Sony Xperia Ear Open-Style Concept: checking out the next generation of Sony's wearable assistant

Sometimes it seems like wearable technolgoy has every card in the deck stacked against it. There are big hardware problems to solve, like how to deliver adequate battery life while keeping size down. Then there are social-acceptance problems, as Google Glass knows all too well. Beyond all that, there's also the question of how best to implement a wearable interface. Last year, we saw Sony take an interesting stab at solving that one, delivering a virtual assistant through its Xperia Ear that combined voice commands with motion sensing. Now Sony's planning how the next generation of Xperia Ear will come together, showing off its new Xperia Ear Open-Style Concept.

What Sony's Thinking With This Design

The first-gen Xperia Ear looked much like a typical pair of wireless earbuds: a bit chunky (batteries have to go somewhere), with flexible rubber tips. Those tight-fitting tips became a bit of a double-edged sword for the Xperia Ear. They need to fit securely in order to hold the earbuds in place (again, with the extra weight due to their wireless construction not helping), and while that kind of isolation you get from such a solid connection with your ear canal can be great when listening to music, it's not that nice when you're walking around in public and can't easily hear the world around you.

We noted just that complaint in our review of the Xperia Ear: for a product that you're supposed to wear around all the time, it sure makes it difficult to hear what's going on.

Sony's not deaf to such concerns, and has been working on a way to deliver an experience similar to what we got with the Xperia Ear, but without any of the isolation.

To pull this off, the Xperia Ear Open-Style Concept ditches the in-ear design for behind-the-ear construction. The guts of each earpiece (battery, wireless hardware, and speaker) all live in the part of that hangs behind your ear, while a small insert pipes that audio into your ear itself.

The insert consist of an open ring, about the size of a typical earbud, that lets sound from outside pass right on through to your ear. At the bottom of this ring there's a hollow tube – Sony calls it a “spatial acoustic conductor” - through which the audio travels. This way you can hear both the Xperia Ear and ambient noises.

Like the existing Xperia Ear, Sony intends to pair these new ones with a wireless charging case. In addition to acting as storage, the case's internal battery will be able to fully recharge the earset twice before it itself needs to be recharged.

Very Much Still In The “Concept” Phase

Sony loves showing off rough product ideas at expos like MWC, and the Xperia Ear Open-Style Concept is a good example of such. It's a bit more polished than some, but Sony's not quite ready to share actual functioning hardware. While we did get to play with some earbuds that feature the same tech what will go into this final product, they were still connected via wire to a neckband.

So though we got to experience what audio sounds like with such a system (and the answer's “not bad”), we haven't really been able to appreciate the full package – the weight of complete earsets with all their electronics, and how they hang from your ear. The fact that Sony's design loops under the ear rather than over makes us a little concerned about how well these units will stay in place, but the one thing we can note is that the earpieces themselves are seriously lightweight, and put barely any pressure on the inside of your ear, making them extremely comfortable to wear.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Much like the Xperia Touch projector, which we got to check out a couple times before Sony finally pulled the trigger on a commercial launch, we wouldn't be surprised to see the Xperia Ear Open-Style Concept pop up another time or two as Sony continues to hone the model's design and feature set.

Right now there are few sure things about how the Xperia Ear Open-Style Concept will finally launch, but from what we've been told a later-in-the-year ETA is still in the cards – maybe in time for the holiday season?

We'd love to know more about issues like pricing, expected battery life, and weight, but it's still too early for such detail. We'll be sure to keep you posted as we learn more; for now, check out our video preview from MWC 2017:


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