Google Translate app makes its comeback to China with help from hip-hop star

After an absence of seven years, the American tech giant has reintroduced its Translate mobile app to Chinese users as it searches for a way back

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 11:22pm

Google has launched a campaign promoting its Translate mobile app to a new generation of Chinese users as it apparently looks for a way back in after a seven-year absence from the country.

The American technology giant moved its online search service from the mainland to Hong Kong in 2010 after a cyberattack targeting Gmail users and a clash with the authorities over censorship. Today many of its services, such as Gmail and Google Map, remain blocked by the Chinese authorities.

Google reintroduced the free Translate app to mainlanders without much fanfare in March. But it is now seeking to boost its popularity with its biggest consumer product launch in China in seven years.

The campaign, targeting “a generation of users who are new to the Google brand”, aims to increase take-up of the real-time image and audio translation app, according to creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), which has made a 30-second advertisement for the app.

“Google Translate is one of our most beloved products worldwide. We are excited to introduce the app to Chinese consumers and let them discover a world without language barriers,” said Zhang Yibing, product marketing manager of Google China, in a statement.

Since the Chinese version of the app was quietly updated in March, it has been rated 4.5 out of 5 on the Apple Store. It appears to be the first time Chinese users have been able to download a Google app on both the Android operating system and iOS and use it without a VPN – a virtual private network – to help bypass China’s firewall.

Google looking to build its own team of artificial intelligence specialists in China

Google Translate offers more than 100 language options and has a conversation mode in which users can have real-time conversations translated without having to pre-record.

The advertisement created by BBH features Chinese-American hip-hop star MC Jin discovering trendy areas around Shanghai and Wuzhen by capturing and translating English words he sees and hears along the way using the app’s augmented reality technologies.

The move comes amid Google’s quiet recruitment of artificial intelligence experts in the mainland. According to a post on the company’s website in May, the technology juggernaut was looking for a research scientist, technical lead and software engineer in machine-learning technology in Beijing.

Google has been reportedly mulling a comeback in China for the past year. In the race to dominate the field of machine translation, it may eventually face competition from Chinese internet companies including Baidu and Sougou, which are developing their own real-time translation services.