Samsung might paywall its Galaxy AI features next year — that could be a big mistake

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Over the weekend, I wrote about yet another set of Samsung Galaxy S24 leaks. The piece mainly concerned how the AI-powered photography editing would work, but there was an interesting detail buried in the report. 

This was that Samsung might see its new and exciting Galaxy AI features as only being temporarily free before a paywall kicks in. AI smarts would be “free of charge until at least 2025” the original Android Headlines report states, giving credence to early rumors that AI would be a paid feature

I don’t doubt that Samsung has the ambition to one day charge for its AI features. But I do have doubts as to whether it’ll actually happen.

The case for a charge

Before I get onto that, I should point out that companies seeking payment for their AI tech is actually pretty easy to justify. 

It’s said that every ChatGPT search you make costs OpenAI around 36 cents, thanks to the costs of electricity and cooling. That doesn’t sound like much, but enough people have started using the chatbot regularly that, as of April last year, it was apparently costing OpenAI $700,000 a day to keep running.

Now, not all of Galaxy AI’s features will be run on Samsung’s own servers, with some being done on device. But if the server-side ones take off in a big way, you can see a situation where Samsung is suddenly on the hook for a huge money sink. It’s not a charity, and if you’re getting ongoing use from its servers, it’s not unreasonable to expect you to chip in.

Companies making previously free things paid-for when they prove too expensive has precedent, too. Google used to offer unlimited Photos storage, for example, but those days are long gone.


The case against

That’s all very well in theory, but most people don’t get how expensive AI models are to run. And, bluntly, they don’t care very much when they’ve already spent $799 to $1,379 on the phone to run it (and one that will likely have a fair share of sponsored apps pre-installed, too). 

For most people, fair or not, they’ve paid for the phone, so they expect all the features to be included forever. And if they’re not, they’ll vote with their feet. 

There’s no shortage of handsets set to adopt AI in some way, and the clever Generative Edit feature that uses Samsung’s cloud servers looks a lot like Google’s Magic Editor. Notably, that remains free on the Google Pixel 8.

Even if you do tell users that a feature is free for just a year, implementing payment at a later date is administratively a tricky beast. 

That’s true even for a brand of Apple’s scale. Remember when the iPhone 14 launched, and the company told buyers that Emergency SOS calls would be free for two years? Well, Apple ended up extending it for another 365 days and, at the time of writing, there’s still no word of what the price will be if and when the company ever decides to make it a premium feature.

In the balance

TM Roh of Samsung with Galaxy S23 lineup

(Image credit: Samsung)

Ultimately, what will decide this is whether Galaxy AI is as truly transformational as Samsung will make it seem when it unveils the S24 family on Wednesday. 

If the features prove incredibly useful, people use them every day, and the subscription cost is in the $5-per-month range, then it’s possible Samsung may be able to move to a paid model without much resistance. But if they’re not, then good luck with that.

Put it this way: if ChatGPT suddenly charged a monthly subscription, you might pay. But if Samsung suddenly charged for the use of its Bixby virtual assistant… well, I don’t need to finish that sentence.

All will become clear at this week’s unveiling. Here’s how to watch Galaxy Unpacked 2024 live to see for yourself.

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Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.