There’s a new development in the Beeper vs. Apple drama that started unfolding a few days ago. To refresh your memory, Beeper found a workaround to make iMessage work on Android. But Apple put a stop to it, citing security and privacy concerns.
Beeper was quick to offer a different workaround. It then dropped the price of Beeper Mini, making it free of charge since reliability was a concern. Beeper Mini then went down again for some users on Thursday, though Beeper said an easy fix was available.
Apple had not confirmed having taken any measures to disrupt the service this time. But I already warned you that you should expect Beeper Mini iMessage issues. Fast-forward to Sunday and iMessage support was down for more than 60% of Beeper Mini and Cloud users.
This cat-and-mouse game between Apple and Beeper attracted the attention of lawmakers. After Elizabeth Warren came in defense of Beeper Mini a few days ago, there’s now a bipartisan effort asking the Department of Justice to start an antitrust investigation into Apple’s behavior related to Beeper Mini’s iMessage support.
I think that’s the wrong approach in this specific case. These lawmakers either don’t understand how iMessage works, or they’re just picking a fight with Apple for the sake of picking a fight.
The lawmakers warn of “Apple’s potential anticompetitive treatment of the Beeper Mini messaging application” in the letter. They briefly describe what went wrong in the past few days with Beeper Mini and iMessage while making Beeper Mini seem like some sort of savior app for Android users, and painting it as real competition for Apple:
Earlier this month, Beeper introduced Beeper Mini, an interoperable messaging service that allows users of the Android mobile operating system to communicate with users of Apple’s iMessage service. Previously, Android users were unable to securely communicate with iMessage users and were relegated to using decades-old, unencrypted SMS technology. Within
Let’s start with the obvious issue here. Encrypted iMessage chats are not the standard of communication that Apple somehow holds hostage.
iMessage is a proprietary app that emerged a long time ago to compete with plenty of instant messaging alternatives. That iMessage turned out to be the service others wanted to emulate that’s a different story. Google stumbled in the dark for ages before delivering a worthy competitor.
To get on iMessage, you have to buy iPhones, yes. That’s how you pay for the iMessage technology that’s available for free to iPhone users. Just like you pay for Android and Google’s suite of apps with your data that’s used to generate tailored ads.
Also, Android users were always able to securely communicate with Android users, albeit not via iMessage. The senators and representatives conveniently forget about apps like WhatsApp and Signal that are end-to-end encrypted. The former has a massive market share compared to iMessage.
I’ll also point out that Apple ensuring the security of iMessage means blocking exploits like the one Beeper Mini found. The lawmakers singled out that security in the quote above.
The lawmakers also say that Beeper Mini “threatened to reduce [Apple’s iMessage] leverage (sic) creating more competitive mobile applications market, which in turn (sic) a more competitive mobile device market.”
But Beeper Mini isn’t an iMessage competitor. It tapped into iMessage via a workaround, practically stealing iMessage access from Apple. It then resold that access to Android users.
If Beeper Mini were to offer a standalone end-to-end encrypted app for iPhone and Android, that app would be an iMessage competitor. And if Beeper Mini were so popular on iPhone that Apple blocked its access to the App Store, or made it impossible to find, that would be anticompetitive behavior. But Beeper Mini is none of that.
Instead, Beeper Mini is only here to tap into iMessage. It’s one of the various Android services that tried to bring iMessage to Android. Thankfully for its users, it’s a more secure one than some of its rivals.
If Beeper Mini were to offer similar connections to Google Messages and WhatsApp by tapping into potential security issues, I’m sure Google and Meta would also block them. You can’t use RCS, WhatsApp and Signal in Beeper Mini right now.
Still, the lawmakers want the DOJ’s Antitrust Division to investigate Apple over stifling competition.
As you know, interoperability and interconnection have long been key drivers of competition and consumer choice in communications services, from telephones to email. Startups and small businesses drive innovation, create jobs, and can disrupt entrenched incumbents when allowed to compete. But consumers will never benefit from competition if dominant firms are allowed to snuff out that competition at its incipiency.
We are therefore concerned that Apple’s recent actions to disable Beeper Mini harm competition, eliminate choices for consumers, and will discourage future innovation and investment in interoperable messaging services. We also fear these types of tactics may more broadly chill future investment and innovation from those that seek to compete with existing digital gatekeepers. Thus, we refer this matter to the Antitrust Division to investigate whether this potentially anticompetitive conduct by Apple violated the antitrust laws.
iMessage was never supposed to be an interopperable service as SMS, MMS, and RCS are. WhatsApp, Signal, and any other iMessage rival aren’t interoperable, nor should they work with competing chat services.
In this instance, asking the DOJ to investigate Apple over antitrust behavior is unwarranted. Or if that’s the way to go, the lawmakers should save the draft letter and replace “Apple” with “Google,” “Meta,” or any other company that might want to block Beeper Mini from injecting itself into a competing service in the future.