Friday, December 29, 2023

Beeper and the Centurion Lounge

John Gruber:

Here’s the analogy I’ve been thinking best applies. American Express operates Centurion Lounges at a few dozen airports around the world, exclusively for the use of their Platinum Card holders. Other premium credit cards offer similar access to other lounges. If you have an American Express Platinum Card, you just show up, show them your card and boarding pass, and you’re in. You get free Wi-Fi; free food (pretty good); free beverages (including a full-service bar); and comfortable seats, tables, and desks. They even have showers for travelers on extended trips. They’re great — and a cut above even most airlines’ own lounges for their premium frequent travelers. Centurion Lounge access is presented as a free benefit, but, of course, there’s no more such a thing as a free premium lounge as there is a free lunch: the cost of the lounges is baked into the annual fees Platinum Card holders pay.

iMessage is like a Centurion Lounge. It’s a free premium messaging service, exclusively for the use of people who own iPhones, iPads, and Macs. SMS, in this analogy, is like waiting for your plane out in the public airport terminal: not as nice, the Wi-Fi is worse, there’s no free food or drinks, but it’s available to everyone.

iMessage users in a group chat who are annoyed by Android-owning group members relegating the conversation to SMS are like a group of friends travelling together — some of whom have Amex Platinum Cards, some of whom don’t — who need to wait in the public terminal if the group wants to wait for their flight together.


Beeper Mini presenting itself as Messages on a Mac to gain access to iMessage is as dishonest as presenting a forged Amex Platinum Card to gain access to a Centurion Lounge.

This is a good analogy that captures why Apple is justified in cracking down. But it doesn’t capture the way SMS can only be used within, and I think it misses the feel of the situation from the customer’s point of view. iMessage does not feel like a premium experience, both because there’s a much higher percentage of iPhone users than Platinum Card holders and because the service itself is so unreliable. Sometimes it feels more like a scourge than a perk.

Also unlike Amex, it’s not something that people consciously opted into. They just bought a phone and got the bundled messaging service. Now they have a poor experience communicating with half of their friends. It’s as if people with names from one half of the alphabet can’t get into the lounge. The lounge doesn’t offer guest passes; they expect you to change your name to get in. That’s technically possible, but hardly anyone wants to do it. Meanwhile, once you’ve entered the lounge, it’s hard to ever leave. The airlines will no longer make your flight status available in other parts of the airport, so if you start hanging out in the public terminal you could miss your plane.

This paragraph would make sense in a world where Apple, say, didn’t allow WhatsApp, Signal, Line, Telegram, and Messenger in the App Store. But the market for messaging apps is incredibly competitive, and Apple’s App Store hosts all of them.

Many airlines offer lounges for their premium fliers, but try getting everyone you know to meet up at the United Club. It might be in the wrong terminal or they might only have frequent flier status on another airline. Meanwhile, Amex owns the airport, and they make sure that the Centurion is the only lounge located inside of the TSA screening.


Update (2024-01-03): See also: Manton Reece.

Update (2024-01-10): Eric Migicovsky:

Getting champagne at a bar in an airport. This is about people’s everyday lives: How you chat with your friends, your family, your colleagues, is the core experience of your phone. And for most people, if they want to contact their friends or family, they don’t think about all the different apps or the multitude of ways they can contact someone. They send a text.

The argument that Gruber was trying to put together is that this is some sort of luxury experience that only some people should have. It’s out of touch, and in fact it’s pretty insulting.


How about the telephone? Imagine if you couldn’t phone certain people. Would we allow that? Back in the 1990s, before interoperability, you couldn’t send a text message to someone on a different mobile carrier. If you had an AT&T phone number, you could only text people on AT&T. It’s kind of the stakes we’re at right now.

Via Eric Schwarz:

While an airport lounge isn’t the most relatable analogy, it does demonstrate something that is exclusive for members that have either paid or are continuing revenue streams.


Like I said, I can appreciate the intent of Beeper Mini, but in my checking around with Android-using friends, the anecdata isn’t exactly in Beeper Mini’s favor either. Most Android users either hate anything that Apple stands for or seem disinterested in downloading and paying for something to have better messaging with their iPhone-using buddies. I can agree with that—it’s clearly a problem Apple has let simmer and the burden of fixing should be on Apple, not Android users. That’s where something like Beeper Mini is not going to be the fix, but rather embracing RCS, effectively bringing iPhones up to par with Android devices makes the most sense.

