Beeper Mini, an app that enabled Android users to join Apple’s iMessage network through some clever reverse engineering, stopped working suddenly on Friday, just three days after its launch. The likely cause of the outage is Apple’s intervention to block the app’s access to iMessage.
Apple issued a PR statement that did not mention Beeper Mini by name, but clearly referred to it. “We took steps to protect our users by blocking techniques that exploit fake credentials in order to gain access to iMessage,” the statement said.
“These techniques posed significant risks to user security and privacy, including the potential for metadata exposure and enabling unwanted messages, spam, and phishing attacks,” it added. Apple also indicated that it would continue to update its security measures in the future to protect its users.
How Beeper Mini worked and why Apple blocked it
Beeper Mini’s main criticism was that it “exploit[ed] fake credentials” to access iMessage. This is true, as iMessage is only available to Apple devices, and Beeper Mini worked by pretending to be one. The app used a spoofed Apple hardware key to authenticate itself as an iPhone.
A video from Snazzy Labs explained how Beeper Mini worked in more detail, but the gist of it was that the app created a virtual iPhone on the cloud and used it to send and receive iMessages on Android devices.
Beeper claimed that the app was fully encrypted and private, and that only the sender and receiver could read the messages sent through it. The company even offered to show its source code to a third party to verify its security claims to Apple.
However, Apple was not convinced, and argued that Beeper Mini’s technique compromised the security and privacy of its users. Apple also had another reason to block Beeper Mini: iMessage’s platform exclusivity.
Why iMessage is a key factor for Apple’s ecosystem
iMessage is one of the main features that attracts and retains users to Apple’s ecosystem. The app offers a superior messaging experience than SMS, with features like end-to-end encryption, rich media, group chats, stickers, and more.
iMessage also creates a sense of belonging and identity among Apple users, who can easily recognize each other by the blue bubbles in their conversations. Android users, on the other hand, are marked by green bubbles, which signify a lower-quality and less-secure SMS service.
This distinction can have social implications, especially for young users, who may judge or exclude others based on their messaging platform. A Wall Street Journal article explored this phenomenon, and quoted a decade-old statement from Apple’s Craig Federighi, who said that introducing iMessage to Android would only result in removing an “obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones”.
Apple has announced that it will support RCS messaging, a new standard that aims to improve SMS, on its devices next year. However, this will not change the fact that Android messages will still be green, and iMessage will remain exclusive to Apple devices.
Beeper’s future plans and challenges
Despite Apple’s actions, Beeper’s founder Eric Migicovsky remains optimistic about the future of his app. He tweeted that “Beeper Cloud and Mini are apps that need to exist,” and that he and his team will “keep it working” and “share it widely.”
However, this may not be enough to sustain Beeper’s user base, which has to pay $2 a month to use the app. One of the most important factors for a messaging app is reliability, and if Beeper Mini suffers from frequent outages, users may lose interest and trust in the app.