AI is the next big thing on phones, or so we keep being told, which is why Samsung has gone all in with AI features on the Samsung Galaxy S24. But Galaxy AI, as these features are collectively known, may not be so readily available for long. Rumors have been circulating for months that Samsung could lock these features behind a paywall from next year.
It sounds like a crazy prospect, and surely no sane company would attempt anything like this. Certainly not a mere 12 months into a phone’s lifespan. Unfortunately, Samsung has confirmed that this is a very real possibility. No firm decisions have been made yet, but it's no guarantee that these features will stay free forever.
Which is all straight-up ridiculous. The fact that Samsung could use Galaxy AI as a major selling point, only to turn around and start demanding money for the features that were originally so readily available, would be a kick in the teeth.
Gadgets shouldn’t have features retroactively taken away
When you buy a product, generally speaking you’re expecting it to work more or less the same way for the rest of its natural lifespan. You may get general drops in performance as time takes its toll on certain components, but overall the phone should still be able to do everything it had to offer on the day you took it out of the box.
Companies shouldn’t be retroactively deciding you can’t have access to those features, and removing them without your consent. It’s the kind of thing plenty of companies have criticized for over the years. Whether that’s Warner Bros removing shows you paid to keep from your library, Tesla disabling ultrasonic sensors on older cars or removing paid Autopilot features from used cars. It’s a really crappy business practice that strips away your own rights to products you bought and paid for.
Locking launch features behind a paywall a year after release would make matters worse. Especially given how much of the Galaxy S24’s marketing has emphasized the inclusion of AI software. People could easily spend a year adapting to these new features, only to have Samsung steal them away so that it can try to boost its own profit margins.
Imagine if you had a washing machine that pulled a specific wash cycle on its first birthday unless you paid an extra $5 a month. You’d be on the phone to the retailer demanding a refund, or a replacement appliance that doesn’t try and extort you out of even more money.
‘Free Trials’ are fine, as long as we know that going in
I can only recall a single phone feature that could be categorized in a similar fashion to what Samsung has suggested — Apple’s Emergency SOS with satellite. This feature first arrived on the iPhone 14, and was designed to let users in select countries contact emergency services via satellite, should they ever need help in an area without cell coverage. A very useful feature that also has the power to save lives.
Officially this feature was only available as a trial, with users only getting free access for a year — at which point they’d have to pay for more.
One could argue that Apple didn’t make it super clear this was the case in marketing material. But the company always had a consistent message that Emergency SOS via satellite would only be free for the first year. Or at least it was until Apple announced that the trial was being extended, and all iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 users would get 2 years free access instead.
It’s a lot harder to complain about limited availability of software when it was made clear that you’d have to start paying at some point. Like you do after you reach the end of your extended Apple TV Plus free trial.
Samsung’s key mistake is that it hasn’t made that decision yet, and it certainly sounds like it’s contemplating pulling at least some Galaxy AI features away from people who purchased a Galaxy S24 without knowing the software was only free for a limited time.
Samsung did say that there are plans to offer more powerful AI features to paying subscribers in the future. Which is an entirely different matter, because it means Samsung has been up front about the need to pay for those features from the get go. I don’t particularly like that idea, considering the Galaxy S24 Ultra is $1,300 in its cheapest iteration, but it means people can make informed decisions about what’s going on.
AI is a key difference between Galaxy S24 and S23
If you look at the Galaxy S24’s hardware and compare it to the Galaxy S23, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that both phones are pretty similar. Especially if you look at the upgrades the Galaxy S24 Ultra and Galaxy S24 Plus have, compared to their 2023 counterparts. It’s why the phone’s software upgrades are especially important, and AI plays a very big part in that.
Sure, Galaxy AI is confirmed to be coming to the Galaxy S23 series in some form. But it’s not very clear what form that looming software update will take — and if we’ll see every new Galaxy AI feature on older phones.
That means the AI enhancements are one of the key features that are likely to encourage people to upgrade to a Galaxy S24. News that those features are only free for a limited time, and may be locked behind a paid subscription, would make the Galaxy S24 a lot less appealing. Especially considering the Galaxy S23 is already significantly cheaper as a result of the Galaxy S24’s release.
Why buy the newer, more expensive phone that’s only had an incremental update, when there’s a cheaper alternative that performs almost as well? Some might buy the latest model simply because it’s a newer phone, but the more frugally minded may think twice before picking up a Galaxy S24 as a result of Samsung pulling the AI rug out from everyone.
You’d be paying to keep your phone relevant
If you’re the kind of person that upgrades every year or two, then losing access to AI features after a year may not be the end of the world. You can tough it out until the next model arrives, and that should have plenty more AI enhancements that you don’t need to pay extra for — right?
The problem is that the Galaxy S24 isn’t a phone that will be functionally obsolete in a few years time. Samsung made a big show of matching Google’s 7 years of software updates, with guaranteed security and Android updates until early 2031. That way people may be more inclined to keep their phones for longer, or sell it on for a higher price than it would have otherwise earned.
Paywalling key features tarnishes that promise somewhat, and means Galaxy S24 users may have to keep paying money to ensure their phone stays relevant and up to date — the only alternative being to buy a brand new phone. Which rather defeats the purpose of offering such generous software support in the first place, if you ask me.
Granted adding additional premium software features may do this too. But it once again comes down to the fact that those features are essentially smartphone DLC, rather than software that was freely available when the Galaxy S24 launched.
In recent years we’ve seen the tech industry try and push away from large one-off purchases in favor of repeated subscriptions. From microtransactions in video games to paid navigation in cars and subscription-based access to productivity software. For the most part, smartphones have steered clear of this.
Subscriptions for extra services do exist but it’s not as though they’re all being carved out, piece by piece, to try and get more money out of you. Provided you ignore the rise of cloud storage subscriptions around the same time a lot of phones started losing microSD card support.
But as AI becomes more prevalent, it’s going to become one of the major selling points for new phones. Forget about the camera hardware, AI can improve your photos, translate foreign languages in real time, and maybe even do your homework for you. We might not be there just yet, but it's conceivable that there will be a day in the near future where AI is the major selling point for the latest and best phones.
The last thing we need is for phone companies to start holding those features to ransom, and asking us to pay for them when we’ve already spent several hundred dollars to over a grand on the device itself.
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