Beeper Tackles iMessage Lock-In and Reinvents Consumer Chat Interop
You may have heard of Beeper. There’s a good chance you’re using it already.
The app that brings your most used messaging apps into one place has been gaining popularity over the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down.
Chat interoperability was merely a notion for a long time. The history of message interoperability in both the consumer and business world has taken some time to gain acknowledgment from both industry and customers.
So having heard that Beeper is a universal chat app for personal use, Mio is excited to see someone else flying the flag for messenger interop.
Without further ado, let’s dive into what Beeper brings to the table and how Beeper is reinventing consumer chat interoperability.
What is Beeper?
Beeper (formerly called Nova) is a messenger app aggregator that runs on Matrix, an open-source federated messaging protocol.
In Layman’s terms, Beeper is a platform that lets you send messages to your friends, team members, and clients on up to 15 of the most popular messaging apps. It works on Android, macOS, iOS, Windows, and Linux.
These 15 chat services bridged to the Beeper inbox include:
- Android (SMS)
- Facebook Messenger
- The Beeper Network
- And most importantly, iMessage (more on that later)
Beeper has confirmed plans to create bridges connecting more apps like Microsoft Teams, Kakao, Skype, WeChat, Line, and GroupMe to this wonderful product.
The app is the brainchild of ex-CEO and founder of Pebble, Eric Migicovsky. He is the co-Founder of Beeper with team members like the prominent Matrix open source contributor, Tulir Asokan and firmware lead at Pebble and SDK lead at Fitbit, Brad Murray.
Eric took to Twitter in January of 2021 to make the big announcement.
Why Beeper is a great idea
Think of Beeper like Mio. But instead of connecting business messaging apps, Beeper connects personal messaging apps.
All your messages from your most-used apps come together in a single place. Beeper calls this a “unified inbox.”
Speaking about Beeper, founder Eric says, “Our mission is to create the best communication experience”. Of course, this means communication with every possible person on every single messaging app.
So it’s easy to fall in love with how Beeper nips the philosophy of interoperability right in the bud. It is an important tool designed specifically for consumer chat interoperability.
Messaging apps are being made every day and even social media apps have their own messengers. Every now and then, we’re forced to engage in an exodus to a new messenger that other people are using.
From collaboration software migrating workspaces between different platforms to gaming and NFT communities migrating to Discord, it has become a perennial problem.
Eventually, you have to deal with notifications from these messaging apps as well as some of the social media apps that they’re adjoined to. Either that or just neglect the new exciting platforms that your friends and clients are on.
There are ways to manage notification overload and Beeper is another welcome addition.
But we mostly love the idea of Beeper because keeping up with an ever-growing list of awesome messengers is tedious.
That’s why interoperability is necessary, and by extension, Beeper is an important product for all of us.
Key features of Beeper
At the most basic level, the most important feature is Beeper’s reason for existence. You can move all your personal messaging apps into one place — even your DMs.
For some of us, notifications for social media apps are turned on for only direct messages.
With Beeper, you can be even more specific.
You can enjoy native chat features as well as make use of bots. Beeper’s unified search also makes finding your most important chats very easy.
You can also snooze, set reminders, and archive chats.
Just hit ⌘K to see all the cool stuff you can do.
The fact that consumer chat interoperability is not the norm is frankly absurd. Imagine if you had to leave your Gmail account to your Yahoo Mail account just to check out and respond to a new email. It’s this type of messaging chaos that Beeper addresses.
These walled gardens between each personal messenger app only exist because they are built on proprietary protocols rather than open communication protocols. Beeper fixes that.
Using iMessage on Android: The White Whale
Perhaps the most attractive thing about Beeper is that it brings down what is currently the biggest wall of them all — the iMessage lock-in.
With Beeper, you can chat with iMessage users from your Mac, Windows, Linux, and Android devices.
If you’re familiar with the blue bubbles versus green bubbles chat system on iMessage, you can confirm that it’s the one example of the grass not being greener on the other side.
Android users messaging their iMessage contacts feel left out of features like emojis, read receipts, reactions, group chats, large files, high-resolution media, and an all-around seamless communication.
And on the flip side, iMessage users who may prefer Android devices feel “locked-in” for fear of being ostracized.
The video below gives an in-depth explanation of blue versus green bubbles and possible solutions:
And here’s a TL;DR:
- iMessage evolved from SMS and MMS messages to support more chat features sent through the internet instead of paid messages. This evolution left out other users not on iMessage.
- The blue bubble and iMessage lock-in is beneficial to Apple and they capitalize on it using subtle design cues.
- RCS is a more advanced messaging standard than SMS and MMS by Google that could let outsiders in on the blue bubble features if Apple provided support for it. That’s not likely to happen yet.
- Unlike green bubbles in iMessage using the SMS protocol, RCS is end-to-end encrypted for one-on-one messages, therefore, it’s safer. But, it’s not encrypted for group messaging.
