AI-Powered Smartwatch Helps Start-up Mobvoi to Aim at US

A smartwatch that is barely a year old has created global ambitions for Mobvoi – a 4-year-old Chinese technology start-up with a large following in China.

The global edition of Ticwatch 2, the second generation of a smatwatch version which is currently available only in China, would be launched globally, announced Mobvoi which which has raised $75 million in financing to date and is Google’s mobile tech partner in one of the world’s biggest markets for smartwatches.

An early bird price of $99 and $129 for a version with a plastic or oak/leather band respectively would be offered by the company which is gearing up a Kickstarter campaign for the four models of its device. The price is lower than the price of comparable prices of Apple Watch which starts at around $300. The company said that the first version of the watch quickly became China’s best-selling Android-based smartwatch after it was launched last year.

Powered by artificial intelligence technology that responds to touch, voice or gesture, the device’s second-generation version is billed as an interactive smartwatch. Possessing a range of features like voice activation, interchangeable watch faces and wireless charging, the Ticwatch also has its own operating system.

In what is a part of a strategy to become China’s version of Apple, Mobvoi’s crowdfunding campaign will run for nearly two months until shipments begin in late September. The company intends to offer more than just the sum of its smartwatches, founder and CEO Zhifei Li explained in a recent interview with CNBC.

“Basically the mission of Mobvoi is to define the next generation of computer interaction using AI technology, which means we are trying to find all kinds of scenarios where AI might be useful,” said 40-year-old Li. He used to work for Google as a research scientist and specialized in artificial intelligence at Johns Hopkins University.

The company has plans to offer a range of AI-powered products eventually as “Mobvoi is not positioning itself as a wearable company only”.

Given the apparent retrenchment in the worldwide wearables market, that strategy may be well-advised. In what was, global smartwatch shipments tumbled 32 percent in the second quarter this year, said research firm IDC last week. With manufacturers like Lenovo, LG and Garmin bringing up the rear, Apple and Samsung hold a commanding market share.

However U.S. could be a tough nut to crack as Mobvoi might find. The Asian market which is considered by analysts to be the most promising for the devices, has a high demand for wearables.

Yet compared to those abroad, smartwatches are far-less popular with smartphone-centric American consumers, suggests data. Worldwide, U.S. consumers were among the least enthusiastic of potential smartwatch buyers, a 2015 survey of the market for high end watches by Deloitte showed.

However despite the statistics, there are high expectations for Li with regards to Ticwear’s bells and whistles. Features such as a notification hub that means the user doesn’t have to touch the phone to review messages, allowing the wearer play music on the phone, an interface which syncs to an Android-powered smartphone and a microphone speaker that allows users to answer calls while driving are some of the sale points of the smartwatch.

“It’s much more integrated because we built the hardware and software altogether. They’re small innovations but if you fit them as a single piece it’s really a combination of … good things,” Li told CNBC.

(Adapted from CNBC)

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