The default system for texting on an iPhone, iMessage, is one of the most popular communications platforms on the planet. It’s also annoyingly exclusive: while iMessage users can chat over SMS to non-Apple devices, those who prefer Android on mobile and Windows on desktop can’t access its more advanced features. A new $10-a-month service, Beeper, hopes to change that.
Beeper is a modern take on the old all-in-one messenger clients like Trillian. It allows you to chat with users across the world’s most popular chat systems: WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Slack, and more … plus Apple’s iMessage. Here’s the full list of supported chat systems, at the time of writing:
- Facebook Messenger
- Android Messages (SMS)
- Beeper network
Beeper users can access their contacts from any of the supported networks, and communicate using whatever service the other party is using, on Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux. The apps support advanced tools like searches, inbox filters, DMs, and groups, and the open source system can be expanded with extensions and plugins using the Matrix API.
How is Beeper getting iMessage to work on non-Apple platforms, when Apple has been so zealous in locking down its proprietary messaging system? It’s complicated. Either you need to run an always-on bridging tool on your MacOS device, or if you don’t have a Mac, Beeper will give you a jailbroken iPhone with a similar bridging app pre-installed.
You read that right. Beeper is sending jailbroken iPhones to its users so they can use iMessage on Android and Windows. When asked “really?”, Beeper team member Eric Migicovsky (who previously created the Pebble smartwatch) said, “yes!”
Yes! That is EXACTLY what we're doing. I have 50 iPhone 4s sitting here at my desk.
— Eric Migicovsky (@ericmigi) January 20, 2021
Obviously sending hardware to users is a big, expensive ask for a software service. That’s probably why Beeper is $10 a month at launch—a huge investment compared to the free chat platforms it’s interfacing with. Tech-savvy users can also host the Beeper system on their own hardware.
It’s certainly a novel way to get around Apple’s restrictions. Whether it’s practical or sustainable as a business is something that we’ll have to wait to find out. It also seems likely that Apple might use its own technical and legal expertise to nip Beeper in the bud.
At the moment the service seems to be very much in a pre-launch phase—there are no links to apps or software clients, and trying to get started on the website puts you on a signup list. It still might be worth it if you’re desperate to use iMessage on non-Apple hardware.