The Best Way to Get iMessage on Any Device Could Be an Old iPhone


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iPhone 4s, seen from the back.

iMessage is the best of messaging apps, it is the worst of messaging apps. It is two-way encrypted and works on cellular or Wi-Fi, but it is only available on Apple devices. It’s convenient to use on any device Steve Jobs created, but a pain to get to from Android, Windows, the web, or anywhere else. Oh, and it’s a nightmare to leave.

Until now, people not using exclusively Apple computers had to either suck it up and reach for their phone to type an iMessage, or commit to leaving a Mac running all the time and run an app demanding invasive total storage access. But a new messaging startup might have found an easier solution: that old iPhone in your junk drawer. Or the millions of older iPhones floating around in the secondary market.

Beeper wants to combine all your messaging—Slack, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SMS, WhatsApp, and more—into one tidy app. It’s not a new pitch, in itself. What’s somewhat rare is the promise to include iMessage in the mix. What’s unique is that Beeper wants to repurpose old (some might say ancient) iPhones to help do the job. 

A box full of second-hand iPhones, such as the iPhone 4S, tweeted by Beeper co-founder Eric Migicovsky.

I messaged Eric Migicovsky, co-founder of Beeper and the former head of groundbreaking, Kickstarter-record-holding Pebble (you might have heard of them), to get a sense of how Beeper plans to make this upcycling project work.

The first thing to know is that Beeper is very small right now, with just Migicovsky and Tulir Asokan at the helm. The iMessage aspect of the app is still early-stage. Migicovsky is personally onboarding each new user who makes it through the sign-up queue, through Zoom calls. “It’s taking a while to work through the backlog,” Migicovsky writes. “Still a few rough edges but it’s moving fast.”

Right now, Beeper is buying refurbished iPhones from cellphone stores’ trade-in stock, jailbreaking them, loading Beeper’s app onto those units, and sending them to users. The iPhone 4S still has persistent jailbreak methods publicly available, including Phoenix. The Beeper app loaded onto a jailbroken iPhone is open-source, Migicovsky notes, so “users can…