How to Create a Messaging App Like WhatsApp

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The messaging apps market is thriving these days. Statistics show that the number of people having smartphones is about to hit 3.5 billion worldwide and 90% of them use at least one chat application. Instant messengers not only became an affordable and convenient alternative to SMS services as it was initially planned. They also took the opportunity to stay connected to the next level, completely transforming the way we communicate with each other.

For the last decade, WhatsApp has been holding a leadership position among all chatting apps. As of the end of 2019, it was the most popular messaging app (2 billion monthly active WhatsApp users) and the most downloaded non-gaming app globally (112 million installs last year).

In this article, we’ll explain how to build a chat app like WhatsApp and how to make your messaging app development solution profitable.

Why is WhatsApp so successful?

Inc. reports that WhatsApp has more than 1.5 billion users. That allows this app for message exchange to occupy a dominant position in the relevant market. Meanwhile, a WhatsApp app serves as a great example of creating something familiar using distinct approaches. They allow for the appropriate user engagement and ensure the app’s constant growth.

To understand how to create a messaging app like WhatsApp, you should first learn about the situation in the instant messaging market before WhatsApp appeared in the late 2000s.

For example, in 2009, the most popular instant messaging app that allowed users to make video calls, exchange messages, and store conversation history was Skype. During those times, this application offered the best possible features and widest compatibility. All you needed to have then was an internet connection. Therefore, all companies intended to hire experienced app developers to build a “new skype.” So, Skype was the undisputed number one in the messaging industry.

What about Facebook Messenger? Then, it was not so popular and widely used, while other modern market leaders were only at the gestation stage. On the other hand, absolute dominance had a negative influence on Skype. That is because they got lazy over time, and their grip loosened. No doubt, Skype was quite serviceable, but it stopped evolving to meet user requirements. Also, it was boring. Fortunately, it was the time when WhatsApp emerged.

So let’s consider the following features that made developing an app like WhatsApp so popular today.

1. WhatsApp could embrace mobile devices

Before analyzing how to create a chatting app, you should know that the late 2000s represented the rapid growth of smartphones and, in turn, the rise of iOS and Android app solutions. But most market leaders could not realize the significant potential of this segment. Skype as a desktop application required some time to create a relevant mobile app. That allowed WhatsApp to become a mobile-first application and take great advantage of that.

2. WhatsApp could transform user onboarding

WhatsApp changed the way of creating user accounts significantly. Instead of implementing complex systems of logins or connected accounts, WhatsApp requires each user to define himself using a mobile number. Depending on the user’s phone number, the entire contact list on the phone becomes a part of the app contacts.

3. WhatsApp could adopt end-to-end encryption

Data privacy and security are crucial when considering how to create a chat application like WhatsApp. For example, to ensure the appropriate user privacy, WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption. After all, it was the app’s differentiating feature before the increase in competition in the instant messaging industry.

Create the right business model

Before your company starts developing its iOS or Android app, you have to consider each business nuance you may face when learning how to build a chat app like WhatsApp. So, let’s check out some critical principles you should remember to create successful iOS and Android apps.

Target Audience. To begin with, you have to define your target audience who may be interested in your messaging app. For instance, the youth use messengers more often compared to older people. Also, such apps are popular among business people because they are secure and easy to use.

Monetization. When releasing your iOS or Android app, you intend to make it pay off. Thus, you should consider the available monetization models you can implement to obtain the desired profit. They include P2P payments, in-app purchases, and advertisements.

Competitors. Although you may know how to build a messaging app, you have to analyze the current market situation and define your major competitors. Also, you need to understand the most critical features that make these apps successful.

App Value. Your application can be very similar to other ones available on the market. In this case, what value does it offer? It is crucial to add some new features or functionalities to provide your app with a competitive advantage and make it more unique. This step is vital when learning how to create a chat application like WhatsApp.

App Store Optimization. After finishing the development process and publishing your app on Google Play or App Store (or both), you should not simply wait until customers start downloading it. So, when analyzing how to create a messaging app, you should not forget about app promotion for attracting more potential users.

