Danish Kapoor
Danish Kapoor

Automattic acquires messaging app Beeper

Automattic, owner of and Tumblr, last year acquired Beeper, maker of the Beeper Mini app that challenged Apple's iMessage dominance. Automattic paid $125 million for the venture, a higher-than-expected sum, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. This acquisition provided more ammunition for the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust case against Apple.

Automattic already had an app called Texts that provided access to the APIs of various chat services. Beeper has essentially the same mission and branding, and now the two competing teams will merge under the leadership of Beeper CEO Eric Migicovsky. Migicovsky will join Automattic.

A new move from the creator of Pebble

On the other hand, Eric Migicovsky is also known as the creator of the Pebble smart watch. This device was an attractive and simple pioneer that launched mainstream interest in wearable technology in the early 2010s. Beeper and Texts will launch a combined service later this year, Migicovsky told the New York Times on Tuesday. The two teams announced that they would start working within two weeks at a meeting to be held in Portugal.

“Automattic's CEO Matt (Mullenweg) and I have known each other for years,” Migicovsky said in a blog post noting that the two companies have a long history. “He was an early user, supporter and investor of Beeper. “We are well aligned in our purpose (building the world's best chat app), our approach (using open source where possible), and our independence (Beeper will be independently operated as part of Automattic's Other Bets division).”

Automattic's purchase price is surprising considering that the iMessage integration that made the Beeper Mini famous was blocked on Android after just a few days. Beeper framed the brief fight as a fight for open and secure messaging standards. Apple saw this as a threat to one of the main attractions of its closed ecosystem, the blue bubbles of iPhone-to-iPhone chats.

Another reason that calls into question Automattic's acquisition price is Apple's plan to bring RCS (rich communications services) support to iPhones later this year. While bubbles between iPhone and Android users will remain green, RCS chats mimic much of the appeal of iMessage with a similar feature set like end-to-end encryption.

Automattic's interim CEO, Toni Schneider, told the New York Times that he sees regulatory winds blowing in a more open direction that will support cross-platform, universal messaging apps like Beeper. Still, it looks like access to other services' APIs can be easily replicated by the right coders (including the Texts team, which Automattic already has). Perhaps the real main attraction was Beeper, which challenged Apple while strengthening brand perception for itself.

Danish Kapoor