Users of the free Windows Live Messenger client available on Windows Mobile got a shock today when they tried to log in, a notice saying “Starting today, your 30 day trial period begins”. Uh oh! So far this relates to Windows Mobile and Symbian (e.g. Nokia) devices, and only to users wanting to run Messenger. Mail, Search and Synchonisation features are unaffected.
Microsoft has previously hinted about charging for some mobile services as it made releases during 2007, and this trial period notification seems to signal the start of that. After the 30 day period is up, users will be invited to purchase a Windows Live service pass in order to continue using Messenger on their device. Assuming that billing is consistent for both Windows Mobile and Symbian devices, you will not need a credit card to make the purchase, as the monthly pass will be billed via Premium SMS (PSMS). Fees will vary depending on the country you live in, and from what we’ve heard are likely to be in the region of €2 per month.
While its logical for Microsoft to want to start monetising the Windows Live Mobile services, it seems like they aren’t going about this in the best way. For starters, users who purchase Windows Mobile devices will have paid a premium already, of which Microsoft will have taken its share for supplying the operating system. As Windows Live is included as a part of Windows Mobile 6, it seems somewhat unreasonable to be charging these users twice – “didn’t we already pay for this?”
Additionally, charging for Messenger usage on other mobile devices will only harm growth rates, which conflicts with Microsoft’s recent moves such as making a tailored Symbian client that is available to all Nokia users. Introducing fees this early into the growth phase for Windows Live Mobile applications/services will discourage consumers from using Windows Live on their devices at all, which can only be a bad thing.
The whole manner in which this has been silently deployed is also somewhat disappointing. At this point Microsoft has provided no information to users on the future costs, nor has the possibility of being charged for Messenger usage been made clear in the past, either when buying Windows Mobile devices or when installing Messenger. This is a good example of bad PR, at a time when winning over mobile users is of the utmost importance.
(Image taken from MoDaCo)
Updated: So we got a statement from Microsoft about the rollout of premium mobile messenger services. See the followup post: Microsoft confirms Symbian mobile messenger charges – Nothing decided yet for Windows Mobile