Google-backed Mob­voi to take on Ap­ple watch

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By MASI

Mob­voi Inc, a Chi­nese ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence startup backed by Google Inc, is eye­ing to take on Ap­ple Inc in the lat­ter’s home turf with a smart watch, which en­ables con­sumers to or­der piz­zas, hail cabs and make restau­rants book­ings via voice con­trol.

The Bei­jing-based firm, which has so far landed $75 mil­lion from in­vestors in­clud­ing Google, is bring­ing Ticwatch 2 to the United States, af­ter its prod­ucts stood out in­China with self­de­vel­oped voice search tech­nol­ogy.

“Un­like ri­val prod­ucts which rely on Google’s op­er­at­ing sys­tem, we have de­vel­oped soft­ware, voice recog­ni­tion al­go­rithms and hard­ware all on our own, which gives us full au­ton­omy on devel­op­ment plans and thus en­sures rapid up­grades of prod­ucts,” said Li Zhifei, founder and CEO of the four-year-old com­pany.

Equipped with a 1.4-inch color OLED dis­play and wire­less charg­ing tech­nol­ogy, Ticwatch 2 will soon be avail­able on Ama­zon.com. The sen­sor-rich gad­get also has a unique de­sign, al­low­ing con­sumers to roll their fin­gers along the side of the face to shift be­tween apps and screens.

In July, the firm brought Ticwatch 2 on Kick­starter, a crowd-fund plat­form ded­i­cated to turn cre­ative ideas into prod­ucts, and man­aged to raise over $2 mil­lion from more than 9,900 con­sumers on it.

“Cur­rently, the global smart watch mar­ket is about three to four times the size of China mar­ket. Com­pared with their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, over­seas con­sumers are more will­ing to lay their hands on prod­ucts from star­tups,” said Li, who is among the group of ex-Googlers be­hind the startup.

The move to boost global pres­ence came af­ter the firm made waves in the do­mes­tic mar­ket with ap­peal­ing prod­ucts. It al­ready has amassed more than 100,000 users via its first-gen­er­a­tion smart­watch. The Chi­nese ver­sion of Ticwatch 2 also raised over 15 mil­lion yuan ($2.2 mil­lion) on a do­mes­tic crowd-fund site, the firm said.

... We have de­vel­oped soft­ware, voice recog­ni­tion al­go­rithms and hard­ware all on our own ...”

founder and CEO of Mob­voi Inc, a Chi­nese AI startup backed by Google Inc

Li Zhifei,

in­vest­ment that the Bei­jing-based Mob­voi Inc has re­ceived so far start­ing price of the Ticwatch 2

“Of­fer­ing a high-per­for­mance smart watch at an af­ford­able price is one of our big­gest edges. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant when the mar­ket is still in devel­op­ment and low prices can prompt more con­sumers to try on new things,” Li said.

Price-wise, Ticwatch 2 starts from 999 yuan. In com­par­i­son, Ap­ple watch is priced from 2,500 yuan.

Mob­voi has been of­fer­ing voice recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to Chi­nese firms since its found­ing. And mak­ing smart watches is part of its broad ef­forts to com­mer­cial­ize AI. In June, the firm un­veiled a voice-ac­ti­vated smart rear-view mir­ror for au­to­mo­biles.

In the April-June quar­ter, the global smart watch ship­ments de­clined 32 per­cent to 3.5 mil­lion units, data from In­ter­na­tional Data Corp show.

Xiao Jing, an an­a­lyst at IDC, said cur­rently smart watches are just not smart enough to jus­tify their high price, which is dent­ing con­sumers’ in­ter­est.

“Mob­voi has an ob­vi­ous edge in AI tech­nol­ogy which al­lows it to add more func­tions to the watch, but it needs to beef up re­sources to ex­pand of­fline re­tail­ing chan­nels, if it wants to en­ter the US main­stream mar­ket,” she said.

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