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"Also unlike Amex, it’s not something that people consciously opted into. They just bought a phone and got the bundled messaging service."

You have no way of knowing this. It's highly likely that many people bought into the Apple walled garden deliberately with iMessage being part of that.

As you've pointed out, the lounge analogy is the wrong lens to use when it comes to iMessage and interoperability. A better analogy (albeit still not perfect) is how phone companies controlled number portability. Before regulations took hold, it was so friction-filled to change providers – either you paid a huge early contract-end fee, or you waited out your contract (which used to be 3 years), or you gave up your number entirely.

Your phone number is your identity on phone networks in the same way your iCloud username is your identity on Apple's network, and the value for you is that network identity. The friction involved in changing chat networks has a much higher cost of losing access to other people on that network, on top of the other costs (potentially new hardware).

It's already noted by Apple itself that allowing interoperability would permit people to easily opt for other platforms, so it _is_ anticompetitive in that the current set up locks people to Apple, just like phone numbers used to lock you to your phone provider.

@Total Some probably did, but I think most have no idea about any of this and couldn’t tell you what green vs. blue means.

@Neil Yes, number portability is a good analogy. Apple’s own executives are on record about the benefits of iMessage locking people in. Even as a techy, I don’t really understand how I could switch from iMessage to SMS on my iPhone, if I wanted to. If I’m set to receive iMessages, I can’t choose to send as SMS. Likewise, there is no way for me to make everyone start sending to me using my phone number instead of my Apple ID, or to a set up an “address changed” redirect. I also recall there being server bugs where if you had an iPhone and switched to Android your SMS would be broken for months.

Telegram is my most used messenger, and every time I have to open iMessages a little piece of me is sad. It feels archaic and lacks any sort of fun.

I wouldn't believe how popular it is until I tried to get people to try some alternatives. Asking someone to install an app is like pulling teeth. It seems like a majority of people install the Facebook app and then use only the default apps for everything else.

And don't get me started on trying to get others to keep their phone number private.

"Some probably did, but I think most have no idea about any of this and couldn’t tell you what green vs. blue means."

So on one hand, people have no idea what iMessage is or what the different color balloons mean but on the other they're well enough versed in the capabilities of SMS vs. iMessage that they feel deprived of the latter's capabilities?

Would you like to come up with a position that doesn't contradict itself?

The lounge analogy is patronizing crap. No need for an analogy for something as simple as iMessage vs Beeper Mini.

Apple has a service that it only wants people with Apple products to access. Beeper found a sneaky way to get others to access it. Apple stopped that.

As for RCS he gets even dumber. It's not about updating some public space.

It's like this, there is a way that would enable iphones and androids to exchange high res images and videos. Apple doesn't care about that.

Re not knowing how to disable iMessage: how is Settings > Messages and then turning the iMessage toggle to off hidden or complicated?

I also don’t understand the frequent complaints of missing or out of order messages. I use sms forwarding and have iMessage signed into an additional iPad and 2 Macs. I don’t have messages in iCloud enabled and I have never once had a missing or out of order iMessage. Is storing messages in iCloud the culprit? It seems those complaints predate it.

@Total There are different groups of people, some of whom are really bothered by the green bubbles and some of whom are ignorant. I did not say that most most people understand and feel deprived. I said the overall hybrid user experience was bad and that Apple was depriving its own customers of security and other features (though that may be changing with RCS support).

@Eric Yes, but what happens after I turn it off? Do the messages people send me start going only to my Mac and iPad? That doesn’t solve the problem—it just makes it worse. Missing and out-of-order messages have been a problem since the beginning. I don’t know why some people are seemingly not affected or don’t notice. Messages in iCloud doesn’t work, as far as I’m concerned. It’s either not syncing when it should or reporting for days in a row that it’s download messages but not actually downloading them, etc. The bottom line is that it reports very little status information, my messages aren’t synced, and it’s not really possible to access or find old messages.

True upi would need to also disable it on your other devices to downgrade to sms.

> They just bought a phone and got the bundled messaging service. Now they have a poor experience communicating with half of their friends.

I don't know...I mean, I'd honestly rather just use SMS and basic group chats than FB messenger/what's app...
SMS is missing features, sure, but it does actually work for the purposes of sending messages and basic photos.
I don't see a world in which I get some of my group threads using any other app...

