The Verge 2017 tech report card: Apps

The biggest story about apps in 2017 was, well, stories. Snapchat still deserves the credit for coming up with the concept, and Instagram shamelessly ripped it off back in 2016, but this year, everyone got on board. WhatsApp added stories (and then later made them less prominent after users complained). Facebook added stories (and tried to guilt users into using them with digital ghosts of friends.) Medium — a largely text based app — added stories! YouTube added stories! It’s stories all the way down as far as the eye can see.

Of course, there’s a very good reason for all this — stories are popular, and popular places on the internet are ripe for that sweet advertising money.

Aside from stories, though, the past year saw Instagram’s fortunes rise, with record high monthly users and various new features across almost every part of the app. Meanwhile Snapchat — recovering from the fizzled out Spectacles and a shrinking base, is going back to the drawing board with a new, user-focused design.

There were the big fad apps, too: remember when Twitter was full of people using FaceApp to add creepy smiles to people? Then in the spring, there was Mastadon, which exploded as a alternative to Twitter for about a day before everyone flocked back to Twitter. Over the summer, Sarahah briefly topped the charts on Android and iOS as a place for anonymous chatting before fading back into relative obscurity. None of these apps managed to really stick around beyond a few weeks of popularity, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach that relevance again. Perhaps some kind of major influencer push could help, but those efforts are often inorganic and expensive for developers.

For more proof, just look at Yik Yak, an anonymous local messaging app that was popular on college campuses a few years back but couldn’t hold onto users, and finally gave up the ghost this year. 2017 also saw the death of the legendary messaging app AIM which slowly disintegrated by losing support for third party apps back in February then with a total shutdown in December. While it’s hard to argue that AIM was an important part of the messaging landscape, it’s a clear precursor to the dominant forces of apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp in today’s technological landscape.

It’s still unclear what fate 2018 will hold for this year’s biggest viral app: HQ Trivia, which has become one of the biggest viral apps of the year in a few short weeks with the simple strategy of literally giving away free money. Copycat apps are steadily popping up, and HQ is already behind on its Android release. Meanwhile, the app continues to struggle with connection issues as more users log on for higher payout offers. But hey! Even dead apps can (maybe) come back — Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann announced that he’s working on ‘a follow-up to Vine’, so there’s always hope for the future.

Another big trend of 2017 apps was augmented reality. Gone are the days of strapping a hunk of cardboard with your phone stuck inside to your face. Instead, both Apple and Google are putting big bets down on augmented reality. For now, that’s mostly in a few apps that skew more towards “cool tech demos” rather than any killer integrations, but it’s definitely a space to watch going forward.

On the gaming side of apps, 2017 saw some big releases too, in a welcome change from last year. Nintendo continued its push onto mobile platforms in a big way with Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Mobile classics like Monument Valley, Reigns, and Words With Friends also saw welcomes sequels release, although the free to play marketplace still dominates the industry.

App stores themselves saw big change in 2017, too — Microsoft is pushing the Windows Store with a newfound focus as one-stop shop for all your PC software alongside Windows 10S (maybe it’ll work this time!). And Apple completely redesigned the iOS App Store to put a greater emphasis on individual apps and editorial recommendations to help surface good apps from the endless sea of competitors.

And lastly, Google Voice got an update for the first time in years. Maybe we don’t necessarily need a slate of new apps, but impactful updates on the ones we already love. Whatever you do, just don’t pull an OKCupid.

Final grade: B-

B-
2017 Grade

The Verge 2017 report card: Apps

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Gold Stars

  • AR apps poised to be an exciting application of new technology
  • Vine might be coming back!

Needs Improvement

  • Even more consolidation of smaller apps into big companies
  • Too many Stories
  • Fad apps lacked staying power

Crypto-mining site NiceHash has a new CEO following hack

Earlier this month, hackers stole $63 million from crypto-currency mining site NiceHash, prompting the company’s founders to apologize on Facebook Live and to shut down operations for 24 hours. Now, the company’s co-founder, Marko Kobal, has stepped down as CEO.

The company allows users to offer up their computer’s processing power to help with the calculations needed to create new bitcoins. In a statement on LinkedIn, Kobal says that the company has been working to recover from the hack, and that he will step aside to “allow new management to lead the organization through its next, exciting period of growth.” He will be replaced by Zdravko Poljašević, according to Slovenian newspaper Delo (via Business Insider). Kobal founded the company along with Matjaž Škorjanc, who will remain the company’s Chief Technology Officer.

