Delivering better government services at lower costs with Chrome

Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Vijay Badal, Director of Application Services of DOTComm. Founded in 2003, DOTComm provides centralized IT support and consulting for 70 government agencies in the city of Omaha and Douglas County, NE. DOTComm uses Chrome browser and G Suite to improve employee productivity and mobility and cut IT costs.

At DOTComm, our employees provide technical support for more than 5,000 government workers throughout Omaha and Douglas County. Because these workers are spread across 120 different locations, our employees need access to the tools they need to do their jobs whether they’re in the office or on site with our customers. Several years ago, we realized the legacy systems we were using were getting in the way.

When employees had to travel to provide technical support for the government agencies we serve, they didn’t have mobile access to important documents, or the ability to share and send files back to the office, such as videos that outlined technical issues. In addition, hardware and licensing were costly, and inflexible productivity applications were making it difficult for employees to collaborate or work from the road. Plus, we needed half a dozen employees just to maintain our infrastructure!

To solve these challenges, we turned to Chrome and G Suite. Chrome is fast, secure and gives our staff access to thousands of useful extensions. It’s also allowed us to standardize across our desktop and mobile devices. G Suite has helped us cut hardware costs and improve collaboration and mobility. With Chrome and G Suite, we no longer pay thousands of dollars in annual licensing fees, and we’ve reduced the number of people managing infrastructure from six to one, freeing up the other five people to work on different tasks.

Chrome’s extensions have been big productivity boosters. One extension syncs the staffs’ Google calendars with their Salesforce calendars. Previously, employees had to check two separate apps and cross-reference two separate calendars. Now they only need to check one. Another extension gives staff mobile access to Google Docs and Google Sheets. This means they can work nearly anywhere. When they’re out of the office, or in the field, they can create and share files on any device they need.

As an IT department, we’re particularly pleased with the security and other IT benefits we get with Google. Chrome has built-in malware and phishing protection, and we use the G Suite admin console to ensure all user downloads are stored on the same network drive so they can be checked for malware. The G Suite admin console lets us control Chrome settings for employees, including adding extensions on whitelists so employees can use them, pushing recommended extensions to users, and rolling out Chrome updates on a scheduled timeframe. That’s made our IT administrators’ lives much easier and has been a huge timesaver. And because we centrally manage the rollout of extensions for new employees, individual city and departments no longer need to have a dedicated IT person working on new hire application orientation. So we save time and money with each new hire.

Meanwhile, the number of help tickets for IT support has plummeted, from 30 a day to one or two. For example, we no longer have to deal with local archive files, which means our staff spends less time troubleshooting and the government employees we serve don’t waste time wrestling with unfamiliar technology. Productivity has increased as well. For example, City Police, City Fire, and County Health departments all use shared Google Sheets within their individual precincts for shift change management. This allows them to roll over shift changes swiftly and efficiently, without missing any critical ongoing task assignments.

Chrome browser and G Suite have allowed us to offer more secure and productive IT services to all City of Omaha and Douglas County employees, who are then able to better serve citizens. DOTComm and the City of Omaha were recently honored as one of “Top 10 Cities” by the Center for Digital Government in its Digital Cities Survey 2016, which recognizes cities that use technology to improve citizen services, enhance transparency and encourage citizen engagement. This marked the first time the City of Omaha made the list—but I predict it won’t be the last now that we’re using Chrome browser and G Suite.

Google Home Mini has arrived—here’s what you can do with it

A few weeks ago we unveiled Google Home Mini, the newest addition to the Google Home family. About the size of a donut, it has all the smarts of the Google Assistant and gives you hands-free help in any room of your house. Starting today, you can grab it online from the Google Store or online or on shelves of Best Buy, Walmart, Target and other stores.

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Just start with “Hey Google” to get answers from your Google Assistant, tackle your day, enjoy music or TV shows, and control your compatible smart home devices. And with Voice Match, the Assistant can tell your voice from others—up to six people can get personal assistance on each device.

