Smartwatches and Frank Nuovo

Frank Nuovo


There’s a story doing the rounds this morning about a former Nokia designer Frank Nuovo with some big ambitions in the smartwatch space. He’s working with Metawatch, an offshoot of clothing and accessory company Fossil.

Here’s Christopher Mims at Quartz:

Frank Nuovo was the Jony Ive of Nokia.

Or, more accurately, Jony Ive, Apple’s legendary design guru, is the Frank Nuovo of Apple. Long before Ive turned his attention to mobile devices, Nuovo designed phones for Nokia that were iconic in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

That’s a big call to make, particularly when you follow it up with this:

One of Nuovo’s last projects at Nokia was the ultra-luxury smartphone brand Vertu, which managed to turn aging Nokia dumb phone technology into status objects encrusted with high-end design, diamonds and precious metals.

Vertu? So this guy was the one responsible for stuffing years-old Nokia phone internals into awful blingy, incredibly expensive cases? In case you’ve blacked these horrific monstrosities out of your memory, here’s a picture of one of the more memorable Vertu phones:

I bring all this up because back in September, Frank Nuovo spoke to the Australian Financial Review about Apple’s current state:

Ironically Nuovo feels the answer to Apple’s conundrum can be found in re-examining Nokia history, and one of its enduring success stories, Vertu.

Vertu was the perfect antithesis of Apple’s attitude toward design; tragically outdated phones masked by jewels and gaudy cases. All appearance and no substance. To any technology enthusiast, Vertu owners are basically wearing a big sign pinned to their back that read “I AM A SUCKER AND HAVE FAR TOO MUCH MONEY.”

Love it or hate it, Apple’s design makes it possible for everyday jerks like me to own a technologically advanced device with a level of craftsmanship and detail that’s normally only accessible to rich people. Vertu was the exact opposite; obsolete devices that are only accessible to people stepping out of their mansions into their Ferraris.

Frank really thinks that Vertu was special. I think Vertu exemplified the worst aspects of Nokia at their height; arrogance about their dominant position, complacency in specs and lack of incentive to use product design as anything other than a fancy case.

Frank Nuovo also said some spectacular stuff about Nokia totally doing touchscreens first:

“That is a pain point for me, because by far they didn’t invent the touch screen phone, we had applications, we had internet phones, we had all that functionality . . . but all of our user testing pointed to the fact that no-one wanted touch phones.”

Here’s a free tip for anyone who worked at a company with touchscreen mobile devices prior to the iPhone: just don’t talk about it! You know it makes you look bad, right? So just leave it in the past. It’s like a footy player saying “Well, we lost that grand final 120-6, but y’know, I kicked our only goal. So, yay me.”

Now, I can understand that many people think that Apple’s size will eventually paralyze them. Stop them from innovating for fear of blowing up their existing businesses. I think it’s a legitimate concern, and one that has continually plagued companies at the top of their game. Apple’s shown in the past they’re not afraid of killing their own popular product lines to advance their agenda, but the iOS ecosystem is a whole new ballgame entirely. We just don’t know.

Here’s the thing though; the Vertu, jewel-snake-on-a-phone guy to be dishing out design and innovation advice to Apple in interviews? There’s something about that — it just really grinds my gears.

So, in summary: I don’t have particularly high hopes for the Metawatch.

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

Founded by James Croft, along with Peter Wells and Anthony Agius they created what would go on to become one of Australia’s most highly regarded and award winning independent tech blogs.

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