Category Archives: Official Google Blog

Insights from Googlers into our topics, technology, and the Google culture

A new year for Chrome video

Forbes-RotateToFullscreen-BlogPost-Optimized.gif

Every day, people watch 30,000 years worth of video in Chrome. That’s a lot of video! Watch time grew significantly over the last year—not only because of viral YouTube hits, but also because of the creation of new video experiences around the world.

For example, Jio Cinema and Forbes give people high-quality video without requiring them to install an app. In India, Voot Go allows bus riders to watch web video on their devices without an internet connection. And sites like WITHIN let people explore 360-degree videos not just from their mobile device or laptop, but also in virtual reality.

voot.gif

Web videos are pretty amazing, and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in Chrome to make them pop. For example, Chrome’s Data Saver helps you enjoy high quality video without racking up a huge bill—last year alone, it saved people more than 200 petabytes of mobile video data, enough to store 1,000 copies of all the books ever written, in every language. These data savings let you watch high-quality video, even on poor networks. And we’re going to save even more — Google as part of the Alliance for Open Media is working on a new way to deliver even higher quality video while using less data.

Because people are using Chrome to watch videos in new formats and in new places, they need an easy way to hit play or pause, rewind or fast forward. That’s why last year, we added picture-in-picture playback to Chrome on Android, and better video and audio controls from both the lock screen and notifications. These changes let you enjoy your media while doing other things, makes it easier to know what’s playing, and helps resolve the “Where’s the stop button!?” panic when you forget to plug in your headphones at the library. Chrome also now helps you avoid unwanted noises by letting you mute sites, and later this year, we’ll give you even more control by letting you choose which sites can autoplay.

chrome_mediasession_lockscreen.png

Looking forward, to support the next generation of video experiences, we’ve begun adding support for High Dynamic Range (HDR). This means you can get vibrant colors, darker blacks, and brighter whites from the latest HDR displays. HDR support is now available on Windows 10, and more platforms are coming soon. Also coming soon is the official release of VR on the web, and after enjoying the first immersive web experiments we’re looking forward to what sites do in the coming year.

The Chrome media team’s mission is to help the world enjoy the best quality video experience on the web, and 2017 was a big year for us. We have even more exciting improvements in the works for 2018, and we can’t wait for you to try them out!

“Ok Google, read my book”… Introducing audiobooks on Google Play

"Read more." Every year it’s one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. But with all the time spent battling traffic, working out, or picking up groceries, there often doesn’t seem to be a minute to simply sit down with a book.


With audiobooks on Google Play, rolling out today in 45 countries and nine languages, you can turn your time stuck in traffic, on the treadmill, or waiting in line into reading time. Find your next great read at an affordable price, and enjoy it across Android, iOS and the web with Google Play Books, as well as on devices that include the Google Assistant, like Google Home and many others. Here’s what you need to know:


  • Listen without a subscription. On Google Play, you can buy a single audiobook at an affordable price, with no commitments. You can also get a free preview of the book to make sure you’re hooked by the story and enjoy listening to the narrator’s voice. And share your favorite audiobook with everyone in the family through Family Library for no additional fee—even if they’re using a different device.
  • Enjoy your audiobook with your Google Assistant.Just say “Ok Google, read my book” to listen to your favorite audiobook hands free with the Google Assistant on your phone or speaker, like Google Home. Try “Ok Google, who is the author?” if you need a refresher, or “Ok Google, stop playing in 20 minutes” to set a timer for bedtime reading. For now, the Google Assistant integration with audiobooks is available on Android phones and smart speakers globally in English. It will be coming soon to the Assistant on Android Auto in the U.S.
xx
  • Weave reading into your day across multiple devices. Start your morning by listening to “Ready Player One” with the Assistant on Google Home, and continue listening with the Google Play Books app on your Pixel. You can pick up where you left off no matter what device you're using, with the Assistant or the Google Play Books app—on Android, iOS, Chromecast, Android Wear, Android Auto or even your laptop. 
Now when you want to solve the mystery with “Magpie Murders,” learn “Astrophysics For People In A Hurry” from Neil Degrasse Tyson or spend a Sunday with Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle and friends in “The Wisdom of Sundays,” all you have to do is select and settle into the sounds of your new favorite book.

Artists and entrepreneurs ignite creativity at Campus Madrid

Last week, we hosted the first Campus Creativity Week at Campus Madrid, one of Google for Entrepreneurs’ six spaces for entrepreneurs to learn, share ideas, and launch startups. Over 100 artists and entrepreneurs gathered from across Spain to explore how creative minds can use technology and inspire one another as they create art and build businesses.


