With Google services yet to make an appearance officially in China, it appears that Google is making moves in that direction with a new investment in Chinese Android Wear partner Mobvoi.
Google first partnered with Mobvoi when they used the company to supply services for Android Wear when Motorola launched the Moto 360 last month. This deal makes their existing commercial relationship more firm, with Mobvoi co-founder Yuanyuan Li confirmingsd that Google has now become a minority shareholder. Though no exact amount has been stated, it’s believed that the investment is less than US$60 million.
Mobvoi was started by former Google employees, CEO Zhifei Li and CTO Mike Lei, who were both former research scientists with Google U.S. Li has previously stated that Mobvoi’s DNA is heavily influenced by their past engagement and employment with Google.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Li said ‘We used the Google model from day one. We wanted to have same culture and team values. The co-operation [on bringing Android Wear to China] went really well… and [Google] showed interest and decided to make an investment.’
When it comes to products and business side of things, Mobvoi is very much the Google of China. The company is best known for their mobile voice search service, called Chumenwenwen, something akin to a mix of Google Now and Siri. Chumenwenwen, helps users to perform a range of tasks which include search, checking weather, buying items, and more just by simply using voice commands.
With this technology, Mobvoi has been able to build its own smartwatch software called Ticwear. Ticwear is a ROM that pairs with Android Wear to make the Google-run operating system which has been denied from operation within China, thanks to the government’s blocking Google services, work within the country.
Mobvoi has also gone beyond developing smartwatch software which works with selected Android Wear smartwatches like the Moto 360, with developing and building its own hardware called the Ticwatch. The Ticwatch has apparently sold 30,000 units already at a unit price of between US$160-$190 – but says their primary focus remains software.
Whilst analysis predict that Google could possibly buyout Mobvoi, Li believes that Google won’t buyout the company telling TechCrunch ‘We value this partnership a lot, and respect Google as an investor, [but it is] still a minority investor and we will focus on what we believe in and in our products. We’re not changing what we’ve planned, but there are definitely more opportunities [that will open up].’
Google has responded to possibility of purchasing Mobvoi with their usual response to rumours, saying they have ‘nothing to announce at this time.’ Whilst Google might be quiet about the possibility of a buyout, the news of the increased stake in Mobvoi certainly does put fuel to the flames so to speak.