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Does the promise of extensive Android support mean less in the age of AI?

1 month ago 61

The past few years have seen Android phones come and go with lengthy promises tied to them, guaranteeing Android feature updates years in advance. Those promises are good to see, but they seem to mean less as Android OS updates take on AI-driven features – features that aging phones can’t always make use of.

Samsung is on the verge of releasing One UI 6.1 to all of the devices it promised would receive the update. That includes devices that are coming up on several years’ worth of feature upgrades and Android version changes.

With One UI 6.1 come many features that debuted on the Galaxy S24 series and, admittedly, an AI-forward lineup of phones. That list includes Circle to Search, Interpreter mode, Chat Assist, and more that aim to make life a little easier through the use of machine learning, generally powered by the phone itself.

As that update has made its way through the Galaxy lineup, each consecutive series has seen a smaller bag of features become available. The latest series to get the update is the Galaxy S21 model, consisting of four phones: the Galaxy S21, S21+, S21 Ultra, and S21 FE. The interesting part about the update is that Samsung seems to have culled a healthy chunk of AI versions from the device-specific update. In essence, a lot of AI features that one would see on the S23 or even S22 series aren’t coming to the S21 party.

The Galaxy S21 FE is in an even worse position, not even gaining only Circle to Search – a feature that doesn’t necessarily fall into the “Galaxy AI” suite.

Right now, the Galaxy S21 series is in its third year on the market and coming up on its last updateOne UI 7 based on Android 15. But with One UI 6.1, the majority of glitz and glamour advertised by Samsung sits in that AI suite, boiling the Android update down to minuscule improvement.

That begs the question, then, “What’s the point of promising Android updates if the bulk of features are never delivered.”

There might be a couple of ways to look at it. From Samsung’s perspective, it likely thought promising three years of updates for the S21 was a good idea, and in theory, it was. With the fluid landscape of LLMs and machine learning, most companies don’t even know what features might be around the corner until the capability to unleash them becomes available with improved hardware.

On the other hand, OEMs may think that simply promising a calendar value of Android updates will be enough, even if the substance within falls short.

This question isn’t posed to bash Samsung’s or any other’s effort to promise updates in the first place. Rather, security updates and Android upgrades are important for performance and, well, security. That being said, the fun part about Android upgrades is the set of features that comes with it, and a lot of those seem to revolve around AI – a technology each phone handles differently.

There isn’t a solid answer to why Samsung decided to limit the Galaxy S21 series to Circle to Search, but it’s definitely a disappointing result. As more updates come out with even more AI features, we’d expect that phones with guaranteed support will see some of these updates in a larger capacity than what’s happening with Samsung’s three-year-old devices.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Does a promise of Android version updates mean anything to you in the current phone landscape?

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