Artists and entrepreneurs share a similar challenge—to create something new with limited resources, no instruction manual, and the power of their creative thinking. For seven days, we celebrated unique approaches to this challenge, with a a mind-bending series of artist exhibitions, creative thinking workshops, and community-inspired artwork. We’re grateful to each one of the participating artists and entrepreneurs for sharing their time, expertise and talents with our Campus Madrid community. 

Since we launched Campus Madrid in 2015, we’ve welcomed over 38,000 members, with startups working in fields as diverse as ecommerce, education, data analytics, and health. Six Madrid-based startups participate in Campus Residency, a six-month growth program for dozens of startups across our network that offers personalized support and unique access to Google resources, experts, and global connections. Startups in the Campus community worldwide have created more than 11,000 jobs and raised more than $537 million in funding.


We hope you’re as inspired as we are by all of this progress, and by our Campus Creativity Week with these talented entrepreneurs and artists.


Wisconsin Cheese Mart makes a comeback—online and on the block

In 2003, Wisconsin Cheese Mart was up for sale and in danger of closing. When Ken McNulty, an Air Force veteran and native Wisconsinite, heard the news, he and his family decided to take a big risk. They purchased the small shop, which has been a Milwaukee cornerstone since 1938, and set out to revitalize it.


At the time, only a fraction of sales were online. After investing in their online presence, Wisconsin Cheese Mart now generates over 75 percent of its business through online sales and provides cheese lovers across the United States with the largest selection of Wisconsin cheese in the world.


Watch the video above to learn more about how Wisconsin Cheese Mart collaborates with local farmers and factories, and connects with customers on the web.

Wisconsin Cheese Mart makes a comeback—online and on the block

In 2003, Wisconsin Cheese Mart was up for sale and in danger of closing. When Ken McNulty, an Air Force veteran and native Wisconsinite, heard the news, he and his family decided to take a big risk. They purchased the small shop, which has been a Milwaukee cornerstone since 1938, and set out to revitalize it.


At the time, only a fraction of sales were online. After investing in their online presence, Wisconsin Cheese Mart now generates over 75 percent of its business through online sales and provides cheese lovers across the United States with the largest selection of Wisconsin cheese in the world.


Watch the video above to learn more about how Wisconsin Cheese Mart collaborates with local farmers and factories, and connects with customers on the web.

Making France’s digital potential work for everyone

When people think of “digital champions,” it’s natural to think of a highly trained computer scientist creating new technology.  There are many other kinds of digital champions, however. They can be small business owners accelerating their growth online or people finding better ways to do their jobs. To do this, people now need to easily learn digital skills throughout their lives.  


That’s important for countries as well as individuals. According to the European Commission, France ranks just 16th in the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index. Yet France has all the assets to succeed. It has top engineers, great entrepreneurs, one of the best education systems in the world, great infrastructure, and successful global companies. Studies suggest that if France fully seized its digital potential, it could earn up to 10 percent of GDP from digital technology by 2025, creating 200-250 billion euros’ worth of additional value per year.


Achieving this will take significant digital transformation for both France’s citizens and its businesses. With the right approach and infrastructure, that transformation doesn’t need to be hard. Over the last three years, we’ve trained more than 3 million Europeans in digital skills. In France alone, more than 230,000 French students and professionals have attended digital-skills training sessions given by our teams and partners. We now want to do more.  


Grow with Google in France—“Les Ateliers Numériques Google”

We will open four local Google Hubs called “Les Ateliers Numériques” across France, run by a network of local partners from the digital sector. These physical spaces will provide a long-term Google presence in French cities, with a dedicated team setting up free trainings in online skills and digital literacy. With our partners, we intend to help people find better jobs, keep their families safe online, and develop their businesses or careers.  Brittany will be our pilot region, with the opening of a Google Hub in Rennes during first half of 2018; three other hubs will follow. This will bring the best digital training within easy reach of more than 100,000 people every year.


A new research center dedicated to AI

France has produced some truly heroic figures of science—like Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Blaise Pascal and Sophie Germain—and its educational system still produces amazing researchers. So it’s only natural that we set up a new research team in Google France around the age’s defining technology: artificial intelligence. Our new research team will work closely with the AI research community in France on issues like health, science, art and the environment. They will publish their research and open-source the code they  produce, so that everyone can use these insights to solve their own problems, in their own way.


Oh, and we’re going to need a bigger office, too.