Here are six fun things you can do with your Mini:

  1. Find my phone: When you lose your phone in the couch cushions, your Assistant can find it for you. “Hey Google, find my phone” will ring your Android phone (even if it’s on silent) or your iPhone.
  2. Set a sleep timer: Fall asleep to the sweet sounds of your favorite music or podcast by saying, “Hey Google, set a sleep timer for 30 minutes.”
  3. Play news by voice on your TV: Stay on top of current events with YouTube news playlists from sources like ABC, Fox and NBC. With a Chromecast-connected TV, you can ask say: “Hey Google, play the news on my TV” or “Ok Google, play sports news on my TV.”
  4. Turn the TV on and off: With Google Home, Chromecast, and a compatible TV you can just say “Hey Google, turn off the TV.”
  5. Enable night mode: In night mode, Mini’s lights dim and the volume lowers so that you you don’t disturb others in your household when it’s late (or early).
  6. Set a default TV or speaker: Choose a Chromecast-connected TV to be your default screen, so you don’t need to mention the device’s name in your voice command. When you say “Play yoga videos,” they’ll play on the TV you’ve set as the default. It works the same way for speakers connected to Chromecast Audio—you can designate a group of speakers that cover several rooms (“first floor,” for example) as the default. Then say “Hey Google, play workout playlist” and it will automatically start playing on that group of speakers.

You can start using these features today with any Google Home or Google Home Mini—and stay tuned for lots more to come!

From paw prints to a digital footprint: a tailor shop attracts new customers

A chubby French Bulldog keeps watch in front of a vintage-looking tailor shop in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. Meet Bruno, the face of Village Tailor and Cleaners. Vince, the shop’s owner, immigrated to the U.S. from Italy when he was just 18 years old, establishing Village Tailor in 1977. Today, his family-run business has grown into three locations and is best known for its skilled leather and suede alterations. Inside the shop, a wall covered in autographed photos of celebrity customers—Celine Dion, Marc Anthony, Elton John, and others—is a testament to the iconic quality of Vince’s work.

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Vince and Bruno outside the shop.

While Bruno had been doing a wonderful job bringing in passersby, Vince knew he needed a way to stand out from the many tailoring shops in SoHo and reach more customers.

Vince noticed that most of his customers were walking in with a bag of clothes in one hand, and researching local businesses on their cell phone with the other. So, he decided to get his business online. He saw it as similar to Bruno sitting out front: their online presence could spark curiosity, help them stand out, and invite in new customers.

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Bruno is on the lookout for new customers … and treats.

He set up Village Tailor’s Google listing, so that he could edit how his business appears when people find it on Google Search and Maps. He added photos to his listing, posted updates about his skilled alterations, and used Google website builder to create a free high-quality website from his phone in less than 10 minutes. Now, when he asks new customers how they found his shop, they often mention Google.

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Having an online presence not only helped Vince reach new customers, but it allowed him to build relationships with his existing customers by responding to reviews. Knowing that people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, reviews are an opportunity to adapt his business to customers’ needs. The results have been great for Village Tailor: within weeks of getting online, Vince noticed they were bringing in on average five more customers per week. After three months, that number increased to 15 per week, representing a 30% revenue increase per year for Vince. 

The store’s early success with Google My Business inspired Vince to try AdWords, advertising to potential customers searching on Google for keywords related to tailoring. Since customers raved about the leather and suede work in Village Tailor’s Google reviews, Vince focused on those services in his online ads which brought in even more revenue. That meant he could hire more tailors and invest in new equipment to keep up with the long lines of customers. Now, while Bruno will always have a place in front of Village Tailor, Google brings in most of their customers. Sorry Bruno!

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Father and son: two generations of excellence in alterations.

Today, Vince’s son Vincent Jr. manages Vince’s Village Cobbler, the shoe repair shop next door. Building on the family business’s tradition of excellent craftsmanship in shoes and leather goods, he continues to develop Village Cobbler’s online presence with an e-commerce website that offers shipping all over the U.S. He also plans to find new customers with Google My Business and Google AdWords, just like his father has, to keep the family business growing. 

Google Play’s Indie Games Contest is back in Europe. Enter now

Posted by Adriana Puchianu, Developer Marketing Google Play

Following last year’s success, today we’re announcing the second annual Google Play Indie Games Contest in Europe, expanding to more countries and bigger prizes. The contest rewards your passion, creativity and innovation, and provides support to help bring your game to more people.

