Apple vs. Beeper: The Battle Over iMessage on Android Explained

    Apple’s exclusive iMessage club saw some break-ins earlier this month thanks to Beeper Mini, an Android app that gives non-iPhones access to the blue bubble treatment. This means that an Android device using the Beeper Mini app can message people on iMessage as if they were using an iPhone, with encrypted blue bubbles, read receipts, in-line replies and high-quality multimedia in tow. That quickly set off a clash between Apple and Beeper, with Cupertino blocking the app, citing security concerns, and Beeper finding new ways to reconnect its Android users to iMessage. 

    While two companies throwing down over texting seems a bit odd, it’s deeply tied to Apple’s strategy to control the mobile market. Apple launched iMessage in 2011, before third-party messaging apps like WhatsApp were the norm. Since then, Apple has grown to become a multitrillion-dollar tech behemoth, commanding the majority of US mobile phone market share at 57%, with a staggering 87% of Gen Z users on iPhone, according to research from Piper Sandler. Apple’s closed ecosystem of software and devices encourages people with Apple devices to only buy Apple devices, increasing the company’s dominance. It’s why a boutique phone-maker like Nothing had to go out of its way to create a messy backdoor into iMessage, or else users wouldn’t consider buying anything other than an iPhone, according to founder Carl Pei. 

    Apple’s iMessage has become a mainstay in American communication and affects how people interact with one another. Social pressure to convince friends and family to move to iPhone is by Apple’s design. The company revealed as much in court documents, saying that putting iMessage on Android would only “serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones.” 

    The tide seems to be changing, however: Apple said last month it would be opening up its Messages app (likely due to European regulation) to work with the newer, more feature-rich texting protocol called RCS. This hopefully will lead to a more modern and secure messaging experience when texting between an iPhone and an Android phone, and lead away from the aging SMS and MMS standards. Unfortunately, green bubbles will continue to persist even if there might be little to no functional difference. While third-party apps like Nothing Chats attempted and ultimately failed to bring iMessage to Android, Apple will likely never release the app on Google’s mobile operating system.

    Until RCS is fully adopted, companies are creating services to allow access to iMessage via Android phones. Apple, for its part, has been quick to block apps like Beeper Mini, citing security concerns. This, however, is raising eyebrows from lawmakers regarding competition in the messaging space and Apple’s tight control over the market.

    Apple vs. Beeper: The latest updates

    As Apple continues to block Beeper Mini, Beeper in a Dec. 21 blog post told users to grab a jailbroken iPhone and install a free Beeper tool that’ll generate iMessage registration codes to keep the service operational. It’s such a roundabout and potentially expensive way of trying to get iMessage on Android that it likely won’t be worth it for most people. For those not willing to go out and jailbreak an iPhone, Beeper said in a now-deleted blog post that it would allow people to rent a jailbroken unit for a small monthly fee starting next year. Whether this plan comes to fruition remains to be seen. 

    “Each time that Beeper Mini goes ‘down’ or is made to be unreliable due to interference by Apple, Beeper’s credibility takes a hit,” Beeper said in the blog post. “It’s unsustainable. As much as we want to fight for what we believe is a fantastic product that really should exist, the truth is that we can’t win a cat-and-mouse game with the largest company on earth.”

    While the fight against Apple will be a David vs. Goliath challenge, it’s not something Beeper CEO Eric Migicovsky is ready to back away from. Migicovsky said Beeper is investigating legal action against Apple around antitrust.

    “They’ve degraded the performance of iMessage for iPhone users,” said Migicovsky in an interview with The Information, “all in search of crushing a competitor.”

    Before the jailbroken iPhone workaround, Beeper was asking users to verify their accounts on a Mac, whether it be their own or a friend’s machine. Apple reportedly appears to be finding ways to continue blocking Beeper users, with as much as 60% of them reporting outages. 

    The cat-and-mouse chase between Apple and Beeper is bringing scrutiny from lawmakers. Last week, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee, along with Representatives Jerry Nadler and Ken Buck, called on the Department of Justice’s antitrust division to see whether Apple was violating any laws. In a letter addressed to Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, the lawmakers said they were “concerned that Apple’s recent actions to disable Beeper Mini harm competition, eliminate choices for consumers, and will discourage future innovation and investment in interoperable messaging services.”

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised competition concerns earlier this month as well. That came after Apple admitted to blocking Beeper Mini, telling The Verge that the app “posed significant risks to user security and privacy, including the potential for metadata exposure and enabling unwanted messages, spam, and phishing attacks.” Beeper argued that allowing Android users to text iPhones via encrypted messaging, and not SMS, is safer for everyone.

    Apple vs. Beeper: A quick history

    Founded by Migicovsky, founder of the Pebble smartwatch company and a Y Combinator partner, Beeper launched its Mini app on Dec. 5. The app, which then cost $2 per month, allows Android users to communicate with people on iMessage as if they were using an iPhone. The company said it reverse-engineered iMessage with the help of a 16-year-old high school student.

    Beeper Mini launched less than a month after Nothing, maker of the Nothing Phone, announced Nothing Chats, an app by Sunbird that let Android users message people using iMessage with blue bubbles. Nothing Chats, however, was criticized over security concerns as it requires people to log into their Apple account at Sunbird’s Mac server farm. Sunbird then rerouted all messages through its servers so that messages appear on both iMessage and Nothing Chats. But logging in with your Apple ID to a Mac at some unknown location isn’t ideal from a security perspective. Nothing has since pulled Chats from the Google Play Store and Sunbird temporarily shut down its iMessage app to address security concerns. 

    Days after Beeper Mini launched, Apple blocked the app, citing security concerns for iMessage users. Due to the ongoing outages, Beeper stopped charging its $2 subscription fee as it tries to figure out a way to provide consistent service.

    Since the launch of Beeper Mini, it’s been a back-and-forth between Beeper and Apple, with a cadre of frustrated users caught in the middle. 

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