The owner of WordPress has bought Beeper, the app that flipped the bird to Apple’s iMessage supremacy

Automattic reportedly paid $125 million... for some reason.

Beeper and Tumblr owner Automattic has bought Beeper, the maker of the Beeper Mini app that challenged Apple’s iMessage dominion late last year. Although it ultimately lost that battle (after, oh, about three days), the incident gave the DOJ more ammunition in its antitrust suit against the iPhone maker. Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Automattic paid $125 million, a surprisingly hefty price for the startup.

Automattic already has an app called Texts that taps into the APIs of various chat services for a universal messaging experience. Beeper has essentially the same mission and branding, and the two competitors will now merge their teams under Beeper CEO Eric Migicovsky, who will join Automattic.

You may also remember Migicovsky as the creator of the Pebble smartwatch, the charmingly simple pre-Apple Watch device that helped kickstart mainstream interest in wearable tech in the early 2010s. On Tuesday, he told The New York Times that Beeper and Texts will launch a combined service later this year. The two teams will reportedly begin work in two weeks during a meeting in Portugal.

On Tuesday, Migicovsky wrote in a blog post that the two companies go way back. “Matt [Mullenweg], Automattic’s CEO, and I have known each other for years,” he wrote. “He was an early user, supporter and investor in Beeper. We’re very well aligned on our goal (build the best chat app on earth), approach (open source where possible), and independence (Beeper will operate independently as part of Automattic’s Other Bets division).”

Automattic’s buying price is a bit of a head-scratcher, considering Beeper Mini’s claim to fame — iMessage integration on Android — was squashed after only a few days in the spotlight. Beeper framed the brief showdown as a fight for open, secure messaging standards. (It also helped the startup make more of a name for itself.) Apple saw it as a threat to one of its walled garden’s main attractions: the iPhone-to-iPhone chats’ blue bubbles with features like reactions and higher-resolution image and video-sharing.

Another reason to question Automattic’s acquisition price is Apple’s plan to bring RCS (rich communication services) support to iPhones later this year. Although the bubbles will remain green between iPhone and Android users, RCS chats replicate much of the iMessage appeal with a similar feature set, including end-to-end encryption.

Automattic’s interim chief executive, Toni Schneider, told The NYT that he sees the regulatory tradewinds blowing in a more open direction that will favor cross-platform, universal messaging apps like Beeper. Still, from my understanding, tapping into other services’ APIs is something the right coders could easily duplicate (including the Texts team Automattic already owned). Perhaps the real main attraction was the brand Beeper built for itself in taking on Apple.

Update, April 10, 2024, 11:18AM ET: The opening paragraph was updated to clarify that Automattic owns (to avoid confusion with the open-source WordPress project).