Beeper messaging app that irked Apple is acquired by owner

Automattic is buying the Beeper app and absorbing its 27 employees. That includes Migicovsky (pic), who will become Automattic’s head of messaging. — Bloomberg

Automattic Inc, the Internet company behind popular online blogging service, acquired the messaging app at the heart of a recent dispute with Apple Inc.

In a deal announced Tuesday, Automattic is buying the Beeper app and absorbing its 27 employees. That includes Beeper co-founder Eric Migicovsky, who will become Automattic’s head of messaging.

The buyer, which also owns the Tumblr and Longreads websites, is paying US$125mil for the business, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed.

The deal is part of a bid to make online messaging a key part of Automattic’s business. Beeper, which first launched as a beta test in 2021, is a universal chat app that taps into several different messaging services to create one unified inbox. The service, with about 100,000 users, works with apps like Facebook Messenger, Signal and Slack.

“There’s basically no open standard for chat, and our vision is to create that by connecting to legacy chat networks,” Migicovsky said in an interview.

Migicovsky originally made his name by developing the Pebble, a smartwatch that predated the Apple Watch. More recently, he has been a key figure in the antitrust scrutiny of Apple. The startup released a version of its software last year called Beeper Mini that allowed Apple’s iMessage to run on the rival Android platform. That irked the tech giant, which blocked the app from working.

Migicovsky had been a vocal proponent of reining in Apple’s power, and the spat caught the eye of regulators. The US Department of Justice cited the incident in an antitrust lawsuit that it filed against Apple last month.

Apple has remained reluctant to bring iMessage to Android, but it is adding support later this year for RCS, or rich communication services. That will make it easier for iPhone and Android users to text and share high-quality photos and video.

Migicovsky said the fight with Apple “helped bring more awareness and attention to Beeper and validated that we need to know who our friends were in the space”. The app is exiting its beta phase as part of the deal, making it available to anyone.

He said that the deal came together after the public spat, but that Automattic had already long been an investor in Beeper.

“Automattic is a big company but they’re not like a Big Tech company,” he said. “They know how to build open-source infrastructure to open-source the Internet.” – Bloomberg

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