February 26, 2024

Galaxy AI has arrived, as Samsung has declared in the loudest way possible, but the company left one small detail out of its presentation earlier this week: it might come at a cost. The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, S24 Plus, and S24 all include a smorgasbord of new AI features — everything from translating phone conversations to removing objects from photos. They’ll even be coming to many older phones, too. But as spotted by Android Central, the fine print on Samsung’s website reveals that they might not be free forever. And that might be a tough sell.

The footnote at the bottom of the Galaxy S24 Ultra product page is vague, but clearly leaves a door open for Samsung to charge later: “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.”

Samsung didn’t offer much clarification, either. Drew Blackard, Samsung US’s vice president of mobile, tells The Verge, “We are committed to making Galaxy AI features available to as many of our users as possible. We will not be considering any changes to that direction before the end of 2025.” The coast is clear for now, but many of the S24’s Galaxy AI features are enabled by Google Cloud, so either company — or both! — could eventually put their features behind a paywall.

It’s not too surprising when you consider how expensive it is to offer these features and run the large AI models that power them. Business Insider points out that manufacturers might look to subscription models to pay for these ongoing costs, since you can’t exactly offset them with advertising the way Google does with search. But it’s a bit of a shift in how we think about purchasing a phone — right now, they don’t come with extra fees on top of the purchase price, unless you elect to add a protection plan or extra cloud storage through iCloud or Google One, for example.

But “How much does this phone cost?” has been an infuriatingly difficult question to answer in the age of “free” or heavily subsidized carrier phones, which is how a lot of people in the US get their devices. It’s not too hard to envision a future where monthly fees for advanced AI features are tacked on to your wireless bill or folded into a paid cloud subscription.

So why wait until 2025? The Korea Herald reported on some comments from Samsung’s head of mobile, TM Roh, who said that charging for AI services could become an option when they become more advanced — and more costly to run. That’s the thing about AI; the way it has shown up so far on our phones has been pretty unimpressive. These features can take a lot of time to process, but more importantly, they just haven’t been very useful. If Samsung does want to charge for AI options in the future, the door seems to be wide open — they’ll just have to prove themselves to be worth the price.