NiceHash says that their success in paying out a billion dollars to crypto-currency miners over the last couple of years brought them unwanted attention. The company and security experts found that hackers used an engineers credentials on December 6th to access its payment system, and were able to steal 4,700 bitcoins. The hack came as bitcoin prices were spiking, reaching $19,000 per coin before subsiding.

Your pay-TV rate might be increasing — here's what to do about it

Cable and Satellite TV providers are raising their rates, but you can do more than just get steamed about it.

For many pay-TV subscribers, the new year will bring a rerun of an old habit among cable and satellite operators: a new round of rate and fee increases.

These shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the history of pay-TV price hikes: An October 2016 report by the Federal Communications Commission, the most recent in an ongoing series, found that cable costs had increased faster than the overall rate of inflation every year from 1992 to 2015.

But that doesn’t mean that you should like these latest increases, or that there’s nothing you can do about them. You have options beyond swearing, or swearing off, pay-TV entirely … though if cutting back on service doesn’t do enough to trim the bill, you shouldn’t rule out the cord-cutting alternative either.

Changes at some major providers

Going from biggest to smallest, here’s what the top seven pay-TV providers have in store for your monthly bill. In most cases, subscribers receiving a promotional discount for the first year or two of service shouldn’t see any increases.

AT&T (T): At its DirecTV satellite service, the monthly rates on all its bundles, with the exception of a minimum-service option, will increase from $2 to $8 starting Jan. 21, while all but the lowest tier of regional sports networks will cost 70 cents to $1 more a month. On the company’s U-verse fiber-optic TV service, all but the basic bundle will increase by $2 to $8 a month starting Jan. 21.

Comcast (CMCSA): The nation’s biggest cable operator isn’t raising rates uniformly across its markets — although it says the increase nationwide will average 2.2% — but sent a PDF provided to Washington subscribers outlining price hikes that went into effect Dec. 20. It shows every TV bundle but “limited basic” increased by a dollar or two a month. For instance, “expanded basic” went from $50.90 to $52. Meanwhile, the broadcast-TV fee climbed from $7 to $8 and the regional-sports-network fee is now $6.75, up from $5.

Comcast’s internet service also got generally pricier — for instance, the “Performance Pro” tier now costs $89.95, versus $84.95 before — and the cable-modem rental fee that you should avoid by buying a modem for yourself went from $10 to $11 a month.

Charter (CHTR): Publicists for the company that does business as Spectrum did not answer two emails requesting a breakdown of its price changes, but the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that city subscribers will see basic TV service go from $15 to $20 starting Jan. 1 (although expanded-basic TV will drop from $54.99 to $49.99), while all of its triple-play combinations of internet, TV and phone service will get $10 a month more expensive. The paper also reported that sports channels and cable boxes will get more expensive.

Dish Network (DISH): Starting in mid-January, the satellite-TV firm will hike the monthly rate of most of its channel bundles by $3 a month, while local channels will increase from $10 to $12.

Verizon (VZ): Yahoo Finance’s parent firm does not have any general rate increases planned.

Cox: TV bundles will get from $1 to $5 more expensive each month, the broadcast fee will almost double from $4 to $7 and regional-sports-network fees will rise by $4.20 to $5.15, depending on market. Finally, internet plans will cost from $2 to $4 more. These rate hikes will take effect beginning Jan. 5, although some markets may not see them three months later.

Altice: Subscribers to its Optimum cable-TV service already got hit with rate increases. Norwalk, Connecticut’s The Hour reported in October that Altice would hike the cost of its “broadcast basic” bundle to $20, an increase of $2 to $6 depending on when people signed up, and would impose a $4 broadcast fee on existing subscribers to that package who had been exempted from that fee before.

What you can do about these

The easiest rate hikes to dodge are those involving equipment: Remove a cable box from the second or third TV in your house and replace it with an over-the-air antenna (if your reception is good enough) or streaming video services (if you have 10 megabits per second of bandwidth, which most broadband subscribers do).

That streaming app may even come from your cable operator. Although the industry as a whole quietly walked away from a “Ditch the Box” pledge to develop these apps when the Federal Communications Commission was moving to require cable operators to offer them, some have since shipped their own. For example, you can dodge any increase in Charter’s box-rental fee by putting its app on a Roku player.