To keep pace with this digital growth, we need to expand our presence in France. We announced recently that our staff in France will increase by 50 percent, bringing our total workforce to more than 1,000 Googlers. Our offices will also grow by 6,000 m2, via new buildings connected to our office today.


More than ever, we’re committed to help France find new ways to grow in this digital era—whether through helping people retrain, or growing a business, or using amazing talent to research and build new products for the world. We hope these new investments will help the country, academia and local businesses turn France into a true digital champion.

Making France’s digital potential work for everyone

When people think of “digital champions,” it’s natural to think of a highly trained computer scientist creating new technology.  There are many other kinds of digital champions, however. They can be small business owners accelerating their growth online or people finding better ways to do their jobs. To do this, people now need to easily learn digital skills throughout their lives.  


That’s important for countries as well as individuals. According to the European Commission, France ranks just 16th in the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index. Yet France has all the assets to succeed. It has top engineers, great entrepreneurs, one of the best education systems in the world, great infrastructure, and successful global companies. Studies suggest that if France fully seized its digital potential, it could earn up to 10 percent of GDP from digital technology by 2025, creating 200-250 billion euros’ worth of additional value per year.


Achieving this will take significant digital transformation for both France’s citizens and its businesses. With the right approach and infrastructure, that transformation doesn’t need to be hard. Over the last three years, we’ve trained more than 3 million Europeans in digital skills. In France alone, more than 230,000 French students and professionals have attended digital-skills training sessions given by our teams and partners. We now want to do more.  


Grow with Google in France—“Les Ateliers Numériques Google”

We will open four local Google Hubs called “Les Ateliers Numériques” across France, run by a network of local partners from the digital sector. These physical spaces will provide a long-term Google presence in French cities, with a dedicated team setting up free trainings in online skills and digital literacy. With our partners, we intend to help people find better jobs, keep their families safe online, and develop their businesses or careers.  Brittany will be our pilot region, with the opening of a Google Hub in Rennes during first half of 2018; three other hubs will follow. This will bring the best digital training within easy reach of more than 100,000 people every year.


A new research center dedicated to AI

France has produced some truly heroic figures of science—like Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Blaise Pascal and Sophie Germain—and its educational system still produces amazing researchers. So it’s only natural that we set up a new research team in Google France around the age’s defining technology: artificial intelligence. Our new research team will work closely with the AI research community in France on issues like health, science, art and the environment. They will publish their research and open-source the code they  produce, so that everyone can use these insights to solve their own problems, in their own way.


Oh, and we’re going to need a bigger office, too.

To keep pace with this digital growth, we need to expand our presence in France. We announced recently that our staff in France will increase by 50 percent, bringing our total workforce to more than 1,000 Googlers. Our offices will also grow by 6,000 m2, via new buildings connected to our office today.


More than ever, we’re committed to help France find new ways to grow in this digital era—whether through helping people retrain, or growing a business, or using amazing talent to research and build new products for the world. We hope these new investments will help the country, academia and local businesses turn France into a true digital champion.

Augmented reality on the web, for everyone

In the next few months, there will be hundreds of millions of Android and iOS devices that are able to provide augmented reality experiences - meaning you'll be able to look at the world through your phone, and place digital objects wherever you look. To help bring this to as many phones as possible, we've been exploring how to make a web browser that is AR capable, so almost anyone with a modern smartphone could access this new technology. In this post, we’ll take a look at a recent prototype we built with Article. It shows how AR content could work across the web, from today’s standard mobile and desktop browsers, to future AR-enabled browsing environments and devices. Techies, take note: the last section of the post focuses on technical details, so stick around if you want to dig deeper.

How the prototype works

Article is a 3D model viewer that works for all browsers. On desktop, users can check out a 3D model—in this case a space suit—by dragging to rotate, or scrolling to zoom. On mobile the experience is similar: users touch and drag to rotate the model, or drag with two fingers to zoom in.
gifarticle1
The desktop model viewing experience

To help convey that the model is 3D and interactive—and not just a static image—the model rotates slightly in response to the user scrolling.

gifarticle2

With augmented reality, the model comes alive. The unique power of AR is to blend digital content with the real world. So we can, for example, surf the web, find a model, place it in our room to see just how large it truly is, and physically walk around it.

