Nokia's Former Design Chief Is Joining The Startup Building A Google Glass Competitor

FrankNuovoLinkedInFrank Nuovo.

Frank Nuovo, who worked as Nokia’s chief of design for 11 years and also founded the luxury smartphone company Vertu, will be joining the startup Atheer Labs as its design chief, Business Insider has learned.

Atheer Labs is developing an augmented reality headset for commercial use in hospitals, on construction sites, and other environments in which the hands-free technology makes sense.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Google would be taking a similar direction with a future Intel-powered version of its Glass headset, saying that the company planned to promote it in hospitals and other workplaces. 

Atheer’s wearable display differs from Google’s in a few significant ways, though they may share some similar goals. Atheer’s headset essentially puts a virtual tablet in front of your face, which you can interact with through gestures. It can also show images in 3D, which can come in handy in hospitals or classrooms where viewing large, 3D interactive diagrams could be useful.

Google Glass, comparatively, features a small screen that sits just above the corner of your right eye. You interact with it primarily through swiping on the touchpad along the side and using voice commands. Because the screen doesn’t fall into your field of vision, you must glance up at it when you want to view information. It doesn’t truly do augmented reality in the same way as some of its competitors — rather, it’s meant to display notifications you can glance at quickly. 

Business Insider/Lisa EadiciccoThe screen shows what you would see if you were looking through the glasses.

Right now, the prototype of Atheer’s wearable gadget looks big and clunky, and it needs to be attached to an external box that houses its processor and battery. But part of Nuovo’s job will be designing a headset that can accommodate different types of use cases and scenarios. 

A large part of designing the hardware, according to Nuovo, will be understanding how it will be used.

“Practical apps have to be understood very well,” Nuovo told Business Insider. 

Although Atheer Labs is focusing on commercial and enterprise use cases, the goal is to eventually make the device appeal to a mainstream audience. Atheer, along with other companies like Google and Meta that compete in the same space, face a difficult challenge in convincing everyday users their device is worth wearing. 

Business Insider/Lisa EadiciccoMe wearing Atheer’s glasses.

Nuovo thinks there’s a strong possibility for wearable displays to become part of the mainstream, but that doesn’t mean users need to be wearing them all day every day.

There’s an “unrealistic vision that everyone will be walking around with glasses taking pictures,” he said, adding that it didn’t “have to be that you’re wearing these all the time.”

Nuovo expects 3D and augmented-reality glasses to be a big part of everyday experiences, like touring a museum, watching a movie, or taking a flight. But rather than wearing them all the time, people may keep them in their bag and use them only when necessary.

“You have to have a broader vision of the future to understand why people would do this,” he said. 

This is the second major hire Atheer Labs has made this year. In October, the company hired former HP mobile head Alberto Torres to be its CEO.

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