Onix stands with Ukraine. Please monitor current status here.

Instant messaging apps have gained immense popularity, with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat having billions of active users worldwide. Tencent QQ Mobile, Telegram, Snapchat, LINE, Skype, and Viber are used by millions. 


If you have ever wondered how to make a messaging app, you can find some valuable tips in this article based on Onix experience.


Every messaging app creates immense marketing opportunities for various businesses. These apps are gradually replacing social media as the go-tos for customer communications. They are great at streamlining customer service and sales, especially as they are employing chatbots.


Moreover, the market evolves continuously, so there’s still a chance to create a chat app that might get a decent market share or become a unique instrument for growing your business.


This article will list the must-have features and essential steps to creating an instant messaging app. 


If you own an application already but feel it’s time to enrich the user experience with instant messaging, this article should still be helpful. Finally, we’ll try to estimate the cost.


Why Does It Still Make Sense to Create a Messaging App in 2022

If you have a live mobile application without instant messaging, this functionality may be a valuable addition. Communication without exchanging contact information is beneficial for social networks, dating apps, online marketplaces, and collaboration tools. In-app chat functionality is desirable for telemedicine and micro-investment apps. It can also give your product a competitive edge over similar apps.


A company might want a custom chat application for numerous reasons. Primarily, such an app can:


  • promote and streamline communication within an organization
  • allow instant sharing of corporate news, alerts, and other information with the employees
  • enable managers to assign tasks to individuals or groups quickly
  • facilitate task management and work progress tracking
  • help to stay in touch with team members and clients from anywhere
  • enable salespeople to connect with customers on the fly
  • let customer service stay connected with customers 24/7, collect feedback, and solve the queries instantly
  • allow team members and clients to make voice or video calls with just one tap at low costs


… and much more. Since there’s a growing demand for connecting teams and clients in a secure chatting space, eventually, you may sell the software as a service (SaaS) to other companies.

If your ambition is to create a messaging application that can become the next WhatsApp, but you doubt it’s feasible, look at WhatsApp itself. The success of this messenger is a combination of hard work, unique historical conditions, and a bit of luck.


The world may seem divided between a handful of giants, but it still provides a chance for high-quality products with original features. There’s an insatiable demand for reliable personal and business communication channels. Most users have at least two messengers installed on their smartphones and promptly switch to a new service if it’s better at meeting their current needs. This means there is always space for new solutions. Moreover, opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, such as:


Hype

The most hyped news about messaging apps lately may be Facebook’s blackout of October 2021, when the app’s encrypted competitor Telegram registered 70 million new users on a single day. 


Providing privacy

Speaking of Facebook, it’s worth mentioning that users worldwide have become weary of tech giants’ zeal to collect as much user data as possible. Big data is great, but that enormous collection of data poses increasingly disturbing security risks. Your app’s focus on privacy and security will present it in a favorable light from the very start, and when another data breach hits a less secure rival, you might take aboard some of the affected users.


Providing an alternative 

Growing as large as WhatsApp will be a challenging task, yet you may provide users with an alternative next to the best choice or a narrowly focused app, e.g., for workplace communication or chatting about hobbies. Clubhouse is an example: the audio-based messaging app became especially popular among podcast creators.


Emerging audiences

Secretum is the world’s first decentralized, encrypted messaging and OTC trading app for crypto and blockchain asset owners. It enables users to communicate via messages, phone, and video with any wallet owner in the world anonymously and to trade crypto assets and tokens. The community is looking forward to having a mobile version of the app in 2022.


Black swans

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the video-based messaging and chatting app Houseparty experienced a dramatic increase in popularity. In April alone, it added 50 million iOS users and went on to become the "Breakout of the Year" at Webby Awards.


Key Features for a Messaging App MVP Development

Your messaging mobile app should have a relevant set of features that solve a core problem for a group of users. You risk losing time and money if you select wrong or irrelevant features or too many for version one. However, if you create a messaging app MVP with the bare minimum required for texting, it’s possible that it may not work either. Modern users expect apps to do much more, and the most demanded features already exist in the most popular messengers.


