Believe it or not, a 16-year-old high school student may have been the first to fully reverse-engineer iMessage and turn green Android text bubbles blue on iPhones with the new Beeper Mini app, released Tuesday.
The text messaging world is buzzing over it, wondering how it may avoid security pitfalls like other recent attempts to merge the two texting worlds — and puzzling over whether Apple may put a stop to this incursion into its “walled garden.”
Beeper Mini app
Messaging startup Beeper.com introduced Beeper Mini to the world in a blog post Tuesday entitled, “Introducing Beeper Mini – get blue bubbles on Android 💙”
“It’s our beautiful new Android app built specifically to send and receive blue bubble messages to friends with iPhones,” the post said.
The apparent innovation follows a major flameout last month, when Nothing and Sunbird’s joint attempt to put iMessage on Android was exposed as a huge security problem for users. It promised encryption but then stored messaging as publicly accessible plain text, ArsTechnica reported. The notable failure was one of many attempts to bring an iMessage experience to Android users.
The difference with Beeper Mini is that it appears to be the first full reverse-engineering of iMessage. It connects an Android phone to Apple servers like an iPhone would.
Despite CEO Eric Migicovsky’s doubts because so many had failed before (including him), the company hired the 16-year-old security researcher, who proved the functionality worked last summer. Then the team set to work creating Beeper Mini.
“We jailbroke iPhones then dove deep into the OS to see how everything worked,” Migicovsky told The Verge. “Then wrote new code from scratch to reproduce everything inside our Android app.”
Beeper Mini has four major new features, according to the blog post:
- Your Android phone number is now a blue bubble.
- Beautiful new design, blazing fast speed.
- Full end-to-end encryption.
- It’s a standalone Android app — no server, laptop, Mac or iPhone required.
More on how it works
Briefly, Beeper Mini works by sending an SMS message from a phone to “Apple’s ‘Gateway’ service.” It sends back an SMS, and data from that SMS is used to register your phone number with Apple as iMessage-capable. Then the app generates encryption keys to secure your messages, sending the public key to Apple servers and stashing the private key in your local storage. Read more about how Beeper Mini says it works.
To the question of “What happens when Apple sees this app?” ArsTechnica said Migicovsky believes the app is legal fair use and remains optimistic about its viability. In fact, he thinks a “viral loop” may build business. “iPhone owners might be the ones doing the most work for us, telling their friends to get this app,” he said.
Beeper Mini offers a free trial for 7 days, then costs $1.99 per month.
Where to download: Google Play