At the end of the day, there’s no way for Android, Windows, and Linux users to enjoy native chat features on iMessage. The best possible option (RCS) is not as secure as possible for group messages.
Beeper provides the catch-all solution for interoperability between Android and iMessage chats.
How does the Beeper app work?
Beeper works on the free open-source encrypted software called Matrix.
Matrix connects personal messaging apps to Beeper through “bridges”. These bridges are developed for Beeper and each of the 15 messaging protocols by Eric Migicovsky and his team.
It uses open-source code that’s currently available at https://gitlab.com/beeper.
Eric has cited several things as his inspiration for Beeper:
- He’s mentioned other older interoperability platforms like Pidgin and Trillian.
- He’s mentioned that he could easily reply to messages from this Pebble wristwatch is essentially a precursor to this idea for Beeper.
- He’s mentioned that apps like AirMessage and Remote Messages had already found a way to connect to iMessage from other devices.
Messaging apps are connected to Beeper’s servers through Matrix. However, connecting iMessage to Beeper users on Android, Windows, and Linux requires “a bit of trickery”.
How to chat with iMessage on Beeper
The team at Beeper figured out two ways to connect Beeper to iMessage:
- Via self-hosting on your Mac — if you have a Mac that is constantly connected to the internet, you can install the Mac beeper app and use it as a bridge.
- Via a jailbroken iPhone — Beeper sends its onboarded users upcycled and jailbroken iPhones for what Eric Migicovsky called a “hare-brained scheme”. The Beeper team wrote an app for the iPhones that act as a relay. Eric says, “There’s a database on the iPhone called sms.db. And so we just read and write to that.”
The jailbroken iPhones stand out in particular. It’s reminiscent of Steve Jobs’ and Steve Wozniak’s “Blue boxes” — an illegal product of which Jobs once said that “there would have been no Apple” if it wasn’t made.
Beeper might not be the next Apple. But we can see that Apple began somewhere, with the goal of making technology better.
The goal for Beeper is consumer chat interoperability. Therefore, finding more sustainable and scalable solutions for its Android to iMessage users would be a great next step.
That’s why the team is working on a third solution that involves bridging through a Mac server being run in the cloud.
Is Beeper safe to use?
Beeper is built on Matrix, which itself is encrypted. All of its bridges on Matrix are also open-sourced, therefore, you can verify the security of your data and have a look at how Beeper connects to each chat service.
Millions of users are on different apps utilizing the Matrix protocol. A good example is the French government’s use of Element, a Slack alternative built by the Matrix team.
Also, several governments are now pushing for interoperability laws. In fact, the theory behind using message interoperability is currently moving through the senate as the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act”.
The European Commission also has plans for the Digital Markets Act to provide fairer environments free from the stronghold of “gatekeepers”.
In the future, it is quite possible that interoperability will not only be necessary, but it will also be compulsory and legal.
How does Beeper ensure privacy and security?
The Beeper server itself provides re-encryption for your messages when you set up the account with an encryption key.
It works so that Beeper can’t decrypt your messages. Therefore, you alone will have a record of your messages.
This also applies to Android to iMessage communication and dissuades any fear of insecurity over the jailbroken iPhones. In fact, since green bubble conversations sent over the SMS protocol are not end-to-end encrypted, messaging your friends on iMessage through Beeper is more secure.
You can also choose to not back up your messages to iCloud so that even Apple does not have a record of your conversations.
The final point on Beeper’s privacy and security is that there are no ads. Seeing as it’s a paid subscription with no revenue from ads, there are no third parties monitoring your data.
Hence, Beeper has no “personalized” ads so you won’t get random Instagram accounts chatting you up for NFTs. Just clean messaging.
How do I get the Beeper app?
You can get the Beeper app in 3 simple steps:
- Head over to Beeper.com, click the “Get Started” button and you’ll be redirected to an airtable form.
- Fill in the required information then click “Submit”. You’ll be put on a waitlist.
- When it’s time for onboarding, you’ll get an invite from Beeper over SMS.
Based on experiences from Beeper users on Reddit, it’s possible that you can move up the waitlist if you prepay.
Beeper costs $10/month and users can get a prepaid option for up to one year.
After getting the app, you’ll be onboarded through a call from Eric Migicovsky himself.
It takes a few minutes to set up each messaging app, and you’ll do well to copy and save the string that will serve as your personal authentication key. You will be required to load the string when logging in to a new client.
Beeper reinvents consumer chat interoperability
While Mio has been working on bringing together business communications, Beeper has started the job everyone once thought impossible.
On the success of Beeper in the consumer messaging world, Mio CEO, Tom Hadfield, has nothing but praise for our technology peers:
“It’s great if you’re using Mio to connect Slack, Teams, Zoom and Webex while you’re at work, but what if you’ve still got 10 messaging apps on your phone for staying in touch with friends? I’ve switched to Beeper and I’m never going back. There’s a certain inevitability to what Eric and the Beeper team are building and I wish them every success.”