Prizes for the finalists and winners

  • A trip to London to showcase your game at the Saatchi Gallery
  • Paid digital marketing campaigns worth up to 100,000 EUR
  • Influencer campaigns worth up to 50,000 EUR
  • Premium placements on Google Play
  • Promotion on Android and Google Play marketing channels
  • Tickets to Google I/O 2018 and other top industry events
  • Latest Google hardware
  • Special prizes for the best Unity games

How to enter the contest

If you’re based in one of the 28 eligible countries, have 30 or less full time employees, and published a new game on Google Play after 1 January 2017, you may now be eligible to enter the contest. If you’re planning on publishing a new game soon, you can also enter by submitting a private beta. Check out all the details in the terms and conditions. Submissions close on 31 December 2017.

Up to 20 finalists will showcase their games at an open event at the Saatchi Gallery in London on the 13th February 2018. At the event, the top 10 will be selected by the event attendees and the Google Play team. The top 10 will then pitch to the jury of industry experts, from which the final winner and runners up will be selected.

Come along to the final event

Anyone can register to attend the final showcase event at the Saatchi Gallery in London on 13 February 2018. Play some great indie games and have fun with indie developers,industry experts, and the Google Play team.

Enter now

Visit the contest site to find out more and enter the Indie Games Contest now.

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Crafting Double Exposures with Birgit Palma

Birgit Palma describes her creative process as, above all else, playful. So when we asked the Austrian-born and Barcelona-based artist, illustrator, and type designer to try out the new Logitech Craft Keyboard, she was game. We followed Birgit as she created a double exposure image with the new keyboard to see how it impacted her process.

HP: Reinventing The Magic of Printing

User experience (UX) design is about much more than just creating an interface that is beautiful to look at. The best UX design allows users to intuitively grasp how something works. Every choice, from color to size to placement, can change a user’s experience from frustration into delight and help the customer get the most from their technology.

A focus on portrait mode: behind the scenes with Pixel 2’s camera features

This week the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google’s newest smartphones, arrive in stores. Both devices come with features like Now Playing, the Google Assistant, and the best-rated smartphone camera ever, according to DXO.

We designed Pixel 2’s camera by asking how we can make the camera in your Pixel 2 act like SLRs and other big cameras, and we’ve talked before about the tech we use to do that (such as HDR+). Today we’re highlighting a new feature for Pixel 2’s camera: portrait mode.

With portrait mode, you can take pictures of your friends and family (that includes your pets too!) that keep what’s important sharp and in focus, but softly blur out the background. This helps draw your attention to the people in your pictures and keeps you from getting distracted by what’s in the background. This works on both Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, on both the rear- and front-facing cameras.

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Pictures without (left) and with (right) portrait mode. Photo by Matt Jones

Technically, blurring out the background like this is an effect called “shallow depth of field.” The big lenses on SLRs can be configured to do this by changing their aperture, but smartphone cameras have fixed, small apertures that produce images where everything is more or less sharp. To create this effect with a smartphone camera, we need to know which parts of the image are far away in order to blur them artificially.

Normally, to determine what’s far away with a smartphone camera you’d need to use two cameras close to each other, then triangulate the depth of various parts of the scene—just like your eyes work. But on Pixel 2 we’re able to combine computational photography and machine learning to do the same with just one camera.

How portrait mode works on the Pixel 2

Portrait mode starts with an HDR+ picture where everything is sharp and high-quality.

Next, our technology needs to decide which pixels belong to the foreground of the image (a person, or your dog) and which belong to the background. This is called a “segmentation mask” and it’s where machine learning comes in. We trained a neural network to look at a picture and understand which pixels are people and which aren’t. Because photos of people may also include things like hats, sunglasses, and ice cream cones, we trained our network on close to a million pictures—including pictures with things like those!