Depending on each product’s specifics, the list of features to implement even during a basic messenger app development may vary. Still, it is most likely to include the following must-have modules.


Registration

A seamless onboarding experience is imperative. The user authentication can be implemented in several ways: via the phone number, email, or social network accounts. If you can’t let users choose the authorization method, pick the most suitable one for your target audience. 


For example, most popular messengers require users to sign in with a phone number, sending an SMS confirmation code for security purposes. It’s easy to start using these apps, but users can’t use the same account on multiple devices.


After registration, users can create profiles (with varying management and customization abilities) to add personal information and photos.


Contacts

Most people install a particular messenger to be closer to friends who already use it. The more contacts they have in a messenger, the more often they’ll use it. Make the contact integration quick and convenient. Good user experience implies importing contacts from the contact book automatically. 


Show the users who else from their contact book uses the app. Offer the ability to send invites to friends, search for friends who may not be on the contact book, use the app, and share contacts in the app. If the app doesn't provide registration via the phone number, access to the contact book isn't necessary. In this case, you can let users search for contacts by email or other parameters.


Instant messaging

This core new real-time feature can be implemented in two ways. In the first case, the messages will be stored on a server. Communication between the server and users will happen via the HTTPS protocol with SSL cryptography. For real-time messaging, it's necessary to reduce the polling interval to 1-2 seconds. This method may also include additional cryptography to go from the server to the recipient encrypted.


With the second method, messages aren't stored on the server. The central server only does the authentication. Then, each message is encrypted by the asymmetric cryptography algorithm and delivered to the recipient through the wireless mesh network.


If users go offline, they should be able to receive all the messages they missed as soon as they’re online again. They also usually like to see who’s online, when a contact last used the app, and when a contact is typing, and want to know their message statuses (delivered, failed, seen, or edited).


Will your end-users appreciate the ability to leave messages at any time without typing everything out? If “Yes,” consider implementing voice messaging.


Group chats

Depending on the end-users needs, consider offering public and private chats, creating sub-groups, sharing files with selected group members, private replies, creating channels, and other group-related features


Security features

Give special attention to privacy and prevention of hacking activities, collecting and stealing personal data, and identity theft. Encryption is desirable for all users, but if your messaging app is intended for a business or organization, security requirements are exceptionally high.


Cloud messages are a standard encryption method. For better data protection, some messaging apps use end-to-end encryption (E2EE). WhatsApp uses a system that scrambles all messages, and the recipients have the keys for deciphering the content. This precludes any third party, including WhatsApp itself, from reading your messages. If a user’s message is intercepted and decrypted, Telegram prevents hacking all other messages by regularly changing cryptographic keys.

If needed, implement more security features on your chat app, e.g., preclude forwarding messages to persons outside the secret chat, enable notifications about taken screenshots, etc.


Conversation history

Most chat apps are expected to store conversation history. An app should store chat histories and files sent by users in the cloud to be accessed anytime from any device. A quick search should enable users to search and track conversations that took place long ago.


On the other hand, the nature of your service might require that users have more privacy and control over their data. In that case, self-destructing messages and media are more desirable.

 

Cloud synchronization keeps the text messages and media files sent by users and stored in different places up-to-date. A change to a file on the phone is automatically applied to all other file instances, e.g., on the tablet. It’s helpful if the users access the app from multiple devices, delete it accidentally, and so on. 


The improved user experience may become your competitive advantage over the apps that don’t have it. However, beware that cloud synchronization raises the issues of security and the speed of messages exchange.


Voice and video calls

The more communication channels you offer, the greater your user base and the higher the app usage. The main options are:


  1. Voice calls
  2. Video calls
  3. Group calls with both audio and video


For video call functionality, it’s necessary to select video and audio codecs and the way to transfer the video. The codecs must ensure a sufficient quality of video even at the minimum Internet speed. An app can transfer the video either via the server or from user to user. The latter is preferable because it won’t overload your servers.


Group call functionality takes more significant effort to implement and presents some difficulties for the system. However, if it fits your app’s goals and your budget allows, include the feature in the chatting app MVP.