With programming increases, you’ll have to rethink the value to you of regional sports networks, long the biggest source of inflation in the pay-TV universe, and high-end channel bundles. Switching from cable to satellite TV or vice versa is an option too, but not for many apartment dwellers or anybody without a clear view of the southern sky–and most Americans don’t have a choice of two cable operators.

Or you can do what millions of Americans already have and dump traditional pay TV entirely in favor of a live streaming-TV service like AT&Ts’ DirecTV Now, Dish’s Sling TV, Hulu, Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) YouTube TV, or Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation Vue.

Pay TV’s transparency problem

This annual ritual of price increases represents a serious problem for cable and satellite TV operators. Considering that the entire business model of the traditional gigantic channel bundle relies on TV networks getting a third party (your cable or satellite service) to pass on a channel’s cost to somebody with no say in that channel’s inclusion (you, the subscriber), it may not be one they can solve anytime soon.

But cable and satellite companies could and should own up about these increases by documenting them on their websites–as AT&T did but the other firms above did not–instead of letting customers discover them in an e-mail or a bill insert. That’s no way to earn a customer’s trust or their continued business.

More from Rob:

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

 

A new featurette for Netflix’s Bright reveals the backstory that should have been in the film

Netflix recently began streaming its big blockbuster Bright, and it hasn’t been entirely well received by critics. The action film is set in a modern fantasy world where elves, humans, and orcs live alongside one another, but it only alluded to the larger world that drives much of the story. To help fill in those gaps, Netflix released a short video that highlights all of the history of the world that would have made the story a bit more comprehensible.

Bright might not have been great film, but it did introduce viewers to an intriguing fantasy world; it just didn’t explain any of it. The movie follows a human police officer and his orc partner after they discover a magic wand, and fight to escape with their lives from various criminal gangs and cults that want to get their hands on it. This quasi-documentary helps answer a bunch of questions that the film left behind.

In short, magic was once prevalent throughout the world — ancient villages each had a wizard, and used for good. But in 2600 BCE, an Egyptian pharaoh used magic to build the pyramids, setting off a sort of magical arms race that resulted in even more powerful magicians. The clip goes on to talk about the creation of magical wands, the rise of the Dark Lord hinted at in the film, and the efforts to defeat him.

But this backstory is also plagued with some of the same flaws that accompanied the film: incongruities with an alternate world and the familiar history of our own. Magic was apparently banned in the 1800s, and it shoehorns in things like the Stone Henge to the Taj Mahal, to the first atomic weapons in 1945. It doesn’t all make sense in explaining the fantastical world with the more modern version we saw.

The answers that the short video provides are really useful if you watched the film — it provides some context for the world building that was frustratingly glossed over as Will Smith and Joel Edgerton raced from gunfight to gunfight. Hopefully, whatever future Netflix has envisioned for this franchise will take a bit more time to explore the world a bit more. In the meantime, these answers are better than none.

Twitter ended the year on a fascinating run


It’s been pretty easy to point at Twitter and, with each quarterly moment when it discloses its financial guts, let out a long exasperated sigh.

Twitter since going public at a now in retrospect astounding valuation has for much of its public life been quite the disappointment to Wall Street. But then something interesting happened in the back half of 2017: it went on a rather spectacular run, and though ending on a bit of a slump, it looks like it could finish the year up more than 25 percent — which, by Twitter terms, is pretty good.

Much of that is thanks to a (finally) good report in October this year and a blessing from a Wall Street firm, but we could potentially chalk up getting to those events to some actual things Twitter has done. The product updates haven’t been absolutely transformative (like the earth-shattering bump to a 280-character limit per tweet), but since the introduction of the algorithmic timeline last year, it would seem that Twitter is getting slightly less allergic to changes to its core product — even if it alienates part of its very loud user base.

Twitter has also seemingly begun taking more action when it comes to enforcing new rules around harassment and abuse, a problem that has been hounding the company for years and is even more visible this year. Earlier this month it said it would begin enforcing new rules around how it handles hateful conduct and abusive behavior. Twitter’s strategy here has been often opaque, and while it’ll take a while to reach some kind of middle ground, it’s actually doing stuff.

And doing stuff, it seems, is currently enough for Twitter to figure out how to get a nice up-and-to-the-right-ish chart like this one:

While these stocks — especially volatile ones — will swing often, sometimes the general idea is to try to gauge the future potential of the company. For Twitter, that means it’s going to have to figure out a way to re-ignite growth and get users coming back and using the platform. It has some very deep core issues, and sometimes seems to flip-flop on its own actions and have troubles communicating. But if Twitter is somehow able to right this ship, it may have an opportunity to get that growth engine moving again.

