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CALIFORNIA, US – Samsung’s new flagship phone, the Galaxy S24, debuted on Wednesday, January 17, with a suite of embedded AI tools as its main attraction.
The live event saw the audience clapping at many of these AI announcements as these represented a change from the more expected specs, design, or camera upgrades.
However, one thing that many may have missed was the fine print in one of the slides in Samsung’s presentation that said many of these AI services would only be available free of charge until the end of 2025.
On the slide announcing that the AI features would also be coming to other recent flagship Samsung mobile devices, the fine print also showed the following:
“Galaxy AI features will be provided for free until the end of 2025 on supported Samsung Galaxy devices. Different terms may apply for AI features provided by third parties.”
AI functions will also be coming to the S23 FE, S23 phones, Tab S9, Flip5 and Fold5 in the first half of 2024.— Gelo Gonzales (@gelogonzales86) January 17, 2024
The fine print also says that AI features will "be free until the end of 2025" on supported devices. Will some of them be paid services at one point? #SamsungUnpacked pic.twitter.com/vinTQ08OOm
The fine print doesn’t specify which AI features, but the wording appears to imply that it would apply to the majority, if not all of these features.
The newly announced AI features use either on-device processing, cloud processing, or a combination of the two.
It would make some sense for cloud-using AI processes, for example, note summarization or translation, to be free only for a certain period of time. AI processing via the cloud – for example, using ChatGPT – uses compute power, and that has a cost.
But for on-device processing, meaning the phone’s hardware performs all the computational tasks needed without having to borrow compute from a cloud service, it is not immediately clear why this would be a paid service down the line.
Examples of exclusively on-device AI features introduced in the S24 are the AI call translation feature or the “Interpreter” conversation translation feature. These can be done without any data connection. A user just needs to download language packs.
One way that Samsung could theoretically charge for those on-device features in the future is by developing and offering versions with significant improvements.
Cloud costs, evolving AI technology as reasons
Rappler, in a roundtable interview, was able to ask YJ Kim, Samsung VP and the head of the company’s AI team for mobile, regarding the time limit on free AI features.
A company veteran who started as a principal software engineer in the company in 2002, Kim mentioned the costs as well as the nature of evolving technologies that keep the AI services free for only a certain time.
This is his response, in full, as translated by his interpreter:
“So our goal has always been providing the best value and service for Galaxy users. And when it comes to Galaxy AI, we are taking a hybrid approach. So this has two perspectives. One, it means that we are providing or leveraging both on-device and cloud-based approaches. And second, we are also using our in-house AI capabilities as well as our partner-collaborated outcomes.
And you can imagine that all this process will incur huge costs, even when we are just talking about on-device development. Developing and upgrading our model, you know, requires a huge cost. And operational costs for server or cloud-based solutions will be even bigger.
However, our goal constantly remains that we provide a differentiated technology for Galaxy users so that they can enjoy best-class service. And, you know, through this, we want to make sure that our users actually enjoy [an] improved experience in their daily lives.
So for Galaxy users, we want to make sure that they can leverage or enjoy [an] AI experience and realize all the benefits that it can provide, whenever, wherever they use our features. And that is why we are providing AI features free of charge for Galaxy users until the end of 2025.
So that is what we have defined as of now. But as you understand, AI technology is advancing at a very rapid pace.
So at this point, we cannot imagine in the future, you know, what kind of services that we will combine and deliver together with our AI technology. It could be a whole different kind of service, depending on what kind of service that we provide, or depending how we combine our service with our partner capabilities.
You know, we may need to make different choices. However, as it stands at least until 2025, we decided to provide our AI features free of charge for Galaxy users.”
Wanting to make an impact with some caution
Basically, what Kim is saying is that these AI features cost money to use, whether through a cloud-based function on Samsung’s own servers or a third-party partner like Google, with its Search and Gemini AI model. Continued development of Samsung’s own AI technologies used by purely on-device AI functions also has a cost.
Samsung may also have third-party partnerships that help carry the load but the gist is that Samsung will only be able to provide these for free for about two years starting now, and that these are not permanent features as the event announcements would have made it seem.
One thing that Samsung could have done better in one of the most genuinely applauded Unpacked events I’ve attended is to have highlighted the two-year free period more, rather than relegating it to the fine print, because that fact is crucial for the prospective buyer.
But the two-year period isn’t just all about costs considerations for Samsung though. AI is indeed a fast-evolving space, as Kim explained. Right now, these suite of AI features may make sense for Samsung’s target users, but who’s to say that these are still what people will need two years from now?
To Samsung, two years free may be what made sense in an intersection of considerations including upfront cloud compute costs, and the need to make a significant mark in the AI space right now and make headway in building an AI-centric Galaxy ecosystem. There’s also the current rapid pace of developments in machine learning and AI that Samsung thinks makes it hard to see what services would be best to offer past two years from now, and makes it dangerous to overcommit on just one set of AI features.
Kim also shared insights on how they developed their own large language models (LLMs), how they’re approaching bringing AI to a wide range of devices including appliances by right-sizing their AI models, and their take on AI safety. We’ll discuss those in another article. – Rappler.com