When Article is loaded on an AR-capable device and browser, an AR button appears in the bottom right. Tapping on it activates the device camera, and renders a reticle on the ground in front of the user. When the user taps the screen, the model sprouts from the reticle, fixed to the ground and rendered at its physical size. The user can walk around the object and get a sense of scale and immediacy that images and video alone cannot convey.

gifarticle3
Article’s AR interface as viewed on an AR-capable tablet

To reposition the model, users can tap-and-drag, or drag with two fingers to rotate it. Subtle features such as shadows and even lighting help to blend the model with its surroundings.

gifarticle4
Moving and rotating the model

Small touches make it easy to learn how to use AR. User testing has taught us that clear interface cues are key to helping users learn how AR works. For example, while the user waits momentarily for the system to identify a surface that the model can be placed upon, a circle appears on the floor, tilting with the movement of the device. This helps introduce the concept of an AR interface, with digital objects that intersect with physical environment (also known as diagetic UI).

gifarticle5
Diagetic activity indicators hint at the AR nature of the experience

Under the hood (and on to the technical stuff!)

We built our responsive model viewer with Three.js. Three.js makes the low-level power of WebGL more accessible to developers, and it has a large community of examples, documentation and Stack Overflow answers to help ease learning curves.

To ensure smooth interactions and animations, we finessed factors that contribute to performance:

  • Using a low polygon-count model;

  • Carefully controlling the number of lights in the scene;

  • Decreasing shadow resolution when on mobile devices;

  • Rendering the emulator UI (discussed below) using shaders that utilize signed distance functions to render their effects at infinite resolution in an efficient manner.

To accelerate iteration times, we created a desktop AR emulator that enables us to test UX changes on desktop Chrome. This makes previewing changes nearly instant. Before the emulator, each change—no matter how minor—had to be loaded onto a connected mobile device, taking upwards of 10 seconds for each build-push-reload cycle. With the emulator we can instead preview these tweaks on desktop almost instantly, and then push to device only when needed.

The emulator is built on a desktop AR polyfill and Three.js. If one line of code (which include the polyfill), is uncommented in the index.js file , it instantiates a gray grid environment and adds keyboard and mouse controls as substitutes for physically moving in the real world. The emulator is included in the Article project repo.

gifarticle6

The spacesuit model was sourced from Poly. Many Poly models are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Generic (CC-BY), which lets users copy and/or remix them, so long as the creator is credited. Our astronaut was created by the Poly team.

Article’s 2D sections were built with off-the-shelf libraries and modern web tooling. For responsive layout and typography and overall theme, we used Bootstrap, which makes it easy for developers to create great looking sites that adapt responsively across device screen sizes. As an nod to the aesthetics of Wikipedia and Medium, we went with Bootswatch’s Paper theme. For managing dependencies, classes, and build steps we used NPM, ES6, Babel and Webpack.

Looking ahead

There’s vast potential for AR on the web—it could be used in shopping, education, entertainment, and more. Article is just one in a series of prototypes, and there’s so much left to explore—from using light estimation to more seamlessly blend 3D objects with the real world, to adding diegetic UI annotations to specific positions on the model. Mobile AR on the web is incredibly fun right now because there’s a lot to be discovered. If you’d like learn more about our experimental browsers and get started creating your own prototypes, please visit our devsite.

Searches up: Beach Boy gets the grade and other trends from this week

Wouldn’t It Be Nice to get an A? Don’t Worry Baby, you’ll always have a chance to change that F.


That’s what Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys did this week when he went back to his high school for extra credit, turning an “F” he received in songwriting into an “A” …  58 years later later. A wave of searches about Wilson’s academic endeavors ensued: “Brian Wilson grade change,” “Brian Wilson back to school,” and “Where did Beach Boy Brian Wilson attend high school?” People are curious about where other well-known figures went to school as well. The most searched famous people and “high school” are Donald Trump, Kylie Jenner, James Franco, Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian.


Here’s a peek at a few other top searches from this week, with data from Google News Lab.

  • Ballistic missile threat in Hawaii: On the day of the accidental false alarm, search interest for “fallout shelters” in Hawaii increased by nearly 10,000 percent. 
  • Counting down to the Winter Olympics: Searches for Katie Couric were 900 percent higher than her co-host Mike Tirico, and as of this week, the top-searched Olympic sports are ice hockey, snowboarding and figure skating. 
  • Shaking things up in Michigan: An unusual earthquake in Michigan turned out to be caused by a meteor. Searches for "meteor" were on a streak—in fact, they were 30 times higher than “Michigan earthquake.”
  • When life gives you snow, make snow cream: A mixture of snow and a dairy-based liquid makes this winter sweet treat, and search interest is on the rise. In the U.S., searches for “how to make snow cream” were 290 percent higher than “how to make ice cream.”
That’s it for this week, God Only Knows what trends will emerge next week.


