Among the many new Google Assistant hardware partners announced at I/O, one stands out. Mobvoi, the maker of the Ticwatch 2, will be the first Chinese company to produce an Assistant-equipped device. This is notable because, as you know, Google isn’t exactly popular in China.
The Tichome Mini is a muffin-top version of Google Home, an ultra-portable, small circular speaker disc that is battery-powered to boot. There’s no pricing or release information available yet, but it will be coming to the US later this year. While it will feature full Assistant support, I wouldn’t be surprised if it loses its always-listening abilities when it is running on battery power.
If this partnership seems a little odd – tapping a Chinese company to make products that won’t work properly in China – it’s actually not that strange. Mobvoi has already enjoyed a successful partnership with Google on Android Wear, bringing the first Android Wear device to China in the form of the Moto 360, and again more recently on the Ticwatch 2.
In its home country of China, where Google Play Services are blocked, Android Wear’s voice recognition, AI and natural language understanding are all taken care of by Mobvoi. This not only demonstrates a high level of competency, but also of trust from Google.
Google actually owns a minority stake in Mobvoi, so we can expect to see more partnerships like this in years to come. Whether this means Assistant might one day get the same Mobvoi treatment as Wear in order to deliver it to the Chinese market, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, those in the US will soon have a lot more Assistant hardware options on hand, most of which hopefully won’t look quite so much like an air freshener.