One moment, Cheetah Mobile CEO Fu Sheng was on stage at Beijing’s Water Cube telling the gathered journalists about his decision to push the app and livestreaming company into hardware, the next he was standing pool-side, before diving into the same pool that hosted the 2008 Olympic Games swimming competition.
The 40-year-old, who has a self-professed fear of water, then swam for a few minutes. He took off his shoes before jumping in, but had goggles on. He then returned to the massive stage, after changing into dry clothes, and continued showing the company’s latest line of companion robot, coffee-making robotic arm, and Amazon Echo-style smart speaker.
“There was a discussion whether we should hire someone to perform water ballet, and I said that’ll cost money, why don’t I do the swim myself,” Fu said in a post-swim group interview. “I was quite calm before the swim. I was thinking later during the swim, I should keep my back straight.”
It is increasingly difficult to make a splash in China’s crowded smart speaker and home robots market. China’s Cheetah Mobile, best known for utility apps that declutter smartphones and streaming app Live.me, will be going up against the likes of Alibaba Group Holding, Baidu and Tencent Holdings, which all have their competing offerings as they seek to meld advanced artificial intelligence (AI) functionalities like voice and facial recognition, with hardware.
Fu is unperturbed, saying that “with the rising labour cost, there must to be strong market demand for robots as long as we can provide good products”. Hardware, though, is a different business for Cheetah and the top concern is “mass production, which I don’t have much experience” of, he said.
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The goal for China’s tech giants moving into hardware is to attract and lock in as many of the country’s growing number of affluent consumers on their platforms as possible.
Founded in 2010, Cheetah Mobile has been betting big on the rising AI wave in China to expand beyond its business of utility apps. It has built up a user base of 552 million monthly active users with about 75.4 per cent of them coming from countries outside China.
In his presentation, Fu cited German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s saying, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”.