Just creating two layers—foreground and background, with a hard edge in between them—isn’t quite enough for all pictures you’d want to take; SLRs produce blur that gets stronger with each fraction of an inch further from the thing that’s in sharp focus. To recreate that look with Pixel 2’s rear camera, we use the new Dual Pixel sensor to look through the left and right sides of the camera’s tiny lens at the same time—effectively giving us two cameras for the price of one. Using these two views we compute a depth map: the distance from the camera to each point in the scene. Then we blur the image based on the combination of the depth map and the segmentation mask.

The result? Portrait mode.

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Pictures without (left) and with (right) portrait mode. Photo by Sam Kweskin

Portrait mode works a little differently on the front-facing camera, where we aren’t able to produce a depth map the same way we do with the more powerful rear-facing camera. For selfies, we just use our segmentation mask, which works particularly well for selfies since they have simpler compositions.

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Selfie without (left) and with (right) portrait mode. The front-facing camera identifies which background pixels to blur using only machine learning—no depth map. Photo by Marc Levoy

When and how to use portrait mode

Portrait mode on the Pixel 2 is automatic and easy to use—just choose it from your camera menu then take your picture. You can use it for pictures of your friends, family, and even pets. You can also use it for all kinds of “close-up” shots of objects such flowers, food, or bumblebees (just don’t get stung!) with background blur.

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Close-up picture without (left) and with (right) portrait mode. Photo by Marc Levoy

Here are some tips for how to take great portraits using any camera (and Pixel 2 as well!):

  • Stand close enough to your subjects that their head (or head and shoulders) fill the frame.
  • For a group shot where you want everyone sharp, place them at the same distance from the camera.
  • Put some distance between your subjects and the background.
  • For close-up shots, tap to focus to get more control over what’s sharp and what’s blurred. Also, the camera can’t focus on things closer than several inches, so stay at least that far away.

To learn more about portrait mode on the Pixel 2, watch this video by by Nat & Friends, or geek out with our our in-depth, technical post over on the Research blog.

Adobe Enhances Partner Ecosystem at MAX

Today we’re excited to announce new advancements across our global partner ecosystem including an extended partnership with Tata Consultancy Services and the introduction of the new Adobe Exchange marketplace.

Fighting phishing with smarter protections

Editor’s note: October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and we’re celebrating with a series of security announcements this week. This is the third post; read the first and second ones.

Online security is top of mind for everyone these days, and we’re more focused than ever on protecting you and your data on Google, in the cloud, on your devices, and across the web.

One of our biggest focuses is phishing, attacks that trick people into revealing personal information like their usernames and passwords. You may remember phishing scams as spammy emails from “princes” asking for money via wire-transfer. But things have changed a lot since then. Today’s attacks are often very targeted—this is called “spear-phishing”—more sophisticated, and may even seem to be from someone you know.

Even for savvy users, today’s phishing attacks can be hard to spot. That’s why we’ve invested in automated security systems that can analyze an internet’s-worth of phishing attacks, detect subtle clues to uncover them, and help us protect our users in Gmail, as well as in other Google products, and across the web.

Our investments have enables us to significantly decrease the volume of phishing emails that users and customers ever see. With our automated protections, account security (like security keys) and warnings, Gmail is the most secure email service today.

Here is a look at some of the systems that have helped us secure users over time, and enabled us to add brand new protections in the last year.

More data helps protect your data

The best protections against large-scale phishing operations are even larger-scale defenses. Safe Browsing and Gmail spam filters are effective because they have such broad visibility across the web. By automatically scanning billions of emails, webpages, and apps for threats, they enable us to see the clearest, most up-to-date picture of the phishing landscape.

We’ve trained our security systems to block known issues for years. But, new, sophisticated phishing emails may come from people’s actual contacts (yes, attackers are able to do this), or include familiar company logos or sign-in pages. Here’s one example:

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Attacks like this can be really difficult for people to spot. But new insights from our automated defenses have enabled us to immediately detect, thwart and protect Gmail users from subtler threats like these as well.

Smarter protections for Gmail users, and beyond

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve added brand new protections that have reduced the volume of spam in people’s inboxes even further.

