Google-funded Mobvoi launching smartwatch app store in China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2016, 12:28pm

Mobvoi, an artificial intelligence start-up in China partly funded by Google, aims to build up the adoption rate of Android smartwatches on the mainland with the opening of its app store for these devices, it said this week.

Google’s app store cannot enter the country. The company’s Gmail and other services have been unavailable in China for several years.

“It is an app store supported by Google and will be pre-installed on all platforms for Android smartwatches,” Li Zhifei, co-founder and chief executive of Mobvoi, said in Beijing on Monday.

READ MORE: Top 5 most popular wearable devices in China

Google has been trying to bring many of its services back to China, including its Android Wear OS.

As of last September it entered China and was pre-installed on several smartwatches from Motorola and China’s Huawei, but those devices suffered from a paucity of apps supporting them, said a spokesperson from Mobvoi.

“We are excited to support [this project], but the running of the store is entirely Mobvoi,” said David Singleton, vice president of engineering from Google.

He suggested Google will not profit from the move or wield any control over the store.

Google led the latest round of funding for Mobvoi in October. Over the last three rounds of funding. Mobvoi has attracted US$75 million.

Singleton declined to comment on when other services like Google Play or Google Maps would be permitted to re-enter China.

Google included Mobvoi as an official partner in developing Android Wear watches alongside industry giants such as Samsung and Huawei , according to its website. It is also the only company on the list that makes software.

Based in Beijing and founded by former Google employees in 2012, Mobvoi has developed its own smartwatch OS as well as Chinese-language speech recognition and search technologies.

In the process of bring back its products to China, Google partnered with Chinese companies to substitute its banned services.

For its Android Wear watches, it adopted a map service from Chinese search engine company Sogou to replace Google Maps. Mobvoi’s voice recognition app takes the place of Google Now.

Google pulled out most of its services in China in 2010 after attacks on its email service and disagreements about censorship with the Chinese government.

However, it still sells advertising solutions to Chinese companies looking to promote internationally and has offices in several key Chinese cities.

Last November, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, said at an event in Beijing that Google hopes to expand its presence in China and is in regular communication with the Chinese government.