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100 Million People Pay Google for Extra Storage. Can It Get Them to Pay More for Smarter AI?

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Google got to where it is mostly by offering free services stuffed with ads, but it has increasingly experimented with a different business model: selling subscriptions for extra perks. Its first subscription offering, debuted in 2006, provided additional photo storage for users who didn’t want to have to hit the delete button. You can now pay Google for extra space for emails and documents, too, or to keep recordings from Nest security cameras and remove ads from YouTube. Today the company added a major new pitch to its subscription slate—it’s asking people to pay extra to access a smarter AI chatbot and more capable productivity helpers.

Gemini Advanced, Google’s most powerful chatbot yet, launched today behind a paywall. It costs $19.99 a month in a new tier of the Google One subscription plan known as AI Premium. It combines access to the new chatbot with existing Google One offerings like 2 terabytes of extra storage, a VPN, and other perks.

AI Premium is similar in price to OpenAI’s $20 a month ChatGPT Plus, but includes Google One benefits that otherwise cost $9.99 a month. Subscribers already on pricier Google One tiers will get the new Gemini Advanced features through July 31 at no extra cost; it’s unclear what happens after then.

Google has said Gemini is at the heart of its plans for an AI-enhanced future. If AI Premium finds an audience, that future could also include Google drawing a significant new revenue stream from subscriptions, as people pay to access more powerful AI tools much as gamers shell out for more powerful hardware.

Convincing consumers to cough up for AI could also be imperative for Google. Though hard drive costs generally keep falling, prices for powerful chips such as the Nvidia GPUs and Google TPUs needed for cutting-edge generative AI projects are shockingly high as demand outpaces supply.

Shimrit Ben-Yair, vice president and general manager for the Google One business, tells WIRED that defraying the costs of the computing power behind Gemini is “definitely part of the thinking” in requiring a subscription to access the most advanced version. And it won’t be the last time Google launches an AI feature behind a paywall. “It’s just the first step in many more of these generative AI features coming to the market through Google One,” she says.

Google announced last week that Google One was about to cross 100 million subscribers. Ben-Yair says that AI Premium is central to how Google expects to land its next 100 million.

New Model

The generative AI chip crunch also explains why AI Premium comes with a significant restriction despite being an expansion of Google One: While established Google One benefits such as storage can be split among six Google accounts without additional fees, only the plan manager will have access to Gemini Advanced. “We want to build a really sustainable long-term business here,” Shimrit Ben-Yair says.

In an interview with WIRED about Google’s AI strategy in the Gemini era, CEO Sundar Pichai says the company projected costs and potential efficiencies 25 years out when determining pricing for the AI Premium plan. The aim was to keep fees, in the company’s view, compelling, while also providing cash to support new development. “We’re building it in a way so that over time it’s what will allow us to invest more in the models and create that virtuous cycle,” Pichai says.