Last month we covered the brief and tragic tale of Nothing Chats, an app that enabled owners of Android-based Nothing phones to use iMessage… until it was shut down in response to security concerns. But another iMessage-on-Android app has turned up, and this one might actually have a future.
Beeper Mini, covered in depth Tuesday by The Verge and others, claims to achieve the same effect as Nothing Chats but in an entirely different way. Instead of routing in- and outbound messages via a Mac on a server farm (and therefore requiring the user to supply Nothing with their login details… hence the worries about insecurity), Beeper sends and receives the iMessages directly, having reverse-engineered the secrets of Apple’s code.
The hardest part of setting up this workaround, Beeper CEO Eric Migicovsky told The Verge, “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.” But once that was sorted, the company was left with an app that shouldn’t share the flaws of the iMessage-on-Android apps that have come before. All very promising for those Android users who don’t like appearing as a green bubble, and missing out on a variety of messaging features, when in a group chat with their iPhone-using friends.
The method as described sounds far too good to be true, drawing apparent inspiration from the “Step 3: ????/Step 4: Profit” and “draw the rest of the owl” memes. (In this case, the unexplained step three is how Beeper cracked Apple’s padlock on the whole system without getting legally crushed, which I’d imagine is harder than it sounds, and already sounds incredibly hard.) But The Verge reports that the app works without any issues at all, that you don’t need to enter your login details, and that Beeper is so confident in the legality of its app that it has made the code open source for others to review.
It remains to be seen whether that confidence is misplaced. As The Verge notes, iMessage’s othering of Android users is a feature to ensure platform lock-in, not a bug, and the fact that Apple hasn’t publicly responded to similar apps in the past doesn’t mean it won’t look for a way to take this one down in the future. (Crucially, most of the previous apps shot themselves in the foot with security worries and so didn’t really need to be dealt with. If Beeper Mini is as successful as it sounds like it could be, that will only draw the attention of Sauron’s eye.)
Still, it’s an interesting idea and one to keep an eye on, whether you’re an Android user or a lawyer employed at Cupertino. The Beeper Mini service currently costs $2 per month for iMessage access only, though in the future it’s expected to be rolled in with the wider Beeper service, which covers a range of messaging apps and platforms, and will presumably cost more. Plus there’s the whole RCS thing rolling out next year that might make these sorts of apps unnecessary.