Most executives will probably give the boilerplate “we are committed to delivering long-term value for shareholders” argument for stock swings in the near term, but those swings are really significant for the company. It’s the closest thing to a near-term public barometer for the company’s success, which means it does a lot for employee morale. And it also can be significant for attracting talent, as the company may need to offer more generous compensation packages to rip people away from companies that are high-growth or well-established.

Twitter, going forward, it appears, needs to keep doing stuff. It’s made a lot of moves in the video space in addition to building business tools — like a video-centric ad format. And it certainly has done that to some extent, trying to extend its pitch as a real-time communications platform to video. It needs to continue cracking down on harassment and abuse if it’s going to attract new, more casual users. It needs to keep making tweaks to its products even under the risk of alienating some of its users to make it more user-friendly. In short, there’s a lot of stuff to be done.

What’s arguably the richest part of this whole story, however, is that Twitter now has roughly the same market cap as Snap following its back-of-the-year run. Hovering at around $18 billion, it’s the tale of two runs here: Twitter found some way to turn its story around, and Snap is still having some pretty dramatic issues telling its story to Wall Street. Both have the specter of user growth over them, but somehow Twitter has been able to at least throw a rock in the opposite direction to get the attention of investors temporarily.

Will Twitter get its wish of finally escaping the MAU? Probably not. But for now, it looks like Dorsey and the rest of them have figured out at least some small way to sell the promise of Twitter to Wall Street and get them on board for the time being.

Featured Image: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Iran shuts down Instagram, Telegram apps amid protests

The Iranian government is cracking down on certain apps in the wake of protests.
The Iranian government is cracking down on certain apps in the wake of protests.

Image: STR/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

The Iranian government has blocked access to messaging app Telegram and photo app Instagram amid several days of protests in what authorities say is a move “to maintain tranquillity and security of society,” according to state-run media

Various media reports have stated that the apps were used to coordinate plans and share photos and videos of the demonstrations, which began as protests over economic inequality but have since grown in scope, taking aim at leading political figures like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei  and President Hassan Rouhani.

Instagram did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, tweeted about his app being blocked early Sunday morning.

Durov’s use of the phrase “peaceful protesting” is key here as Telegram has already voluntarily blocked one channel being used during these protests that explicitly called for violence. Durov defended the move on Twitter. 

Durov addressed both incidents on Sunday in a statement he posted to Telegram. In that post, he stood by the app’s use in arranging the demonstrations, writing: “We consider freedom of speech an undeniable human right, and would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions.”

It’s not the first time the encrypted messaging app Telegram has played a big role in political upheaval in Iran. The app became a popular way for users in the country to communicate and share information leading up to elections in 2016.

Not too long after that, Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace altered its data policy, requiring that messaging apps like Telegram would have to use servers based in within the country.

Earlier in 2017, Indonesia blocked Telegram over concerns related to the use of the app by ISIS terrorist to coordinate and plan attacks. 

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The newest DJ at this Prague nightclub is a KUKA arm robot

A club in Prague named Karlovy Lazne has recently introduced a robot DJ that alternates with a human to program music for the dance floor throughout the night, as reported by Reuters. Now in rotation for a few weeks, the robot has software that allows it to choose songs, select CDs from a rack, insert them into CDJs, and then play the songs. It also has some pretty sweet dance moves.

The club employed a robotics firm to have the robot specifically made for DJing. It’s an adaptation of a KUKA arm primarily used in the automotive industry. Rigged with software that helps it choose songs, the robot’s pincers grab CDs, and then show off some moves before placing them in one of the two CDJs in front of it. It’s unclear from the article if the software helps the robot consider songs based on things like key, BPM, genre, or other factors that would determine how well two tracks might sound together. It’s also unclear if the robot does more complex skills, like adjusting the speed of a song, EQing, or conducting the actual transition between songs. It is shown in the video hovering above knobs on the mixer and appearing to tap buttons on the CDJs, suggesting it does conduct some of these finer movements. We have reached out to Karlovy Lazne for details.

KUKA arms have a history of being adapted for musical purposes. A 2009 school project shows one attempting DJ movements with vinyl, and another 2009 video shows one selecting and rotating records on turntables to create ghostly scratching sounds. There was also this Nigel Standford music video from 2017, but it turned out to be sort of a party trick — the robots were doing the movements, but didn’t produce any of the music.