Basic features in a messaging app like WhatsApp

To create a chat app, you first need to decide what features to include in it. It might be tempting to focus only on the unique functionality that will make your application stand out. But messengers have been around for a while so there is already a set of basic functions that users expect to find in any chatting app like WhatsApp. If you don’t want to disappoint your target audience, your application should meet such expectations. Here’s a list of must-haves for most messenger apps:

Instant messaging

Since it’s a core feature of any chat app, adding it may seem obvious. But still, there are some aspects you need to pay attention to. First, it’s important to choose the right way of data transmission: either sender-server-recipient or sender-recipient. Many people prefer the latter method since they think that the ability to store messages on servers makes their private data more vulnerable.

Besides, you have to do research on what’s already offered on the messaging app market and what chatting features users love. For instance, it may be the capability that allows them to edit messages after sending or to reply to specific messages.

Profile and status

WhatsApp like most instant messaging apps allow for profile customization. It helps users express their individuality and create a feeling of a real-life conversation. For instance, a messaging application can let users specify their names, change themes (backgrounds, colors, etc.), set statuses, and upload an avatar photo.

File sharing

File transmission is another essential thing to consider in chat app development. Besides texting, people want to send images, GIFs, videos, and documents. If a messaging app like WhatsApp doesn’t contain these capabilities, it has rather low chances to outpace the competition. Besides sending existing files, this functionality should enable users to take and share photos and shoot short videos directly from an app. Finally, it is advantageous to provide synchronization with available cloud services such as Google Drive and Dropbox.

Voice and video calls

It’s true that most modern people prefer texting over video calling. However, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to have this option at all. Sometimes it’s just easier to spend 1-2 minutes speaking to someone than to write dozens of words. That’s why if you want to make a messenger app that meets various communication needs of users, voice messages and video calls should be on your list of essential app features. This functionality also may include the possibility to record and send voice calls/video messages right from a chat. After all, audio and video streaming are crucial for private communication not only between friends but for business, education, or healthcare.

Group chats

Group chats are among the most popular features to keep in mind when learning how to make a messaging app. Chatting is not only about one-on-one conversations. Users often need to discuss some issues with multiple people. For example, they may want to make plans for a Friday night with several friends or send a photo from a vacation to all family members at once. In such cases, the possibility of creating a group conversation is invaluable. It helps to save time and broaden the limits of social networking.

Extra features to include in an app like WhatsApp

How to build a messaging app and make it popular? The main challenge for most new messaging applications is to become noticeable among a number of other similar products. Once it happens, word of mouth does its job. That’s why you need to put a lot of thought into creating exclusive advanced features that will make your messenger shine. To give you an example, here are some ideas from WhatsApp and other famous chatting apps:

  • location sharing
  • self-destructing messages
  • messages scheduling
  • notifications (e.g., Apple push notifications)
  • channels
  • in-app games

On top of that, you may create additional value for your real-time messaging app by improving its security features, integrating it with social media, or providing users with more entertainment features (e.g. stickers, customizable avatars).

Technology stack

If you think about creating a messaging app, choosing the right technology stack should be your next step after creating the list of features. The exact technologies you’ll need to create an app like WhatsApp will depend on several factors, in particular:

  • platform (iOS, Android or both)
  • native or cross-platform development
  • specifics of the core functionality
  • time to market and budget

To build a native Android chat app, you’ll have to use either Java or Kotlin programming languages. For iOS app development, you can choose either Objective-C or Swift. There is also an option to create one solution for different operating systems using either React Native plus JavaScript/TypeScript or Xamarin plus C#.

Native development will take more time and require more money since you have to create separate apps for iOS and Android. The advantages are full device integration and enhanced user experience. On the other hand, cross-platform development is cheaper and faster. The slower performance might be an issue but this risk can be practically eliminated if an app is created by experienced developers who follow best practices.

What are the challenges of building an app like WhatsApp

When it comes to the question of how to make an instant messaging application, it’s important to outline the main challenges you’ll have to resolve while bringing this idea to life.

Harsh competition

Besides WhatsApp, there are a lot of other chatting applications that people already use and love, for example, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Telegram, and Viber. So before kicking off the development stage, you have to spend some time studying the target market and thinking about the main competitive advantages of your product.

