Mobvoi makes a service called Chumen Wenwen that was originally built on top of WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app. Ask it a question (in Chinese, of course) using the same voice chat function you would use to talk to a friend, and Chumen Wenwen will respond with a WeChat message containing the answer. The company also has a native Android app available. If the app can’t return the results directly, it will let you sift through search results from Baidu, 360 Search, or Google.
Right now, the service focuses on travel and lifestyle queries including restaurants, bars, shopping, navigation, weather, tourism, transportation, and even the nearest toilet. With this latest investment, founder Li Zhifei says he wants to turn his company into a leading comprehensive mobile voice search engine.
Li left Google’s machine translation team in 2012 to start Mobvoi. Despite his decision to go to WeChat first successfully earned Chumen Wenwen strong traction, he says he doesn’t trust Tencent not to hamper or kill off third-party apps in the future.
Mobvoi’s voice-search technology has also been embedded in other third-party Android apps like Dianping, the restaurant review and group-buying service that Tencent just bought a 20 percent stake in.
Apple looks ready to ramp up its efforts to bolster Siri in China, as well. It recently posted job openings for Chinese writers for the service. As of now, Siri is severely limited when it comes to Chinese-language searches. Chinese search engines Baidu and Sogou have also built their own voice search assistants.
In July, Mobvoi reported Chumen Wenwen had about 40,000 monthly active users, but we expect that number has risen by now. This is the company’s second round of funding since it received a $1.62 million series A round from Sequoia Capital and ZhenFund in 2012.
(Editing by Josh Horwitz)