Files transmission

Messenger users expect to share photos, GIFs, videos, documents, stickers, and other content instantly. Depending on the target audience’s needs, you can:

 

  • make your app MVP to support different data formats
  • enable the users to share documents from Dropbox or Google Drive services
  • let users send only existing files (e.g., photos and videos from the gallery) or take pictures and videos directly from the app

 

If you opt for the latter, any filters or editing functionality is still better left until later versions of your app.


Push notifications

Notifications may inform the users when new messages have arrived, their messages are received and read, a favorite contact is online, etc. They can be combined with geolocation for contextual messages.


Notifications also facilitate direct communication between the messenger creators and their users. 


Push notifications boost user engagement and 3-10 times higher retention. The key to success is to develop relevant and highly personalized messages and rich customization options.

This is a basic set of essential chat app functions that will go both for public and business use. However, what is “essential” depends really on each app’s purpose and target audience. If your goal is entertainment, fancy stickers are a must even for an MVP, whereas businesses will require solutions for enterprise-level and customer-focused communication.


Additional Features to Create a Messaging App


On-schedule messages

Another useful feature is sending on-schedule messages. Essentially, you are sending a usual message. However, instead of instant delivery, you can choose any day and time when the user receives it. This feature can be used in order not to disturb colleagues on the weekends or as a reminder in order not to forget.


Self-destructing messages

Self-destructing messages feature allows users to send photos and videos for a one-time viewing. Media disappears from an individual or group chat after the user opens. For example, WhatsApp has a self-destructing messages feature. All messages in chats will be deleted after 7 days - this applies not only to text but also to all attached photos and other files. 


Channels

Channel is a tool for sending public messages to a large audience. Messages will be sent to subscribers on behalf of the channel. Joining members will be able to see the entire message history, regardless of when they joined the channel. You can also assign additional admins to help you manage the channel. Public channels have a name (username). Any user can find such channels by searching in the application and subscribing to it. Private channels are closed communities. Users can get there only by invitation link or if they were added by the creator of the channel.


Messaging Apps Tech Stack

Note that when it comes to mobile app development by startups, the most favorable alternative to native app development is hybrid app development. It makes it possible to significantly cut time-to-market and costs.



Are you going to create a chat app from scratch, i.e., write the whole code, or will you utilize online tools, APIs, protocols, and libraries? The second option will speed up the MVP app development significantly.


The back-end of a messaging app will involve infrastructure such as RestFul API, databases, storage servers, messaging protocols like XMPP, notification services, etc. Chat apps handle millions of requests daily and require extra reliability and 100% uptime.


Now, let’s look at some of the most popular languages, protocols, and tools on the example of the top 3 messaging apps today.







7 Steps to Build a Messaging App from Scratch

The following items can be adjusted or rearranged according to your project requirements and deadlines. Still, together they give an idea of how a messaging app should be developed.


1. Research the market

Decide what audience you’d like to focus on in the first place. Identify your main rivals and their competitive advantages. If you mean to compete against a popular messenger, you should first understand what people are using it, why, and how much time they spend there.


There are also demographic and geographic differences. For instance, WhatsApp users appreciate the instant integration with phone contacts, simplified sharing of media files and location, and the absence of distracting ads. WeChat, an absolute favorite in China, offers a ton of different abilities. The platform’s mobile payment service assists with shopping, organizing doctor’s appointments, ordering food delivery, paying an electricity bill or traffic fines, and more.


A more specialized app for specific audiences, e.g., doctors and patients or persons with special needs, may prove to be a great idea too.


2. Understand the goals and needs and find the opportunity to meet them

Determine the goals of your chat app: the app development should be driven by the end-users’ problems that need to be solved. Create user personas that outline the needs, motivations, and pain points of the people who will use your app. Determine the success criteria.


Identify the opportunities and figure out how you can most effectively add value and solve those pain points. Map out the user journeys by writing down what the user has to do to reach the goal. List and count the pains and gains for each action. The process lets you determine where you have the highest potential to resolve pains and add gains. Your MVP's features should address those areas first. Other items can be added later in the product roadmap.



