Earlier this year, a developer wrote to Eric Migicovsky and made an impressive claim – he had reverse-engineered Apple’s iMessage and could allow any device – Android, Windows, any other – to send messages with blue bubbles. Migicovsky didn’t believe what he read.
“I said bullshit, no one has done this. Nobody on earth has done this,” says Migicovsky, CEO of Beeper, a messaging startup. He tried to do it himself and corresponded with everyone he could find who had ever been close to doing it. “No one has been able to put the pieces together.”
But now a developer – a 16-year-old schoolboy – appeared in his messages and showed him a prototype. And it worked.
That prototype became the basis for a new Android app called Beeper Mini, which Migicovsky’s startup is launching today. Open the app, and it will look at all your text messages, identify which ones belong to iMessage users, and switch them to blue bubble conversations on Apple’s platform. From now on, when you text an iPhone user via Beeper Mini, you’ll be using iMessage and they won’t know it.
Beeper Mini joins a growing list of apps trying to bring iMessage capabilities to Android, but Migicovsky is adamant that Beeper Mini is not like other services – it sends iMessage messages directly.
Other services – including Beeper’s previous implementation of iMessage – sent messages via a Mac hosted in the cloud. This creates real security issues, as recently demonstrated by Sunbird and its Nothing Chats app. The Nothing app was launched and cancelled just four days after serious security issues were discovered, Sunbird shut down its app shortly after.
Beeper Mini has avoided some of these problems because it works in a fundamentally different way. Its developers figured out how to register your phone number with iMessage, send messages directly to Apple’s servers, and receive them back to your phone within the app. It was a challenging process that involved deconstructing Apple’s messaging pipeline from start to finish. The Beeper team had to figure out where to send messages, what they should look like, and how to return them from the cloud. The hardest part, Migicovsky said, was cracking what is essentially Apple’s padlock on the entire system: verifying whether the connected device is a genuine Apple product.
“We hacked the iPhone, then dug deeper into the OS to understand how everything worked,” Migicovsky wrote. “We then wrote new code from scratch to reproduce everything in our Android app.”
The result, Migicovsky said, is a third-party implementation of iMessage that is truly secure. Beeper doesn’t see your messages, your contacts, or your Apple ID password (he says it just connects to Apple’s servers like the iPhone does).
Migicovsky knows that security will be a major issue on the minds of potential users. To address this issue, Migicovsky says Beeper’s iMessage code will be open source so that other users can familiarise themselves with it. Beeper’s CTO, Brad Murray, also spent some time trying to hack the system as if he were an attacker and published his results.
The big question is how long Beeper Mini will be able to survive. Migicowski believes he’s on the right side of the law (he cites the legal right to reverse-engineer and says that Beeper Mini doesn’t contain Apple code); and he thinks it would be too difficult for Apple to disable Beeper without breaking iMessage for all genuine Apple devices. Of course, Apple is deeply protective of iMessage as a lockdown mechanism for the iPhone, and it’s hard to imagine the company will forever ignore the emergence of third-party messenger solutions.
At least the original Beeper has been working with iMessage’s less secure kind of relay for nearly three years now, and Migicovsky says he has yet to hear a word from Apple.
Beeper launched in 2021 and promised to create a one-stop shop for all your messages. To achieve that goal, the company raised $16 million and grew to 20 people. The 16-year-old developer who reverse-engineered iMessage now works for Beeper as a contractor; Migicovsky declined to provide other details about the student, citing privacy concerns. A GitHub page belonging to the student says he lives in Pennsylvania.
Apple recently said it would adopt the RCS messaging standard, which brings many of the key benefits of iMessage – good quality photos, read marks and eventually encryption – to cross-platform text messaging. When those features arrive, Beeper will mostly just offer you the coveted blue bubble.
At launch, the service will cost $2 a month and only offer access to iMessage. Migicovsky says that eventually Beeper Mini will drop the “Mini” branding and consolidate all the other chat services offered in the main Beeper app – WhatsApp, Messenger, Signal, and so on – all in one convenient interface. The biggest complaint at the moment is that Beeper Mini doesn’t support SMS and RCS, so this temporary all-in-one app currently splits the texting experience in two. Migicovsky says support for SMS and RCS isn’t too far off either. However, all those extra chips may cost a bit more.
Even with RCS coming to iMessage, Migicovsky believes Beeper still has an important role to play. “In the long term, we see one app that can be used to communicate with anyone in the world,” he says. – “That’s a great goal – Beeper just has a job to keep them all together.”
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