One of Google’s most notable moves occurred when it pulled most of its business out of China in 2010 over censorship issues. Since then, it mostly has remained out of the country - until now that is. The company is now investing in a Chinese startup company, Mobvoi, Inc. The startup operates a Chinese-language, voice-activated search engine - a service that Google used instead of its own service in the Moto 360 smartwatch released in June.
Google’s investment indicates that the internet juggernaut may be getting back in the game in China. After all, China is home to the world’s largest mobile device market. It is unclear how much Google plans to invest in Mobvoi.
Mobvoi co-founder and former Google employee, Li Zhifei, said in a statement that, “Mobvoi is very excited to welcome Google as an investor as both companies share a long-term view on technologies.”
The company revealed that to date, Mobvoi (known in Chinese as Chumenwenwen) has raised $75 million from investors, including ZhenFund and Sequoia Capital. According to reports, the recent investments value Mobvoi at about $300 million.
In 2010, Google took a hardline stance when it said it would not self-censor content for services in China. It then closed its local search page and directed users to the company’s Hong Kong website. Other United States based internet companies operating in China, including networking site LinkedIn Corp., are required to censor local content.
The Chinese government currently blocks Google’s search services, Gmail and YouTube. However, the company’s Android software runs most of China’s best-selling smartphones. It is now reported that Google is considering developing and opening an app store for Chinese users.
Former Google employees who worked in voice and translation search at the company’s United States headquarters now operate Mobvoi. The company will use the new investment funds to explore smart car technologies, bulk up its artificial intelligence development and hire more employees.
The startup company is also developing various hardware, including a wearable smartwatch called the Ticwatch. The watch integrates its own voice search and operating system. Company officials report that Mobvoi has collaborated with over 100 data providers.
Don Harrison, vice president of corporate development for Google Inc., said in a statement that, “Mobvoi has developed some very unique speech and natural language processing technologies. We were impressed by their innovative approach and the early traction that they’ve seen.”