3. Prioritize the features to include in the MVP

Prioritization matrices provide one of the ways to select the features that can make the greatest impact.

It’s a good practice to include the development cost for each feature when you decide what your MVP needs to have. The monetization strategy you choose will influence the selection as well.


4. Develop the monetization strategy for your mobile app

In the long run, the success of your product will be measured by the revenue it generates. Most messaging applications are free but are capable of making money thanks to smart monetization strategies. Some of the most popular options are:


In-app purchases

You can profit by selling customization options, such as wallpapers, themes, filters, games, etc. The items have to be cool to pay for.

 

Stickers are one of the top monetization options for real-time chat apps. LINE has been offering basic, animated, sound, and pop-up stickers since 2011. Some stickers are free to get users hooked; others are sold in packs for a modest price. In 2014, LINE introduced a platform where users can create and sell their own stickers. In 2016, it was reported that the company was earning over $270 million a year from stickers sales.

 

LINE and several other messengers also offer games that users can play directly from the chat threads. The revenue comes from the sales of game currency, experiences, or items that help users progress in the game.


Advertising

This monetization strategy is attractive because it enables thousands of marketers to reach millions of active users daily. In-app ads are the primary source of revenue for Snapchat. 


One way is to display ads (such as promotional banners or in-line ads) and get paid when users interact with them. You can also enable users to create and publish their ads and charge for this service.


If advertising fits your business model, you can try it with your MVP mobile app. Just use ads with care. The key to success is not to overload the app with ads and not interrupting the core chat experience. If you’re concerned about users being annoyed, provide the option to turn ads off.



Subscription

WhatsApp used to cost 99 cents annually (after a one-year free trial) but they gave up this monetization model. A paid app that has just been released can hardly compete with free big players in the market. You can add a subscription fee eventually, though, when your user base is large enough and hooked on your messenger. Users might access premium features, disable advertising, or otherwise improve their app experience or business opportunities for a fee.

 

Some messengers offer businesses paid official accounts for connecting with their clients. WhatsApp Business is an example of this strategy. Small businesses can set up profiles with helpful info and answer customer requests. All replies are free if sent within 24 hours. Afterward, WhatsApp charges a fixed fee per late message.


Online payments

Several messengers let users shop in the apps. WeChat charges a percentage for each transaction. Secretum is not the only messenger to deal with cryptocurrency, Telegram might have launched its blockchain platform and cryptocoin and become a full-fledged payment system, hadn’t the SEC sued the company.


Sponsorship

Sponsorship entails partnering with marketers or investors. For instance, branded stickers can promote a company’s upcoming products. Brands can also fund rewards for users who complete specific in-app actions. The app obtains more engaged users and earns money by taking a percentage of the revenue from redeemed rewards.


The methods can be combined, and any monetization strategy will work better if it aligns with the app’s objectives.


5. Pick the platform(s) to create your own messenger

Due to budget and time limitations, app creators usually choose one or two platforms to launch the MVP. Creating a chat app for Android users is preferable if you're aiming at the largest global audience possible or emerging markets. Otherwise, it may be reasonable to choose Apple's platform.

6. Engage with a reliable chatting app development company

The size of the team depends on the size of the project. The must-have list of specialists includes a designer for the user experience and interface (UX/UI), a project manager, software engineers to build your application’s front-end and back-end, QA engineer(s), and possibly security and compliance specialists to ensure complete transparency in data handling and processing and GDPR compliance.



Make sure the chat app development company includes experts experienced in messengers development: they will have to create a reliable platform with the possibility to scale up and add features in the future.


7. Have your messaging app designed, developed, and tested

You’ll have only one chance to impress the users with your product’s look-and-feel. A minimalistic approach to UX/UI is the best for chat apps, as proved by Messenger and WhatsApp. The design should be clear-cut and intuitive. Even the app’s icon on the users’ home screen matters. Hire professional designers who have years of experience, are familiar with dozens of chat apps available on the market, and keep abreast of the latest app design trends.