To me, "iMessage on android" was never that appealing. Most the people I know who use Android don't really want iMessage. RCS support would be great, and I suppose if 3rd party apps could do RCS or SMS that would be nice, though I suspect with certain group chats you'll always be playing to the lowest common (protocol) denominator. Given the average speed of iOS vs Android adoptions, I think Apple actually still has a bit of room. Clearly, their commitment to support RCS already shows they're aware.

I think Gruber's analogy makes the most sense from the legal framework, rather than the entire customer experience. In that sense I agree.

But it doesn’t capture the way SMS can only be used within

That’s EXACTLY it. It’s a Microsoftian “embrace and extend”. Without SMS control, does Messages ever take off… or does WhatsApp and friends win in the US too?

Excellent call.

@Michael Bal I would rather use SMS, too. Part of the poor experience is due to the limitations of SMS, but part of it is that the mixed SMS/iMessage support often doesn’t work right. That’s why I’m interested in whether it would be practical to turn off iMessage (thus forcing everything to use SMS), although it would be better if there were a way to have more control over which threads use SMS.

Yes, to me, RCS on iOS (if I can also use it on my Mac, while turning off iMessage) would be a lot more appealing than iMessage on Android.

What a load of bloody nonsense! Do you remember when Adium was universally condemned by Mac OS X fans for daring to present itself as an official client to many, many instant messenger networks and present a unified view of a user's communications that was happening on all of them? Nah, me neither. Because it's only baaaaaaaaaaaad when it's Apple's network that's being (very rightly) adversarially interoperated with. It's also patent nonsense to suggest that what Beeper did is the cyber equivalent of forging a credit card--it's more akin to posing as a friend of a guest in order to sneak in access to a party venue, at best, and Apple could (and, honestly, probably should and will) authenticate their hardware more strongly just as soon as they get the chance to break compatibility with older devices.

TL;DR: what I said before.

@Kristoffer Spot on.

@Michael Tsai You can deregister by turning off iMessage and FaceTime, or by using a web page at Apple if you don't have access to a phone. But that also means losing text message forwarding, independent of iMessage itself, so you can only receive texts at a phone number on the relevant devices, and you may or may not get messages via email through an MMS gateway if enabled. You can never choose to send to an iMessage user by text, unless you happen to be offline and the fallback to text is on. The Messages in iCloud syncing is deeply questionable, I agree, but it does appear to provide the functionality of (in essence) also tracking deletions across devices, as well as additions. None of this would be a problem if you could use other messaging services in the Messages app, or better yet, you could use another app to handle your texts, agreed. Because then, yes, I'd honestly consider moving to WatsApp full-time. But even here in Blighty, you can't rely on everyone to have WatsApp. So in practice you choose to enable iMessage everywhere, and Android users go to hell. Even Windows users, I would argue, are casualties since they have to resort to stupid workarounds like Pushbullet to get links off their phones. It's just all very shitty.

@Sebby But I would have to make sure that iMessage is off on every device, right? And that I never accidentally enable it when installing a fresh system or making another user account? Otherwise the messages will get delivered to, say, my headless Mac mini server when the sender thinks I’m receiving them on my phone. I don’t even trust iMessage to know which devices it’s activated on because it’s always showing spurious notifications about being newly activated on one of my other devices.

And wouldn’t this break existing threads? Because iMessage itself knows the associated phone number, but the other people don’t necessarily, and iMessage won’t tell them.

And, like you say, I would lose text message forwarding and Safari Security Code AutoFill because those are unnecessarily tied to the other iMessage features.

Regarding your first point, this seems different from Adium to me, maybe because of the level of circumvention that Beeper is resorting to. Adium did require actual accounts on the services it supported. It was just an alternate interface to a service that the same person would have accessed on the same device.

@Michael You're absolutely right, you would need to make sure that any email address registrations were also cancelled. I am not sure if it would be possible to use iMessage with an email address exclusively, but it definitely isn't possible to use iMessage on a phone number selectively; it's either registered to the service or it isn't. So maybe the answer is to use a random email for your Apple ID, and then use iMessage on all devices just using that random ID. I'm not sure if text message forwarding would work then. Hmm, interesting—maybe I'll test it sometime.