Karlovy Lazne’s robot DJ alternates every hour with a human counterpart, and while some partygoers enjoy the novelty, others aren’t sold. “I don’t like the robot,” Marcia Lopes told Reuters. “It can’t feel what the people want to dance to.” Without a full, unedited video of the robot doing its thing, it’s hard to tell if it’s just some neat programming that plays songs back to back as if it were an iTunes playlist, or if it’s complex enough to actually DJ, and do it well.

The Verge 2017 tech report card: Streaming music

If 2016 was the year that streaming music became a necessity, 2017 is the year streaming music showed its clout. This couldn’t have been showcased any more clearly than at the Grammys, where Chance the Rapper won best new artist, best rap album, and best rap performance — an honor only made possible because nomination rules changed, allowing for streaming-only albums to be eligible for nomination. In his acceptance speech, Chance gave a shout out to SoundCloud.

Streaming music consumption continues to ramp up, not slow down. Mid-way through the year, the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) released statistics on the US music industry, and during the first half of 2017, revenues from streaming services accounted for 62 percent of the total market. Digital download sales were down, but revenues from streaming services were also up 48 percent, and across all categories of streaming, the revenue levels were at record highs.

Part of this pop probably has to do with how streaming music has broken beyond the boundaries of our smartphones and laptops, and is now available and integrated with Google Home, Sonos, Amazon Echo, and other home assistants and smart speakers. This is the year Google Home promised to integrate Deezer and SoundCloud, and began supporting free Spotify accounts. Just as recently as a few weeks ago, Sonos announced that customers can now play music from Spotify on all Sonos speakers using Amazon’s Alexa assistant. It’s easier than ever to use your favored music streaming platform not just on the go, but in your home.

Exclusives have also all but disappeared, compared to 2016 when they were everywhere. There are exceptions — Beyoncé’s 2015 release Lemonade is still only available on Tidal, and Taylor Swift continued her contentious relationship with streaming by withholding her Reputation album from major services for weeks after release. Swift didn’t comment on why she waited to make Reputation available for streaming, but the move came just after Universal Music Group negotiated a contract with Spotify that allowed artists to keep new albums exclusive to the premium tier for two weeks after initial release.

In the midst of all this, the labels have been making some forward-thinking decisions that impact access to gray area material (unlicensed remixes, bootlegs, full DJ mixes, etc.). Sony made a deal with startup Remix Hits to allow musicians to purchase “stems” — isolated parts of songs — to freely use in their own productions. Sony also, along with Merlin, came to an agreement with Dubset, a rights clearance startup that works to legally allow unauthorized remixes on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Remixes aren’t going away anytime soon, and it’s about time labels and streaming platforms start to figure out how to distribute that content, not punish those who create it.

Apple Music has been part of this push, and was the service that partnered with Dubset to host the very first sample-heavy DJ set with full rights clearance. In general, the platform’s growth was robust this year, nearly keeping pace with Spotify, but there have been some hints that 2018 could hold some changes. Jimmy Iovine told Billboard “Just because we’re adding millions of subscribers and the old catalog numbers are going up, that’s not the trick. That’s just not going to hold.” The focus will instead be on building closer relationships between artist and fan. A move that could play into this is Apple’s recent acquisition of music identifying app Shazam. And, while there aren’t specifics about its integration with Apple, a spokesperson did say, “Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users.”

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

It hasn’t been great for everyone. SoundCloud had a particularly tough year that saw it lay off nearly 40 percent of its employees, battle rumors about its survival, and eventually hand the reins over to new CEO Kerry Trainor. Trainor made a promise to refocus efforts on creators, which have thus far been nominal, including a revamped home page experience with personalized playlists and slight adjustments to the stats available on the back end for artists (like, strangely, the introduction of being able to publicly share your stats for a song).

Pandora’s also had a rough go of it. The first half of the year was rocky, with CEO Tim Westergren stepping down, and a new Premium subscription service that stalled for months after its debut, adding only about 150,000 paying users over the first three month period. A new decision to let free users listen to on-demand music might put some wind back into the company’s sales though, and convert more to paying tiers. Tidal is facing some woes, too. A new report from Norway’s Dagens Næringsliv claims that the company’s user growth has stalled and it only has about six months of working capital left. Finally, Spotify had some stumbles getting everything in place for an IPO, delaying their timeline and pushing the move to go public until early 2018.

