Google (News - Alert) is positioning itself in the murky Chinese market with its latest investment in Mobvoi, the mobile voice/wearable software company that plans to introduce Android (News - Alert) Wear to China.
Google’s decision shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, especially given the two companies’ relationship. Mobvoi was founded by two ex-Google scientists who modeled the Mobvoi culture and values after their former employer’s.
While Google first tapped Mobvoi as a business partner back in September, this recent investment promises a closer, longer relationship. Mobvoi specializes in Chinese language recognition software, which Google originally planned to retrofit for its Chinese Android users. The new investment shows an increased and renewed interest in the Chinese technology company.
Mobvoi’s main service is voice recognition software akin to Siri or Cortana, but with more extensive and practical use. Mobvoi users can make purchases, request directions, and search the internet through voice. It also produces smartwatch software and has dabbled in smartwatch production: their Ticwatch had a modest but successful release.
In an under-examined facet of this investment, Mobvoi is closely partnered with other Chinese software developers in order to make their many services possible. That gives Google a whole host of new connections and proxy-relationships with Chinese firms.
The total amount of the investment was not disclosed, but it was substantial enough to earn Google a minority shareholder title. This was a Series C round of Mobvoi funding, and both companies are keeping mum about actual numbers. However, Mobvoi co-founder Yuanyuan Li confirmed $75 million in total investments in her company. How much of that came from Google remains to be seen.
Despite this optimistic investment, China remains a minefield for the tech giant. Google must navigate the country’s notorious patent and copyright infringement – often sanctioned or ignored by top officials – in order to capitalize on the exploding market for new, exciting tech. The company has to placate state overseers while maintaining its core values and, of course, shareholder expectations. Mobvoi may be the instrument to a larger, more autonomous Google presence in China.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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