The Beeper Mini saga

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

Beeper: Beeper Mini Is Back

In the first 48 hours, it was downloaded by more than 100,000 people. The reason for its success is clear: Android and iPhone customers desperately want to be able to chat together with high quality images/video, encryption, emojis, typing status, read receipts, and all modern chat features. We all want a fun, easy and secure way to chat. For a glorious 3 days last week, Beeper Mini made this possible.

For those catching up, Beeper Mini launched last week as a $2/month subscription app for Android that let you send honest-to-goodness, end-to-end encrypted iMessages from Android. No security nightmare where you give your iCloud password to a random company who can see your messages (and anything else in your iCloud account), but real iMessages with no one else in the middle.

Of course, as I and many others predicted, Apple shut this down quickly. I didn’t want to see this killed, but it just made sense, as John Gruber pointed out:

The whole business model for Beeper Mini presupposed that Apple should just foot the bill for the usage of Beeper’s (paying!) customers, as though iMessage is a public resource, or part of your cellular phone service, like SMS/MMS/RCS.

This wasn’t some fly by night project in GitHub you could run from the command line, nor was it a Mac app using accessibility features to interact with the Messages app, it was well on its way to being a high-profile multi-million dollar a year business built on a use case Apple explicitly does not allow.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I want better messaging with my friends with Android phones as much as the next guy! I’ve been banging the drum for RCS for a few years now and I’m happy to know that’s coming next year. I also don’t think we need to argue about why Apple keeps iMessage on Apple platforms only, it’s for lock in. I just wanted to say all that before stating that I actually think Apple was right to shut this down.

If Apple let Beeper stand, then we’re weeks away from other messaging apps on Android implementing the same workaround (most of which will not have Beeper’s commitment to privacy), and probably months away from the major messaging apps doing it themselves…until presumably Apple threatens them with removal from the App Store based on their Android app. At that point iMessage turns from a reliable, secure messaging service to an unofficial protocol that negates both of those qualities.

The only real way for iMessage to exist on Android should be through an app made by Apple. Should they be compelled to do so by governing bodies around the world? I don’t think so, and supporting RCS honestly gets them into a pretty good spot in my opinion. The real question for us Americans is why we can't give up iMessage. Yes, it's built into iOS and syncs between our Apple devices, but so many other apps do that as well. Those other options often do more than iMessage too, so it's not like Apple has some functional advantage here. In fact, a good portion of messages we send in the Messages app are actively unreliable and just…not good. Green bubbles are a meme, and despite being able to solve all of our SMS challenges with something like WhatsApp, so many of us simply don't.

I think this has something to do with the universality of phone numbers, which is also what made Beeper Mini's solution so compelling. We I meet someone and want to get their info, it's never a conversation around what app they have, it's just, "let me get your number." There's something nice about not needing to need to ask what sort of phone they have or what company's messaging app they prefer, the phone number covers it all. I know this doesn't resonate with people in Europe who would reply, "we don't ask either, we're all on WhatsApp," but that's just not how it is here, and at this point it's incredibly hard to get people to switch. I would bet many people reading this very post have in the past tried to get their friends and family to use WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, or Line over the years, all to no avail.

And to be honest, while I appreciate some apps have more features than iMessage and would allow me to text better with my Android friends than SMS or even RCS, I'm just much more drawn to a solution that makes my phone number my single point of contact, and not a user account through someone like Meta or even Apple. I know plenty of people who hate Meta to the core and wouldn't give them a cent of their money or an iota of data, but they use WhatsApp because everyone else does, so what can they do? Meanwhile, I effectively own my phone number by law and I can give it out forever, regardless of what app, phone, or carrier I switch between over the years. I don't know if that's a conscious thing for most people, but I think it's a definite advantage that you lose when you go all in on a privately owned messaging service. And yes, iMessage is locked down by Apple, but unlike WhatsApp, I can stop using Apple products entirely without needing to update my entire network with my new contact info and new app they can use to reach me.

Anyway, Beeper Mini's massive first week downloads prove there is hunger among Android users to make messaging with iPhone users better. I would love to see Apple release iMessage for Android, and make that Android app a full on RCS/SMS app as well, meaning it could become a full Google/Samsung Messages replacement. Honestly, that would be quite the coup for Apple to take over the messaging app crown from the platform holders, but can you imagine how many Android people would instantly switch their default app (something you can do on Android, by the way) if you told them they would turn into blue bubbles and messaging iPhone users wouldn't be a problem anymore? Look at how many people installed a random ass app that promised a version of that world already!

But I don't expect Apple to release iMessage for Android, so my hopes are that the move to RCS next year makes things better enough that this messaging angst settles down a bit.