Concerning threads, I'm not sure what relates messages, but you're probably right that the identifier will be the source or destination email address or phone number, so switching between those will be a problem. If you weren't intending to use iMessage as described, maybe that's not a big deal since most people use the phone number default anyway (I have to keep remembering to check what the caller ID is set to because it keeps going back to a phone number whenever one is added or just if I swap the SIM briefly).

Concerning Adium I guess it depends on where you think the ethical line is, I mean ultimately it was going up against IM networks working to block them too, so maybe if you thought that was out of order too you might be inclined to empathise with Apple because the deceit here is not dissimilar except you use a plausible device identifier or log in to Apple pretending to be a Mac ... though I must say that I'm not inclined to because I simply can't see a greater harm. But yes ultimately it's Apple's network and Apple's rules, absolutely.

And ... it doesn't work. Although it is now possible to turn off a phone number registration, as such, on a phone, while leaving iMessage on for email (which can be chosen on each device as long as it's previously validated), any message received by text will not be a candidate for forwarding, even though it is signed in to iMessage with other devices.


To read something as stupid and classist about Apple like that ridiculous analogy, without reading the author's name, I thougth immediately "this reads like something from Gruber". Lo and behold, that's exactly it. He really thinks that using Apple, a company that sells for millions and millions of people, makes him somewhat part of an elite. It's pathetic, but not worse than millions that follows the same poor logic.

We're talking about interoperability and walled gardens here. This "lounge" bullshit it's so way off the mark that it needs work just to be wrong, only justified from a desire to feel special. Gruber is disgusting and shadows any valid criticism and defense we could have about Apple.


"We're talking about interoperability and walled gardens here. This "lounge" bullshit it's so way off the mark that it needs work just to be wrong, only justified from a desire to feel special"

That's exactly what his analogy talks about 😂. The lounge is a walled garden. It also isn't really interoperable. Its for certain people only, not other credit card customers, not even other AMEX customers. Not a perfect analogy but it fits. And Gruber is well aware how many people use Apple and isn't stupid so its doubtful he feels "elite" as an Apple customer. He also criticizes Apple often enough. Maybe not as vociferously as you'd like but he does nonetheless.

Also, you didn't indicate if you read the full post on Daring Fireball. I suggest you do if you haven't.

Again the "lounge bit" actually works quite well. Apple doesn't give a damn about your ideas of "walled gardens" or interoperability. It's their platform and they can choose to do with it, and control access to it, however they want - same as AMEX in the lounge case. You (in this case the general you) can either buy an Apple device to get access to it, or not.

@Michael Tsai:

FWIW I have had the out of order message problem before, but only a few times and only very briefly. This is with Messages in iCloud turned on. Have had that turned on since the day it became available.

Kevin Schumacher

> A better analogy (albeit still not perfect) is how phone companies controlled number portability. Before regulations took hold, it was so friction-filled to change providers – either you paid a huge early contract-end fee, or you waited out your contract (which used to be 3 years), or you gave up your number entirely.

As far as I know, number portability did not exist prior to the government allowing/standardizing/regulating it, at least in the US. And none of what you mention--ETFs and contracts--had anything to do with the technical process of number portability and was never "resolved," by regulation or otherwise.

(Also "contract" is a misnomer, as everyone who has ever had service with a mobile provider has had a contract, regardless of whether that contract stipulated a required service period or not...I know, I know, I'm being pedantic. This is one of my pet peeves.)

Today, the subsidized phone purchase with 2-year required service has been replaced by the (sometimes subsidized, sometimes full price) phone purchase with 2- or 3-year installment agreement. If you cancel service, your installment agreement is due in full immediately. If anything, it's a worse system now.

Under the old system, you paid an ETF that was generally a standard amount, unrelated to the value of your phone. (Towards the end of the "required service" era, they started tiering them based on the type of phone, but that wasn't around for long before contracts.) If you cancelled two months before the end of required service, you got screwed, but if you cancelled two months into required service, you generally paid less in ETF than the remaining value of your phone. And while the ETF seemed huge at the time, it was usually "only" $150 to $250.

Now, not only do you have to pay an ETF of sorts--the remainder of the installment contract immediately--but you also lose any subsidy you were receiving as a monthly credit against your installment payments. If you're halfway through your installment agreement on a $1,000 phone and cancel service, you owe $500 immediately. That is "huge" compared to the old ETFs.

So phones have effectively become more expensive for the consumer whether you stay for the entire installment agreement or not, and the cost of cell service has not changed much if at all.

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