Beeper has been offering a unified messaging platform for a few years, allowing users to open a single app to communicate with contacts via SMS, Google Chat, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Discord, WhatsApp, and perhaps most significantly, iMessage.
Up until this week though, Android users that wanted to use Beeper to send “blue bubble” messages to iMessage users had their messages routed through a Mac or iOS device. Now Beeper has launched a new app called Beeper Mini that handles everything on-device, no iPhone or Mac bridge required. Beeper Mini is available now from the Google Play Store, and offers a 7-day free trial. After that, it costs $2 per month to keep using. Update: On Friday, December 8, Beeper Mini stopped working, just days after launch, and before anyone had time to use up their free trial. Founder Eric Migicovsky tells Techcrunch that all signs seem to point to Apple finding a way to disrupt the service. Update 2: Apple has confirmed it’s responsible for Beeper Mini no longer working.
In a nutshell, Beeper Mini was designed to let Android users interact with iMessage by bringing a few key features:
- Your messages should show up as blue bubbles.
- Instead of your email address, iMessage users should now show your Android phone number.
- Your messages are not relayed through a remote Mac server before they’re sent to iMessage.
- You don’t need an Apple ID, so you don’t have to give Beeper your Apple login details (if you have any).
- All messages are end-to-end encrypted so that neither Apple nor Beeper can decrypt them and the encryption keys remain on your device,
- iMessage features supported include:
- Group chats
- High-res image, video, and voice message sharing
- Read receipts and typing indicators
- Reply threads
- Stickers and GIFs
So how is Beeper Mini pulling all of this off in a standalone Android app , when previously the company had to rely on a Mac-in-the-cloud?
The company explains the method it’s using in a blog post, but in a nutshell, Beeper says a security researcher has reverse engineered “the iMessage protocol and encryption,” so that “all messages are sent and received by Beeper Mini Android app directly to Apple’s servers” and “the encryption keys needed to encrypt these messages never leave your phone.”
That security researcher, by the way, is a high school student that goes by jjtech, who was hired by Beeper after showing the company his code. A proof-of-concept Python script is also available on Github if you’d like to run it to send messages to iMessage from a PC.
All in all, it sounds like a big step forward in bridging the gap between Android and iMessage. But since Beeper Mini doesn’t use the Matrix protocol that the original Beeper app had used, and is instead built from entirely new code, it doesn’t currently support all of the 15 chat services that the original app did.
At launch Beeper Mini could only send messages to and from iMessage and other Beeper Mini users. But the product roadmap includes adding support for SMS, WhatsApp and Signal in the short term, and support for Matrix and 10 other unencrypted chat networks in the future.
In the meantime, the original Beeper app (which did require a Mac server) has been renamed Beeper Cloud, and you can sign up for a waitlist if you’d like a chance to use that service.
Beeper Mini doesn’t have a waitlist. It’s available to anyone who wants to sign up for the free trial and/or pay $2 per month to send blue chat bubbles from an Android phone. Eventually Beeper Cloud and Beeper Mini will merge, once the full feature set has been migrated to the new app.
Wondering if and when Apple will sue Beeper? It’s certainly a possibility, but Beeper founder Eric Migicovsky notes that the company is careful to avoid using any Apple trademarks, and that there are protections in US law for reverse engineering systems for purposes of interoperability.
It’s also possible that Apple could change the way iMessage works to prevent reverse-engineered apps like Beeper Mini from working.
But that would likely take a long time, and might be a risky move for Apple, since it could also break support for iMessage on older Apple devices.
Update: Or maybe it’s something Apple could do in a matter of days. At this point it’s unclear what the future of Beeper Mini will be. Maybe this is the start of a cat and mouse game. Or maybe this is the end, and Beeper will have to go back to the Mac-in-the-cloud business.
Beeper isn’t the first company to try offering an Android-to-iMessage service. But it is one of the first to promise a way to do it without relying on a remote server, while ensuring your messages remain end-to-end encrypted (something that Nothing Chats and Sunbird infamously failed to do).
This article was first published December 5, 2023 and most recently updated December 8, 2023.