Ideally, the development company you partner with should also take care of the UI/UX design. The project will proceed faster and cost less if all are working under one roof.


It’s essential to test both the usability and design of your product. Take another round of development to fix all the imperfections.


Simultaneously with your mobile chat app development, you'll want to draw up a marketing strategy, starting from a pre-launch app marketing, app store optimization, and then a further means of engaging and attracting users. Launch a marketing campaign before the app’s release.

After the first version of your mobile app is published, you can start earning money and collect the users’ feedback. Monitor analytics and track user behavior to see what app features drive usage. Soon, you will learn what works, what doesn’t, and how you can make your offer unique.


You will gradually fix the bugs, improve the app, enrich it with new features, and scale-up. Simultaneously, start the development of versions for the web and other operating systems.


Some of the functions you may add to subsequent versions of your chat application may include:


  • Location tracking
  • Stories or other temporary content
  • Scheduling messages in advance (e.g., for birthdays and holidays)
  • Calendar synchronization
  • Secret secure chats with self-destructing messages
  • Use of emails & SMS
  • Spam control and ban policy
  • Video streaming function
  • In-app purchases
  • Stickers (including user-created stickers)
  • Personalization features
  • E-commerce functionality
  • Payment integration
  • AR functionality for business messaging that will help to showcase products
  • A platform for chatbots (the ability to have bots that can facilitate sales or provide customer support will attract businesses to your app)


Chat App Development Challenges

Some of the possible challenges will be technical, and others may come from the business side of the project. It’s good to be aware of at least some of the possible difficulties and know how to act, should they arise.


Market Fit Strategy

The chat app market is rather crowded, and most users already have their favorite app. Still, a smart market strategy can help you reach your target audience. To break through, you need to identify and understand specific user pain points, make sure your app solves them, and then communicate through a marketing campaign how your product solves those pain points.



Security and Compliance 

Users today are very attentive to privacy and security, so it is recommended to address those issues proactively and solve them promptly. At the very least, all data should be encrypted, whether in transit or at rest. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and must-have password complexity will ensure that messages are protected and available only to authorized users.


If your messaging app handles online payments or protected health information, it should also meet specific compliance requirements.


User Adoption and Retention

The number of downloads alone does not equal success. It’s essential that the audience keeps using it regularly and pays for it. One way to facilitate fast onboarding and stable and growing retention is an intuitive and straightforward UI. A clever combination of relevant and effective features with original fun elements can keep people coming back.



App Performance and Scalability

The best way to prevent performance and reliability issues is to get the app architecture and infrastructure right from the very start. Another good practice is a parallel development of updates and features. This approach allows for avoiding unpleasant surprises, e.g., dependencies where an issue with one feature leads to issues or breaks another feature.


Scalability goes hand-in-hand with app performance and is very hard to fix when the product is ready. You need to consider scalability at the very early  project discovery and planning stage. Your chat app needs a thoroughly configured infrastructure, and as it grows, you can get help from a dedicated DevOps team to handle scaling and troubleshooting.



How Much Does It Cost to Make a Messenger App?

A possible answer might be “starting from $20K” or “up to $223K for an app like WhatsApp.” Unfortunately, there’s no single accurate number since the final cost mainly depends on how many functionalities are built and who builds them. 


For the basic MVP features listed in this article, the following estimate can be made:


Discovery/market research stage: from 40 to 50 hours

The discovery phase is necessary for the owner and the development team to study the target audience and competitors, and to discuss, clarify, and select the features of a minimum viable product


Technical specification: from 20 to 30 hours

A technical specification details your project requirements and the plan to reach the goals. Once the requirements are formulated and approved, the development team can start working.


UI/UX design: up to 200 hours

Based on information gathered during the previous stages, a UI and UX expert creates a prototype to demonstrate and test the interface and features of the upcoming product.


Front-end: from 300 to 400 hours

Front-end developers convert every approved prototype into real screens that users will interact with. Apps for Android may take a bit longer to develop due to the peculiarities of the platform.


