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Circuit Breaker

These shiny concept earphones are the latest vessel for Sony’s digital assistant

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The second-generation prototype Xperia Ear

Sony has a compelling vision for the future of computing, but it doesn’t always manage to follow through. Case in point, the company has announced at MWC today a new concept version of its Xperia Ear — a headphone with a built-in digital assistant (the Sony Agent).

Sony says the technology is “hands-free, eyes-free, and ears-free.” And why ears-free? Because these headphones use something called “open-ear” technology that transmits sound “directly to the ear canal.” This has the same effect as the audio passthrough tech we’ve seen in other wireless earphones — allowing users to listen to music and interact with an assistant while still hearing noise from the world around them.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen some similar promises from Sony before, with the company not quite hitting the mark. The first-generation Xperia Ear was also announced as a concept before it went on sale last year. But it was a dud, with reviewers citing limited functionality and poor battery life as reasons to give it a wide berth.

Perhaps the new and improved Ear will solve some of these issues. Sony says it’s still improving on its digital assistant, and has announced a new “Anytime Talk” feature that makes it easy to start a group call “without searching through contacts or needing to dial.” (This functionality will be coming to first-generation Xperia Ears sometime in the next couple of months.)

We’ll hopefully be able to try out the new Xperia Ear ourselves at MWC, and see if it’s worth keeping an eye on. Stay tuned.