(Credit: Google/Alphabet)

With the Google Play Store banned in China, it's not easy for the company to get its apps in front of users in that country. However, the WeChat texting app is China's de facto communications platform, and it has its own app store. So this week, Google launched Caihua Xiaoge ("Guess the Sketch" in English) for WeChat in China, and it's designed to leverage the company's formidable AI for a friendly game of Pictionary.

In Caihua Xiaoge, the user is given a series of sketches to draw, which Google AI analyzes and attempts to identify. Google gets 20 seconds to figure out what you've drawn. If it succeeds, you move on to the next round. The further you go in, the more complex the sketches get.

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According to the Chinese-language blog post, you can also share your progress with friends and family and challenge them to beat your highest score. Product manager Chris Tam says that Google's AI data set is based on over 50 million sketches.

And WeChat itself has a formidable presence in China; its one billion-plus users put it on the same level as Instagram, which crossed that threshold last month with the announcement of IGTV. With an audience that size, an app like Caihua Xiaoge could really take off if it gets some early momentum.

WeChat launched mini-apps in January 2017, and at a conference one year later, the company said that this feature had 170 million daily active users, and a whopping 580,000 mini-apps had been published. Meanwhile, Google announced in December 2017 that Beijing would be the home of its first AI lab in Asia. The others are in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.

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Google and other Western tech companies have had a fraught relationship with China over the years. The country's government has strongly resisted things like private encryption, while Chinese corporations such as ZTE have been heavily sanctioned by the U.S. for unauthorized sales to Iran and North Korea. Google pulled its search engine from China in 2010, and the home-grown Baidu has taken its place as the king of the hill.

Takeaways

  1. Google released a mini app for WeChat in China that uses Google AI to guess what you're sketching.
  2. There is no Google Play Store in China, but WeChat has over one billion users and hundreds of thousands of mini apps.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.