Back-end: from 500 to 550 hours

Back-end developers work on all the behind-the-scenes activities that happen when a user performs any action within the app.


QA: from 180 to 200 hours

The QA team works to detect any issues that might negatively affect the app experience and performance.


According to Clutch, app developers in the US charge $150-200 per hour. Hourly rates in Western Europe are $100-150 per hour, while development teams in Eastern Europe charge $25-50 per hour for their services.


We can roughly estimate the cost of chat app development by using the formula:


According to the numbers listed above, it may cost roughly $28K-$66K to build a messenger app in Ukraine or Romania. Yet, like with any mobile app development, the factors that contribute to the project timeline and final cost may include, but are not limited to:


  • the required functionalities and features
  • number of screens
  • choice of the platform(s) and devices the app will run on
  • UX/UI design requirements
  • number of people working on the product
  • any release deadlines


You can’t really manipulate the business objectives, the platform, the required functionality, and app quality, but outsourcing the design, development, and testing tasks can help reduce the cost significantly.


Finally, remember that MVPs are made to test ideas, market needs, customer behavior, and product-related risks with minimum effort. Any MVP will still be cheaper than a full-fledged product with sophisticated features and fancy UI design that fails in the market.


Onix’s Experience in Messaging App Development

Our company has extensive experience in mobile chat app development. More often than not, a messenger is a part of a bigger app rather than a stand-alone solution. Our clients want to integrate social functions because they make apps more attractive and valuable for end-users.


One example of a built-in messenger is a fitness app’s chat. The users need this functionality to keep in touch with their coach and share their achievements with friends. Having a coach and like-minded people at one’s fingertips can be very motivating. 


Moreover, when built-in chats are used for chit-chat, sending fun stickers and emoji, audio and video file sharing, more users tend to ‘stick’ to the app.

Another example is a messenger integrated into an eLearning portal. The functionality proved to be quite thoughtful when the pandemic affected the students’ lifestyle and learning routines. 


Now, the educational portal users have at their disposal private, group, and event chats and media sharing options - and it is a small bit of what we can develop. Custom emoji and stickers are the next task, aiming to make the service even more appealing for youngsters.


Final Thoughts

The messengers market still has room for new players and ideas. Companies that build a messenger app for internal use create a variety of opportunities and benefits for their employees, partners, clients, and prospects they may not fully realize yet.

  

Whether you’re about to add messaging functionality to your existing mobile application or wonder how to create a messaging app from scratch, it’s usually wise to start small. This approach is especially relevant for startups. Chatting app MVP development demands modest investment, helps reduce business risks, and facilitates fast feedback from real users.


Whatever features you have to implement, it takes competent and reliable software developers to build them correctly. Onix’s mobile app developers helped create quality products for clients from all over the world. If you need advice or look for dedicated professionals for Android/iOS or hybrid messaging app development — contact us!


FAQ

I have an idea for a chat app like WhatsApp/Telegram, but with better/more features. How do I get started?

It is recommended to build a minimum viable product (MVP) first to market-proof your idea quickly and cheaply. Building one takes about a couple of months and is enough to give you and potential users an idea about the product. You can also pitch the MVP for funding to build a full-fledged marketable product. A dedicated development team can help you turn your app idea into a prototype - so please feel free to contact us to discuss it!



How to make a messaging app from scratch?

It is recommended to start with market, competitor, and user research and idea validation to ensure that it will be in demand. Next, the process is the same as with any other type of application:


  • Formulate the requirements
  • Design an attractive and user-friendly interface
  • Choose a monetization strategy
  • Hire a qualified development team
  • Develop and test your MVP


What are the challenges to building a messenger app?

The key challenges are security and compliance requirements, scalability, finding the product-market fit, and making users use your product regularly.


What else to consider when building a real-time chat app?

Apart from learning about the target audience and user behavior, consider power and data consumption. If your app boosts data usage too much or drains the battery dry too fast, there won’t be many people using it, regardless of its great features and design.


How long does it take to create a messaging app like WhatsApp?

The time required for making a WhatsApp-like app from scratch ranges from 2 to around 6 months.