Sure, there have been some growing pains this year, but the key word here is “grow.” According to a Goldman Sachs report from back in August, streaming will help push the recorded music industry to a $41 billion business by 2030. The last time the music industry saw this kind of consistent trajectory was back in the ‘90s. Things are looking up, and it’s all due to the explosion of streaming.

Final grade: B

B
2017 Grade

The Verge 2017 report card: Streaming music

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Gold Stars

  • Streaming services becoming more fully integrated with home devices
  • Music industry finding ways to legalize bootlegs and DJ mixes
  • Less exclusives

Needs Improvement

  • Platforms are still struggling with profitability
  • Competitors need to differentiate their services
  • Artists are still not happy with streaming payouts

Explore a galaxy of S8 accessories for your Samsung smartphone

Your smartphone is probably the star of your devices, so you’ll want a decent supporting cast to ensure that you get the most from it. We’ve already looked at the best Galaxy S8 cases, the best Galaxy S8 Plus cases, and the best S8 and S8 Plus screen protectors, but there are some nifty alternative S8 accessories that are worth checking out. We’ve got docks, headphones, cameras, and more to add useful functionality to your S8 or S8 Plus.

Gear VR Headset and Controller ($130)

samsung unpacked 2017 roundup galaxy gear vr

If you haven’t dipped a toe into the waters of virtual reality yet, then this is a great place to start. The latest version of the Gear VR works with the Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus to take to you to new worlds. It’s the most comfortable design yet, and Samsung has added a handy controller into the mix to make navigation easier and bring new control options to games. There are more than 600 different apps, games, and experiences that will immerse you in all kinds of virtual realities.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Samsung Wireless Charger Convertible ($90)

Samsung Wireless Charger Convertible

Although it’s pricey compared to some of the other wireless chargers on the market, Samsung’s Wireless Charger is probably worth springing for because it supports the fast wireless charging capability in the S8 and S8 Plus. It’s a stylish-looking pad, finished in a leather-like material that comes in black or tan. Unusually, it can be adjusted to prop your S8 up, which is ideal if you want to use your phone while it charges. It comes with a Samsung Fast Charge wall charger in the box. There are lots of other great wireless chargers out there if you don’t fancy this one.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Maxboost Type-C Car Charger ($22)

Maxboost Type-C Car Charger

If you’re using your Galaxy S8 to navigate or you just want to charge it up while you drive, this car charger is ideal. No need to fiddle with cables because it has a USB Type-C cable built-in. There’s also an additional USB port in case you want to charge another device, or use a longer cable, and a clever, soft-glow LED ring, making it easy to use, even in the dark. It supports QC 3.0 for fast charging.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Samsung Gear 360 ($230)

samsung gear 360 4k live streaming unpacked 2017 featured

Les Shu/Digital Trends

The 2017 version of the Gear 360 enables you to capture 4K 360 degree videos and photos with your Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus. You can capture footage and shots, then review and share them via the app on your S8. You can even stream live from the dual-cameras in real-time. It’s a lightweight device with a handy grip that doubles as a stand and it can be mounted on tripods easily. The MicroSD card slot takes cards up to 256GB in capacity.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Samsung DeX Station ($150)

Samsung DeX docking station

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you liked the look of Microsoft’s Continuum, which enables you to use your smartphone as a desktop PC, then you’re going to love the DeX Station for the Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus because it does something similar. The adjustable dock looks like Samsung’s Wireless Charger, but it allows you to connect a monitor, mouse, keyboard, and Ethernet cable to your phone. Optimized app support is limited right now, but you can use it to work with Microsoft’s Office suite, and some Adobe and Samsung apps.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Samsung Gear S3 ($300)

Samsung Gear S3

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The beautifully designed Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch, with its clever rotating bezel is the best smartwatch you can currently buy to pair with your Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus. It runs Tizen, which is fast and accessible, and it’s packed with Samsung services like Samsung Pay, S Voice, and S Health. There isn’t an overabundance of apps, but you’ll find things like Uber, Nest, and Nike+ Running. It also offers more than a day of battery life, it’s water resistant, and the 22mm bands are very easy to switch.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Samsung Pro Plus 64GB MicroSDXC Card ($54)