User expectations

User expectations are not just high — they’re constantly growing. If you want to create a successful extensible messaging app, you should always keep track of market trends and adjust the development process to the current market conditions. But if you choose programmers who can follow the agile project management methodologies, you’ll have no problems with this.


Private messages are considered sensitive information so chatting apps like WhatsApp have to meet the highest possible user privacy standards. The lack of encryption and security flaws can ruin the reputation of a messenger for a long time (if not forever). That’s why it’s better to make sure that users’ personal information is properly transmitted and handled before the app is released.

How to make money with your chat app

If you’re wondering how to create a chat app, you probably also want to know how to monetize it. In general, there are three ‘classic’ ways to earn money from an instant messenger.

1. Advertisement

Publishing in-app ads is the easiest monetization approach for mobile apps like WhatsApp. In case you opt for it, companies that want to capture customer attention will pay you money for showing their advertisements to app users. The formats may vary from targeted messages to app banners and built-in videos. The main rule is to keep balance and not to overload an app with ads. Otherwise, you may lose a bunch of annoyed users.

2. In-app purchases

Another way to make money with a chat app is to sell users extra new features or content. For example, you can charge money for turning off ads or creating a group chat with the number of members that exceeds a certain threshold (e.g. 100+). In addition, you can provide users with an opportunity to buy branded stickers, games, etc.

3. Sponsorship

Sponsorship means that you collaborate with investors and promote their products within a messenger. Unlike ordinary advertisements that are usually based on a self-serve tool, partnering with sponsors will allow you to sign contracts at the top company’s level and create long-term business relations.

Theoretically, you can also charge money for app downloads or add a subscription fee. But remember, there are many alternatives on the market. So it will be extremely hard to make users pay for something they can get for free.

How much time and money will it take to create your own messenger app

Now, after discussing how to make a chat application, we can talk about such practical aspects as time and money. Both parameters depend on many factors such as the number and complexity of features, type of app development (native or cross-platform), size and expertise of a development team, etc.

In addition, the chat app development cost usually varies depending on the geographical location of software app developers. For example, rates of programmers from the US and Western Europe are usually much higher than rates of the same level specialists from Eastern Europe.

If you don’t want to take a shot in the dark, you can start the project by building an MVP. It’ll help you avoid wasting money on unnecessary functionality that users don’t actually need.

To give you a rough estimation, the MVP app development for one platform (Android, iOS, or Xamarin) will take about 500-700 hours. The same amount of time is required for the backend development. Plus, you should reserve up to 300 hours for UX/UI design and quality assurance.

Of course, all these numbers are approximate since our calculation is based on the assumption that an MVP will contain only the basic features mentioned above. If you want to get a detailed estimation for your project, please send us a request.

Exoft expertise in making a messaging app

Exoft is a leading software development company with offices in the United States, Sweden, and Ukraine. We have been creating software systems of various types and levels of complexity using the top-notch tech stack since 2013. The main focus of our team is on front-end, back-end, and mobile development. In addition to that, we can provide your project with professional QA services and an experienced support team containing business analysts, UI/UX designers, and project managers.

To ensure the maximum efficiency of our cooperation, we offer the following partnership models:

  • Time & Material. Using this model, we can modify all the requirements, workload, team, and scope during software development. Besides, we can optimize the budget accordingly.
  • Fixed Price. We define the scope of work, finalized costs, and delivery timelines from the beginning. Thus, we cannot change them after signing an agreement.
  • Dedicated Team. In this model, the customer determines the requirements software developers must meet to become a part of its project. Meanwhile, an outsourcing partner is responsible for their recruitment and further administrative support.

Exoft has vast experience in developing apps like WhatsApp, so we can transform all your business ideas into a robust software solution.

Putting it all together

Now, you have the necessary knowledge on how to make a messaging app. Of course, you may think that there is no room for another messenger app on the market. But it’s a dynamic and rapidly growing niche. That’s why we have all the reasons to believe that building a mobile application for texting and simplified communication will remain relevant at least for the foreseeable future. We hope this article provided you with general guidelines on how to create a chat application like WhatsApp. Now, it’s your turn to make a move — choose a development team and start making your idea a reality.

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