★ Bip Bip ★ Bip Bip

There’s a lot to catch up on since last I wrote about Beeper. Long story short, they’ve been playing — and no surprise, losing — the cat-and-mouse game with Apple. What I had been seeing during the week before Christmas is that Beeper Mini half-worked: messages would go through to Messages on an Apple device, but after that, messages sent from an iMessage user on an Apple device to a user running Beeper Mini would silently fail. Regardless of details, half-working interop for a messaging service might as well be not working at all. So Beeper effectively threw in the towel. Each time that Beeper Mini goes down or is made to be unreliable due to interference by Apple, Beeper’s credibility takes a hit. It’s unsustainable. As much as we want to fight for what we believe is a fantastic product that really should exist, the truth is that we can’t win a cat-and-mouse game with the largest company on earth. With our latest software release, we believe we’ve created something that Apple can tolerate existing. We do not have any current plans to respond if this solution is knocked offline. Their current solution requires Beeper Mini users to either own — or, I swear, rent — an old iPhone (6, 6S, 7, 8, or X), jailbreak that phone, and then *leave that old jailbroken phone powered on and connected to Wi-Fi continuously; have Beeper Cloud — their desktop app — installed and running on a Mac; or run a command-line tool to regenerate a new iMessage registration code. Only with a jailbroken iPhone can you register your Android device’s phone number as an iMessage ID; if you’re using or borrowing a Mac to generate a registration key, Beeper Mini will only work using an Apple ID account, with an email address as your ID. Beeper’s own explanation for this rigmarole: Here’s the backstory. When you sign in to iMessage on Beeper, we need to send identification information called “registration data” from a real Mac computer. We have, up until now, used our own fleet of Mac servers to provide this. Unfortunately, this has proven to be an easy target for Apple because thousands of Beeper users were using the same registration data. Beeper Cloud (Mac version) and old iPhones can now generate unique registration data just for you. This 1:1 mapping of registration data to individual user, in our testing, makes the connection very reliable. If you use Beeper Mini, you can use your Mac registration data with it as well, and Beeper Mini will start to work again. Beeper needs to periodically regenerate this data even after you’ve connected, roughly once per week or month, so the Mac needs to be switched on regularly. These hoops will relegate Beeper Mini to relative obscurity, even if Apple takes no further action to counter it.

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The iMessage Lounge

Any take on this entire saga that treats Apple’s stance or actions as controversial, in the least, (see below for more on that), is deeply misguided. I think the fundamental misunderstanding is over just what iMessage is. It requires servers (both for delivering messages and for the exchange of encryption keys), bandwidth, content moderation for spammers, and more. Apple’s iMessage infrastructure handles billions of messages per day, trillions per year, with unlimited full-resolution image and video attachments. iMessage has also proven to be extremely fast and reliable. Beeper itself glosses over this, in one of their updates yesterday.

Here’s the analogy I’ve been thinking best applies. American Express operates Centurion Lounges at a few dozen airports around the world, exclusively for the use of their Platinum Card holders. If you have an American Express Platinum Card, you just show up, show them your card and boarding pass, and you’re in. You get free Wi-Fi; free food; free beverages; comfortable seats, tables, and desks. They even have showers for travelers on extended trips. Centurion Lounge access is presented as a free benefit, but, of course, there’s no more such a thing as a free premium lounge as there is a free lunch: the cost of the lounges is baked into the annual fees Platinum Card holders pay. iMessage is like a Centurion Lounge. It’s a free premium messaging service, exclusively for the use of people who own iPhones, iPads, and Macs. SMS, in this analogy, is like waiting for your plane out in the public airport terminal: not as nice, the Wi-Fi is worse, there’s no free food or drinks, but it’s available to everyone. iMessage users in a group chat who are annoyed by Android-owning group members relegating the conversation to SMS are like a group of friends traveling together — some of whom have Amex Platinum Cards, some of whom don’t — who need to wait in the public terminal if the group wants to wait for their flight together.

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Like any analogy, it’s not perfect. Centurion Lounges allow cardholders to pay $50 to bring guests. iMessage has no “guest access” — you either have an Apple device, and with it, access to iMessage, or you don’t get to use iMessage. But I think the analogy basically works. Centurion Lounges are a perk for Amex Platinum Card holders; iMessage is a perk for Apple device owners. If Beeper were granting its users free access to Centurion Lounges, I’m not sure how anyone could defend it, because everyone can see how a premium airport lounge costs a lot of money to run: leasing the space, hiring staff, and all the free food and beverages. But that’s exactly what Beeper is doing with iMessage: granting free access to a premium perk intended solely for Apple’s device owners while they’re using those Apple devices. One might argue that if you own a Mac, you should be able to use Beeper Mini on your Android phone, because the Mac qualifies for iMessage. With Beeper’s latest update, you can even use your own Mac to generate the iMessage registration code Beeper now requires. But Centurion Lounges don’t allow cardholders entry if they don’t present their actual card, just as Apple sets the terms for access to iMessage. And Apple’s terms are clear: iMessage’s only authorized client software is Apple Messages running on an Apple device. Beeper Mini presenting itself as Messages on a Mac to gain access to iMessage is as dishonest as presenting a forged Amex Platinum Card to gain access to a Centurion Lounge.