It appears that Beeper Mini, an easy iMessage solution for Android, was simply too good to be true — or a short-lived dream, at least. On Friday, less than a week after its launch, the app started experiencing technical issues when users were suddenly unable to send and receive blue bubble messages. The problems grew worse over the course of the day, with reports piling up on the Beeper subreddit. Several people at The Verge were unable to activate their Android phone numbers with Beeper Mini as of Friday afternoon, a clear indication that Apple has plugged up whatever holes allowed the app to operate to begin with.
Beeper Mini was the result of a comprehensive attempt to reverse engineer Apple’s messaging protocol. A 16-year-old high school student managed to successfully pull it off, and for a while, everything worked without a hitch. That effort became the basis for the new app, which requires a $2 / month subscription. Here’s what my colleague Jake wrote days ago:
Its developers figured out how to register a phone number with iMessage, send messages directly to Apple’s servers, and have messages sent back to your phone natively inside the app. It was a tricky process that involved deconstructing Apple’s messaging pipeline from start to finish. Beeper’s team had to figure out where to send the messages, what the messages needed to look like, and how to pull them back down from the cloud. The hardest part, Migicovsky said, was cracking what is essentially Apple’s padlock on the whole system: a check to see whether the connected device is a genuine Apple product.
Quinn Nelson, of Snazzy Labs, also made an excellent video that covers the technical details. The belief — or I suppose the hope — among Beeper’s developers and users was that it would be such an ordeal for Apple to block the Android app that doing so wouldn’t be worth the hassle. Apparently, it was easier than anyone expected.
This throws a huge wrench into Beeper’s plans; the company was hoping to evolve Beeper Mini into an all-in-one messaging app that would eventually wrap in RCS and SMS.
Reached for comment, Beeper CEO Eric Migicovsky did not deny that Apple has successfully blocked Beeper Mini. “If it’s Apple, then I think the biggest question is… if Apple truly cares about the privacy and security of their own iPhone users, why would they stop a service that enables their own users to now send encrypted messages to Android users, rather than using unsecure SMS? With their announcement of RCS support, it’s clear that Apple knows they have a gaping hole here. Beeper Mini is here today and works great. Why force iPhone users back to sending unencrypted SMS when they chat with friends on Android?”
Previous attempts to get iMessage working on Android — like Beeper’s original app — have involved complex systems with remote Macs logged into a user’s Apple ID. Nothing, the startup from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, recently sought to bring iMessage to its latest phone, but that plan was quickly derailed by security and privacy concerns. The Beeper Mini approach, which actually communicated with Apple’s own servers, was the most impressive try yet. But unless the company can somehow get around Apple’s blockade, it’ll go down as a very fleeting one.