Samsung Pro Plus 64GB MicroSDXC Card

We’re pleased to see that Samsung has bumped the base level of internal storage up to 64GB with the S8 and S8 Plus, but some of you will still need more space. There are definitely cheaper MicroSD cards out there, but we’re recommending this one because it offers high performance for 4K video recording and it’s extremely reliable. If you’re willing to wait a little longer, then keep an eye out for the new A1 spec MicroSD cards which are specifically designed to work as adoptable storage in Android phones.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 ($200)

Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2

You get a decent set of AKG earbuds worth $100 in the box with your S8 or S8 Plus, but if you want a proper set of headphones, then you might consider the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2. You can pair with your S8 or S8 Plus via Bluetooth (Samsung’s new smartphones can actually stream to two sets of Bluetooth headphones at once) and there’s a mic for calls and a button to trigger Google Assistant on the right earcup. You’ll find controls for music and volume on the left. They also produce a decent sound with support for noise cancellation and solid battery life.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Plantronics

Samsung USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($50)

Samsung USB-C to HDMI Adapter

We can’t help feeling this is overpriced, but if you want to be able to play 4K videos from your Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus on your big TV smoothly and easily, it’s going to be worth the investment. Plug the USB-C end into your phone and plug an HDMI cable into the other end to connect with your TV, projector, or monitor. Whether you want to play video from your vacation, watch a movie, or play a game on the big screen, this adapter lets you do it lag-free and without the need for Wi-Fi.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Mobile Fun

Anker Bluetooth Selfie Stick ($16)

Anker Bluetooth Selfie Stick

Samsung’s smartphones tend to have great cameras and the S8 and S8 Plus are no exceptions. If you want to capture really great selfies with your S8, then you’ll need to buy a selfie stick and this offering from Anker is ideal. This selfie stick connects to your phone easily via Bluetooth. It has a nice sturdy grip with a shutter button. It extends telescopically up to 32 inches in length end to end, and folds down to 7 inches. It comes with a Micro USB charging cable and you can expect to get around 20 hours of use from a single charge. It’s great value and it will work with virtually any smartphone, including the S8, S8 Plus, and the Galaxy Note 8.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

iOttie Car Mount Holder ($25)

iOttie Car Mount

It’s useful to have a cradle for your car that will hug your Galaxy S8 securely. This offering from iOttie has a strong, sticky, gel suction cup that will attach to your dashboard or windshield. When you press your S8 into it, the trigger panel at the back automatically closes the arms and there’s a button for quick release. You can adjust the angle through 225 degrees and there’s a telescopic arm that extends several inches, so you can find the most comfortable placement for your S8. There’s room between the feet at the bottom to plug in your charging cable.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Update: Added the Anker selfie stick and iOttie car mount, and updated prices.

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That phone game you’re playing while watching TV may be secretly tracking you

The next time you’re lying on the couch and fiddling with your phone while streaming Stranger Things or watching Mr. Robot, be aware — an app could be recording and tracking your viewing habits, and using the information in conjunction with your location to target you with ads during your next browsing session.

A recent story in the New York Times highlights a data firm called Alphonso that collects television viewing information through a smartphone’s microphone and sells that data to advertisers. The tracking software is piggybacked onto free games and apps such as Beer Pong: Trickshot and Pool 3D. Even when the app is not in use, it can listen for audio cues from TV shows and commercials to monitor what you’re watching.

Although the company claims it doesn’t listen to conversations, according to its website, it uses “advanced fingerprinting technology to identify ads and programming airing on TV in a fraction of a second, in a completely anonymous fashion.” The site calls it a TV Data Cloud and boasts that “40 million smart TVs, set-top boxes, mobile and living room devices with embedded Alphonso technology report viewership data in real time.”

The Times notes that more than 250 games that use Alphonso software can be downloaded from the Google Play store, many of them targeted to children. The CEO maintains that it’s all perfectly legal and consumers can opt out at any time.

Justin Brookman, of the advocacy group Consumers Union, told the Times that the nebulous nature of the opt-in notice doesn’t provide enough detail. “When you see ‘permission for microphone access for ads,’ it may not be clear to a user that, Oh, this means it’s going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I’m watching Monday Night Football,” he said.

Alphonso relies on the content-recognition company Shazam to identify the excerpts contained in its data cloud, and Shazam then sells the information back to Alphonso, which packages it and sells it to advertisers.

The company said its software is running on about a thousand different apps and games, so it’s quite possible you have one or more of them in your library. To check, go into Settings on your phone and then review the permissions of the app in question. If it has microphone access and the game doesn’t need it, toggle the mic permission off.

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