarter backers in 2017. But sub-par manufacturing caused Blocks to seek a new partner, and at the same time they switched from a Qualcomm chipset to the faster-clocked, quad-core MediaTek 6580M platform -- restrictive and expensive licensing conditions inspired that particular move, I am told. But now the product is up-to-scratch, and how the Blocks team first envisioned it. They are on track to deliver to all crowdfunding backers and to start shipping retailer pre-orders within the next few months. So, CES is being treated by them as, finally, the launch of Blocks.

The team is also currently working on updating their smartwatch OS to Android 8.0 Oreo, so customers can be treated to a faster, more battery-efficient software experience soon after receiving their device. The Blocks OS was originally developed by a company called Cronologics, helmed by ex-Googlers who built smartwatch software with regular Android as the backbone (Alexa support being one of their highlighted achievements). Android Wear, which the big G was focused on, did not allow the hardware access the Blocks team needed, modular components being key to the product and all. A little over a year ago, Cronologics was acquired by Google, bringing those rogue staff full circle and leaving Blocks to take over development.

The hardware itself was always the main USP of Blocks, though. While the "core," as the team calls it, houses the brain, AMOLED touchscreen, battery, speaker and a few other key components, it's the links that form the strap that provide all additional functionality. There's a battery module for extra juice, a GPS/GLONASS module, and one that includes temperature, humidity and air pressure sensors, as well as an altimeter. There's also a heart rate sensor, and an LED torch module. You can chop and change these, of course, perhaps opting only to attach the battery module and pairing that with a regular watch strap. Customization is great and all, but you can find the functionality these modules offer on countless other smartwatches already.

The Blocks squad is under no illusion they have got the next Apple Watch on their hands, or even close to a mass market product. Where they think they can fit, however, is in the niches everyone else is not. The plan is to target very specific use cases, and monopolize those customers. The biggest opportunities, they believe, will be with enterprise clients who have no use for an off-the-shelf product. A plant manager might want a smartwatch for workers that can provide precise indoor location information, incorporate a harmful gas sensor and a panic button. Maybe the watch can identify when a machine operator is tired or stressed and get them to switch out with a co-worker. This is where Blocks, as a hardware platform rather than just a watch, might shine.

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