AI is already spoiling the era of long-term smartphone updates

When Samsung announced Galaxy AI with the Galaxy S24 series, the first question on everyone's lips was: will older phones get these amazing features? After all, Samsung has one of the industry's leading update policies, with modern handsets getting five to seven years of major updates, raising expectations of quick, long-term feature support.

Just a few months later, Samsung released its One UI 6.1 update with Galaxy AI for the Galaxy S23 series and Tab S9 family, as well as foldables like the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5. So far, so good – last year's handsets run Galaxy AI as well as the new S24 series. However, this raises another question: why upgrade? Samsung said older handsets with longer update commitments will receive a similar update in due course.

The time has come when One UI 6.1 will be launched for the flagships of 2021 and 2022, including the Samsung Galaxy S21 in South Korea and will soon be introduced in the rest of the world. However, according to the changelog, some older handsets only receive a subset of Galaxy AI features, leaving many customers with a pared-back vision of Samsung's AI experience. For example, the Galaxy S21 series only gets Circle to Search (essentially a new and rebranded Google Lens), while the Z Fold 3 is set to get AI-generated wallpapers and AI image editing. Talk about a mixed bag.

Samsung Galaxy S24 GalaxyAI Transcription Processing

Robert Triggs/Android Authority

My gut feeling is that the curse of Exynos has struck again, as there appears to be a decisive difference between the S21 and the Z Fold 3 in terms of AI-enabled hardware. And yes, there are Snapdragon variants within the Galaxy S21 series, but Samsung has always been reluctant to split features across chipset lines, instead preferring to constrain features to maintain a level playing field for its customers.

Despite this, differing features within the same update for products of the same generation is certainly not the norm, undoubtedly creating consumer confusion (and possibly complaints) as to why their phone can do some new things but not others. . However, it is impossible for Samsung to bring every new feature to every device forever. After all, hardware leads the way, and the rapidly changing pace of AI, especially features running on devices, is rapidly increasing the hardware requirements to run the latest and greatest tools.

Still, like the failure of Google and its Pixel 8 AI feature, which left a seemingly capable but more affordable model without many of the features of its Pro sibling, understanding the situation for Galaxy AI features running in the cloud is even more difficult. It is difficult. According to Samsung, Note Assist, Live Translation and Chat Assist all require a web connection, while Web Translation in the Samsung browser also has a cloud-based mode. However, these have not been featured in the update for older handsets in the Galaxy S21 series. Perhaps they still require an element of on-device processing that older phones aren't capable of, or perhaps Samsung is conscious of the costs of cloud computing for millions of consumers. Anyhow, it's not entirely clear why some features have returned in older models but not others. Also, I'm scratching my head as to why some of these apps might not be updated instead of appearing in the new version of One UI, especially if the processing is cloud-based.

It seems that AI has made it difficult to meet all expectations of long-term update support.

Returning to our Pixel comparison, Google has struggled to bring many of its latest and greatest AI features back to older handsets, despite the AI ​​chops of its Tensor processor inside the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series. There's clearly a limit to what Samsung can do with older hardware. All this goes to show that long-term update policies provide no guarantee that you'll get every new feature that comes with the latest phone. There are a few things to consider when purchasing these phones that promise seven years of updates. Will you be looking forward to new features much earlier than that?

The AI ​​arms race has clearly hit a wall when it comes to backporting every cutting-edge feature, and there's no denying the fact that pundits will complain and consumers may be appalled by this fact. The latest One UI doesn't do this. It has all the latest features. That said, we're happy to see that core OS upgrades have returned to Samsung's older Galaxy flagships on time, and the brand still deserves a pat on the back for showing how Android updates should be done.

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