  • We now show a warning within Gmail’s Android and iOS apps if a user clicks a link to a phishing site that’s been flagged by Safe Browsing. These supplement the warnings we’ve shown on the web since last year.
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  • We’ve built new systems that detect suspicious email attachments and submit them for further inspection by Safe Browsing. This protects all Gmail users, including G Suite customers, from malware that may be hidden in attachments.
  • We’ve also updated our machine learning models to specifically identify pages that look like common log-in pages and messages that contain spear-phishing signals.

Safe Browsing helps protect more than 3 billion devices from phishing, across Google and beyond. It hunts and flags malicious extensions in the Chrome Web Store, helps block malicious ads, helps power Google Play Protect, and more. And of course, Safe Browsing continues to show millions of red warnings about websites it considers dangerous or insecure in multiple browsers—Chrome, Firefox, Safari—and across many different platforms, including iOS and Android.

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Layers of phishing protection

Phishing is a complex problem, and there isn’t a single, silver-bullet solution. That’s why we’ve provided additional protections for users for many years.

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  • Since 2012, we’ve warned our users if their accounts are being targeted by government-backed attackers. We send thousands of these warnings each year, and we’ve continued to improve them so they are helpful to people. The warnings look like this.
  • This summer, we began to warn people before they linked their Google account to an unverified third-party app.
  • We first offered two-step verification in 2011, and later strengthened it in 2014 with Security Key, the most secure version of this type of protection. These features add extra protection to your account because attackers need more than just your username and password to sign in.

We’ll never stop working to keep your account secure with industry-leading protections. More are coming soon, so stay tuned.

Redefining Modern Creativity with the Next Generation of Creative Cloud

By introducing a range of new applications in Creative Cloud, along with significant innovations across our flagship tools, we’re enabling creative professionals and enthusiasts alike to express themselves with apps and services that connect across devices, platforms and geographies.

Adobe and Coca-Cola Go for Gold to Support Special Olympics

Adobe and Coca-Cola have invited the global creative community to create a work of art inspired by Coca-Cola and their iconic branding. By providing special branded assets and a unique creative brief, participants can build a piece of art and share it with the world.

Adobe Delivers Modern, Intelligent Design Solutions for Global Brands and Agencies

The path to digital transformation is both exhilarating and daunting. The opportunity for brands has never been greater through digital and mobile customer relationships, but successful digital transformation requires brands to work differently. Adobe is addressing this with several exciting announcements at the Adobe MAX conference today.

Making computer science accessible to more students in Africa

Computer Science (CS) fosters innovation, critical thinking and empowers students with the skills to create powerful tools to solve major challenges. Yet, many students, especially in their the early years, do not have access to opportunities to develop their technical skills.

At Google, we believe that all students deserve these opportunities. That is why,  in line with our commitment to prepare 10 million people in Africa for jobs of the future, we are funding 60 community organisations to hold training workshops during Africa Code Week 2017.These workshops will give over 50,000 students a chance to engage with CS and learn programming and computational-thinking skills.

Africa Code Week is a grassroots movement that encourages programming by showing how to bring ideas to life with code, demystifying these skills and bringing motivated students together to learn. Google has been involved in this campaign as a primary partner to SAP since 2015, providing sponsorships to organizations running initiatives to introduce students to CS.

This year, we received more than 300 applications from community organizations across Africa. We worked with the Cape Town Science Centre to select and fund 60 of these organizations that will deliver CS workshops to children and teens (ages 8 to 18) from October 18-25 in 10 African countries (Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, South Africa, Gambia and Togo).

Some of the initiatives we are supporting include:

Google is delighted to support these great efforts. Congratulations to the recipient organizations. Step into the world of Google in Computer Science Education at edu.google.com/cs.

Live Stream Series | Make Good Videos GREAT with Motion Graphics

Jason Levine launches the first of three, 3-week interactive live stream series to show how to take your video creation skills to the next level. First up: Motion Graphics – starting on October 27, 2017.

Join Us for a Meeting of the Minds and Machines

Next week Cisco will be exhibiting at the 2017 GE Minds + Machines conference in San Francisco (October 25 and 26). Cisco is a platinum sponsor, and if you’ve never attended this conference, it’s one of the premier Industrial IoT (IIoT) events. Topics of discussion will include: IIoT architecture IIoT data management and analytics Industrial control […]