Sony’s launch at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona represented a shift in focus when it came to the development of mobile devices, bringing out several concepts that go beyond simply augmenting a smartphone. At SXSW (South by Southwest) they pulled back the covers of yet another futuristic device that falls in line with the experience Sony are promoting with their hands-free Xperia Ear device — the Concept N headphones.
Concept N is the child of Sony’s R&D arm Future Lab initiative — an arm tasked with showing off early prototypes of products and gathering feedback. On the surface, the N doesn’t look all too different or radical when compared to existing headphones from other manufacturers, but it does have a trick or two up its sleeve.
The first thing you’ll notice is that they’re not connected to your ear and are designed to be worn around your neck. So how do you listen to music then? The N has a set of cleverly placed speakers designed to play music to your ears in a limited range around your head so you can also listen to your surroundings and have a proper conversation.
We suspect that this wouldn’t be too great for sound quality if you’re mixing in a noisy background, but the folks at The Verge and Engadget seem pretty impressed with it. If you want a more quiet experience, though, Sony has a pair of “open-ear earphones” that go along with the N, letting you clip them on your ear for what we suspect would be a more private listening experience.
Since these V-shaped earphones are open-ear though, you can still listen to your surroundings while your favourite track is on. The drivers are mounted at one end of the V, feeding audio to the other end of the V that goes in your ear, resulting in a slick minimalist design.
That’s not all, Sony’s Concept N has a bunch of, although very limited, augmented-reality-esque features too — though not in the generic visual AR sense. Instead, the N responds to voice commands and can tell you useful stuff like the weather, local news updates and local restaurant information all with a simple trigger phrase “Listen up Arc!” before your command.
What’s most impressive is that you can tell it to take a photo too.
Once the command is inputted (or shouted, depending on how loud your surroundings are), the otherwise hidden camera mounted on the right edge of the neckband opens up and takes a photo before disappearing again. It eliminates one of the Google Glass’ biggest flaws when it comes to a wearable camera — people don’t feel like you’re always taking a photo/video of them.
It’s an interesting device in the way it functions and brings aural AR into our lives giving me a very distinct Her vibe. Sony has always been one of the great pioneers of audio technology and it’s great to see them pull out something seriously cool.
What do you think of the Concept N? Let us know in the comments below.