Beeper - Moving Forward
Each time that Beeper Mini goes ‘down’ or is made to be unreliable due to interference by Apple, Beeper’s credibility takes a hit. 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.
With our latest software release, we believe we’ve created something that Apple can tolerate existing. We do not have any current plans to respond if this solution is knocked offline. The iMessage connection software that powers Beeper Mini and Beeper Cloud is now 100% open source (github.com/beeper/imessage). Anyone who wants can use it or continue development.
In the new year, we’re shifting focus back to our long-term goal of building the best chat app on earth.
Beeper Mini is beautiful, fast and fun. Our main goal with the app is to upgrade chats between iPhone and Android users from unencrypted green bubble SMS to encrypted, fully featured blue bubble chats. This is a huge win for both iPhone and Android users in the US, where texting via SMS is the default form of chat. The only people on the ‘other’ side of this debate seem to be Apple and some ardent online supporters.
Apple and other commentators have made a number of claims about Beeper Mini, including a public statement to The Verge. These claims are serious, but flawed.
“These techniques posed significant risks to user security and privacy, including the potential for metadata exposure”
It’s straightforward to verify that Beeper Mini is not a malicious app designed to steal your messages and accounts, or harvest your data. If you want, you can inspect the code of our core open source iMessage bridge (which is embedded inside Beeper Mini), and self-host it yourself to prove that it only connects to Apple servers. So let’s put to rest the idea that Beeper Mini is inherently insecure. If Apple wants to accuse us of being insecure, they need to back that up with hard evidence. We’re eager to fix any security issues reported by Apple or anyone else.
The truth is that Beeper Mini upgrades insecure chats between iPhone and Android contacts and makes them secure with end-to-end encryption. By blocking Beeper Mini, Apple is actively harming their own iPhone customers by forcing them to fall back to insecure SMS chats. We believe that, for this reason alone, their actions are morally indefensible.
“…exploit fake credentials in order to gain access to iMessage”
As we shared in our recent blog post, Beeper uses real registration data from real Macs and iPhones. These credentials are being used by real people, with real Apple accounts, to send real iMessages. Many Beeper Mini users tell us that they are Apple customers with Macbooks or iPads, etc, but choose to use an Android smartphone. All they want to do is continue their iMessage chats on their phone. Honestly, we don’t understand this claim at all.
“…enabling unwanted messages, spam, and phishing attacks”
Uh, isn’t that what SMS is for? 😂 With iMessage, Apple even has the ability to block spammers and scammers at the network layer. It’s much easier for them to block iMessage spam than SMS spam, which can only be blocked client-side. We don’t really understand this argument at all.
Keep in mind that from an iPhone user’s perspective, there is no way to tell if it’s a new iMessage or a new SMS message in the inbox. You can’t tell that they are different until you open the chat.
“Apple’s going to support RCS next year, just wait for that!”
On Nov 16, Apple sent a 3 sentence statement to 9to5Mac saying that they are planning to support RCS. This would be great! Beeper has supported RCS since August. We’d immediately switch to using this for iPhone ↔ Android chats. Very few hard facts are available. It’s not clear if Apple’s RCS will support the same encryption protocol as Google’s RCS.
Just one year ago, Tim Cook had this to say about RCS: "I don't hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy in on that at this point. […] Buy your mom an iPhone.”
Long story short, I will believe it when I see it. Apple has a long history of claiming they will support an open standard, then failing to add support. In 2010, Steve Jobs promised that Apple ‘would make FaceTime an open industry standard’. That never happened. More recently, in 2021, Apple promised to open their Find My network to competitors like Tile. Instead, they’ve penalized Tile by additional warnings in front of their app.
Beeper Mini has a working solution to this problem today. Why should iPhone customers and Android users have to wait for Apple to adopt RCS? What if their implementation is delayed? What if they cancel it?
“Apple is within their rights to run iMessage how they see fit”
This might be true if Apple was a small company. But they aren’t. They control more than 50% of the US smartphone market, and lock customers into using Apple’s official app for texting (which, in the US, sadly, is the default way people communicate). Large companies that dominate their industry must follow a different set of rules that govern fair competition, harm to consumers and barriers to innovation. We are not experts in antitrust law, but Apple’s actions have already caught the attention of US Congress and the Department of Justice.
“But you guys are making money off Apple’s servers!”
We stopped charging for Beeper Mini on Dec 11, and Beeper Cloud has always been free to use. Additionally, Beeper Mini users chat with paying Apple customers on the other side of the conversation! If Apple proposed some way for us to reimburse them for the (minuscule) infrastructure costs of enabling paying iPhone customers to text Android users, we’d be happy to comply with that.
Our preference is to charge for our app because it allows us to align our interests with those of our customers, compared with ‘free’ apps that do questionable things with user data to make money.
At this stage, Apple’s actions to block Beeper Mini look increasingly hard for Apple to defend. The only potential reason Apple has left is that they might make less money selling iPhones if iMessage were available on Android. Some Apple folks have admitted that ‘iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones’. Our hope is that Apple has more faith in their overall product offering than to think that people buy iPhones just to get a blue bubble.