Looking beyond code to make the future work for everyone

It’s clear that people need more options to thrive in the digital world. The next generation of workers will depend on how we evolve education and tech in the coming years.

When you think of how to help our workforce thrive and find opportunities in the digital world, the first word that often comes to mind is “code.” Nearly every digital-skills program over the past decade has focused on computer science, with a lot of emphasis on young students. Coding, of course, is vital and a core skill for America to invest in. Google has focused resources and employee time helping people from all backgrounds to code—from helping introduce students to the basics, to offering 10,000 free Udacity courses in coding for apps, to training other businesses in how to become experts in programming artificial intelligence. All of this will help meet the growing need for workers who can write the software that will power everyone’s businesses. And it will help countless people more move into in-demand, high paying careers.

But the focus on code has left a potentially bigger opportunity largely unexplored. In the past, people were educated, and learned job skills, and that was enough for a lifetime. Now, with technology changing rapidly and new job areas emerging and transforming constantly, that’s no longer the case. We need to focus on making lightweight, continuous education widely available. This is just as crucial to making sure that everyone can find opportunities in the future workplace. 

There are two areas that are relevant here. The first is around basic digital skills training. An office admin, for example, now needs to use online programs to run budgets, scheduling, accounting and more. While digital technology should be empowering people, it can often alienate them from their own jobs.

Some of these skills didn’t exist five years ago, yet workers are today expected to have them. A recent report by the Brookings Institute says that jobs in the U.S. requiring “medium-digital” skills in America have grown from 40 percent of jobs in 2002 to 48 percent of jobs in 2016.

The digital skills necessary to do these jobs are far easier to learn than code, and should be easier to deliver at scale. For example, we rolled out a “Grow with Google” program, and partnered with Goodwill last year to incorporate digital skills training into its already amazing training infrastructure for job seekers. One trainee spoke of the value of her own experiences. “Before I learned digital skills, I felt unsure of myself,” she says. “Now I feel confident. You have to feel confident in what you do in order to be successful and move on in life.”

Through these trainings, people learn about using technology to research, to plan events, analyze data and more. They don’t require a formal degree or certificate. We think there’s great scope to expand this model, and teach hard and soft skills that can empower a workforce that has access to constant, accredited learning opportunities as job requirements change.

Second, we have a huge opportunity to rethink training for jobs that are core to the digital economy, but that don’t require coding. IT support is a clear opportunity, here. Just as anyone has a clear path to becoming an auto-mechanic, we need a similar path to the 150,000 open positions for IT support, in which people maintain the machines and software that underpin technology services. Yet no training today efficiently connects people to that opportunity. 

We learned this ourselves through an IT-support apprenticeship program we offered, with the Bay Area’s Year Up job-training program. Over 90 percent of the young adults met or exceed Google’s expectations as apprentices, but we noticed they didn’t return to apply for full-time jobs. It turned out that the standard, two-year computer science degree cost too much time and money, teaching skills that those former apprentices simply didn’t need to start their careers.

We should make sure that the next generation of jobs are good jobs, in every sense.

So we developed, and just announced, a new IT certificate program alongside Coursera that’s far more focused and flexible. We believe in just 8 to 12 months, it teaches everything you need to be an IT support technician. IT support jobs are predicted to grow by 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than most other occupations the government tracks. We’re giving 10,000 people free access to the course and will connect graduates to job opportunities at places like Bank of America, Walmart, Sprint, GE Digital, Infosys, TEKSystems, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—as well as Google. If the program works, the payoff will be substantial. The median annual wage for IT support is close to the median salary in America.

You can imagine this lightweight, focused model being applied to other tech-related jobs of the future: robust certification programs for project management, delivery fleet operation, and other jobs no one can imagine today, but that will be obvious—and ubiquitous—in five years’ time. 

Moving beyond code and intensive degrees to these constant, lightweight and ubiquitous forms of education will take resources and experimentation. But that effort should help close today’s skills gaps, while making sure future skills gaps don’t open. That’s part of the reason Google has invested $1 billion over five years to help find new approaches to connect people to opportunities at work and help small and medium businesses everywhere grow in the digital economy. We should make sure that the next generation of jobs are good jobs, in every sense. Rather than thinking of education as the opening act, we need to make sure it’s a constant, natural and simple act across life—with lightweight, flexible courses, skills and programs available to everyone.

This essay also appeared on NBC News Think.