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 connectivity 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 mobile messenger (2 billion monthly active 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 profitable.
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 a real-time messaging app:
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 storing messages on servers makes their private data more vulnerable.
Besides, you have to do research on what’s already offered on the 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
Most apps like WhatsApp 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 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 photos and shoot short videos directly from an app.
Voice and video calls
It’s true that most modern people prefer texting over 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, a voice and video calling should be on your list of essential features. This functionality also may include the possibility to record and send voice/video messages right from a chat.
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 to create 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 make a chat app popular? The main challenge for most new messaging applications is to become noticeable among a number of other similar products. Once it happens, the word of mouth does its job. That’s why you need to put a lot of thought into creating exclusive 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-destroying chats
- messages scheduling
- in-app games
On top of that, you may create additional value for your real-time messaging app by improving its security, integrating it with social media, or providing users with more entertainment features (e.g. stickers, customizable avatars).
If you think about how to build 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
Native development will take more time and require more money since you have to create separate apps for Android and iOS. 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 a professional development team that follows 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 app, it’s important to outline the main challenges you’ll have to resolve while bringing this idea to life.
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 process, you have to spend some time studying the target market and thinking about the main competitive advantages of your product.
User expectations are not just high — they’re constantly growing. To create a successful 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 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.
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 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 stickers, games, etc.
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 development (native or cross-platform), size and expertise of a development team, etc.
In addition, chat app development costs usually vary depending on the geographical location of software engineers. 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 from 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.
Putting it all together
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 reasons to believe that building mobile solutions 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.
Get in Touch
Send us a message and we’ll get back to you shortly