Google said to be considering paywall for new premium AI services

It would be the first time the company will charge users for one of its core services

Google's Gemini AI platform already grants access to generative AI features on Gmail and Google Docs, but for a fee. AFP
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Google is reportedly exploring the possibility of introducing a new paid tier for premium generative AI-powered services, which would be the first time a core service of the tech giant will be put behind a paywall.

Google search would remain free but still present ads even for paying subscribers, the Financial Times reported, citing sources. It is unclear what pricing structure Google would offer and if the new generative AI features will be launched in phases.

The company is “not working on or considering” an ad-free search experience but it would “continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google", to "rapidly improve the product to serve new user needs", a Google representative told The National.

“For years, we’ve been reinventing search to help people access information in the way that’s most natural to them. With our generative AI experiments in search, we’ve already served billions of queries, and we're seeing positive search query growth in all of our major markets," the representative said.

Google's Gemini AI platform already grants access to generative AI features on Gmail and Google Docs, but for a fee, and it is unclear if its new paid tier will be packaged into this plan or a standalone.

Gemini AI charges $19.99 a month on the new Google One AI Premium plan, which includes 2TB of storage, more features for Google Meet and Google Calendar, and 10 per cent back from purchases made on the Google Store.

California-based Google had already begun testing its experimental Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May last year, which promised search results that "dig deeper", but has yet to make any substantial progress in introducing it.

Only a select group of users and some Google One subscribers have been granted access to SGE. These generative AI results are more costly to develop as the technology requires more computing resources compared to Google's traditional methods, the FT report said.

Powering search queries with generative AI is “eye-wateringly” expensive, a former Google employee had told Bloomberg.

In February, Google also quietly added a shortcut to the beta version of its Chrome internet browser that allows users to easily and more quickly access Gemini AI.

It is unclear if and when executives will give the approval to launch the service, as engineers continue to develop it, the report said.

The Alphabet-owned company has been making a major push for generative AI as it fends off the challenge from ChatGPT, the sensational chatbot from OpenAI that has been viewed as a threat to Google's core search-engine business.

Google search has remained free, thanks to advertising, the company's biggest source of revenue. The company reported revenue from search and related ads last year hit about $175 billion, equivalent to more than half of its total sales.

The company's full-year 2023 fiscal net profit increased 23 per cent to $73.8 billion, while revenue soared 9 per cent to $307.4 billion during the 12-month period.

Search is part of Google's services business – which also includes advertisements, Android, Chrome, hardware, Maps, Google Play and YouTube – that accounted for nearly 88.4 per cent of the company’s total sales.

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Microsoft, the biggest backer and partner of OpenAI, is already using its GPT-powered Copilot on its Bing search engine, yet still trails Google significantly.

Google is the most widely used search engine globally by a wide margin, with a more than 91 per cent market share as of last month, compared to Bing's 3.35 per cent, latest data from StatCounter shows.

Updated: April 04, 2024, 9:10 AM