Google considers charging for enhanced searching and AI features

A Google Gemini screenshot (Google)
A Google Gemini screenshot (Google)

Google is reportedly considering charging for the use of its AI features.

It is exploring multiple options in plans to paywall certain of Google’s Gemini AI features, the FT reported, potentially including AI-enhanced web search.

This could mark a significant change in strategy for Google, although certain paid AI features are already listed as part of the company’s top Google One subscription.

At lower levels, Google One unlocks cloud storage beyond the 15GB included with a basic Gmail account. But at the £18.99 a month tier, as well as 2TB cloud storage, Google One includes Gemini Advanced and “Gemini in Gmail, Docs and more.”

As Google details on its website, Gemini in Gmail uses a chatbot side panel to generate emails and provide summaries for emails received.

However, Gemini in Gmail is currently a Workspace Labs feature available to beta testers rather than the wider public. “This feature is rolling out gradually and may not be available to you yet,” the Google website says.

It provides a clue as to how the experience could differ for the AI haves and have-nots in the future. Those with Gemini in apps such as Gmail see a star-like icon in the desktop app’s top interface bar. This opens the Gemini AI panel. Those who don’t have access to the AI don’t see this button.

Gemini Advanced, the other premium AI feature advertised as part of the top Google One subscription, unlocks access to the Ultra 1.0 AI model.

While the free Gemini chatbot claims to use this same core AI when asked, Google says Gemini Advanced “is far more capable at highly complex tasks like coding, logical reasoning, following nuanced instructions and collaborating on creative projects.”

The company says this pay-for-AI approach does not represent a shift towards an ad-free model, though. Advertising and gathering user data to more carefully target ads is Google’s way of making much of its money.

“We’re not working on or considering an ad-free search experience. As we've done many times before, we'll continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google. We don't have anything to announce right now,” Google said in a statement sent to the Evening Standard.

Microsoft vs Google AI

Microsoft’s approach to paid AI features is similar to that in Google’s One subscription tiers.

Its Copilot Pro subscription costs £19 a month and includes AI usage in Office suite apps including Excel, Word and PowerPoint. It provides a faster and less limited generation of images using OpenAI’s Dall-E 3 image AI.

Google launched rival Gemini image generation on February 1 but shut it down three weeks later on February 24 after criticism. It was designed to create artificially diverse images, including those of black Nazi soldiers and a black founding father of the United States.

“Gemini image generation got it wrong. We'll do better,” said the blog post from Google senior vice president Prabhakar Raghavan on the service’s removal. Gemini image generation remains unavailable.