How Much Does It Cost to Build a Messaging App Like WhatsApp

Did you know that texts in mobile chat applications can be life-saving? BBC reports that British surgeon David Nott performed a life-saving operation on a teenage boy in Congo. He had never done this surgery before—few in the world had—but he pulled it off by receiving a text message instructions on the procedure from a colleague.

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Since that time, WhatsApp had a jump-start, and the question of how to create an app like WhatsApp had been raised bazillion times more frequently. But what does it really take to make a chat application?

Have No Idea What to Do? Text.

What do you use your smartphone for? I mean, not simply a phone, as the primary function of the phone is to perform a call. The smartphone was built for all-possible-communications, and texting has become a major socializing tool. In its turn, user’s love for messanges has resulted in a wide variety of chat apps to choose from - to get everybody what he wants. Looking for some lovely photo-frames? Try Snapchat! Cute stickers are preferable? Telegram kicks it with it’s amount of custom-made collections of diverse emojis. Currently in China and found out your Facebook Messenger does not seem to work properly? WeChat is an application “for everything”, designed specifically for Chinese market. They have you covered.
Read about The Cost of Making an App Like SnapChat

The varity of chat apps might be countless, but the Statista’s data accutely proves that there are the Great 10 Messangers that clearly have a lion’s share on the market. And that somehow, WhatsApp is the leader standing on a sound base, for 2 years in a row already. So What really stands behind the WhatsApp success?

Read more: How to Make a Really Secure Messaging App Similar to Signal?

What’s up, WhatsApp?

“Not much, just acquired the user base of more-than-a-billion of people” might be an answer from the most popular messaging app on Earth. Why would I claim it to be the most widespread one?
Now, a few facts that actually prove WhatsApp is an app popular with crowds go below:

  • Appeared first as a cross-platform application in 2009, coded by an outsourced iOS developer from Russia;

  • Facebook bought it for 19. 3 billion US dollars in 2014;

  • Freeware in the beginning, became a paid app to slow down the popularity, and later switched to free usage once again;

  • Encrypted secure messages were implemented after WhatsApp became a victim of hackery for 6 times in the past 6 years;

  • Has the video call function added recently;

  • In February 2016 WhatsApp has finally hit the checkpoint of more than 1 billion users globally;

Such a great quantity of users is an irrefutable proof that application has some good times, but what makes a social networking app perform that well? We will try to highlight that taking WhatsApp as an example.

Chats and their types.

Many popular chats all over the world
The main essence WhatsApp has is a real time chat users can run there. Developers worldwide have already come up with a few schemes messengers could be based on, all of them serving a different purpose. The types depend on the connection your chat is meant to use - it might either be HTTP + Push Notifications or Extensive Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) protocol with Sockets-placed chat.

  1. HTTP + Push Notifications works well when a user needs to leave some feedback or a comment as these scheme does not supply you with real time connection. Basically, what happens is that client sends a request to a server, and, in its turn, server brings the accomplished request back. For instance, Instagram’s comments work this way - you get to leave a like/ a comment, then this user receives a push-notification, and once the app is reopened it reconnects to a server.

Would like to know what is it that Instagram is made of? Read our article How Much Does it Cost To Build a Photo-Sharing App Like Instagram?

  1. The second type of XMPP protocol + chat on Sockets is when the server-client connection is held constantly. WhatsApp and, perhaps, every other instant messaging app has based their conversation modes on this scheme. Once the connection is lost - you are switched to an offline mode. The only thing about this chat concept is that it affects device’s battery in a deadly way.

The perfect match when you start building a mobile messaging app is to have your own Protocol and Socket built as the examples of Viber and WhatsApp show. Under any circumstances though you will also need to have a HTTP + push-notifications default built-in.

More Than a Messenger.

WhatsApp may be the leader among the competitors, but contestants like WeChat still manage to cover their market part. What is the unique value proposition they offer? The answer is pretty simple - everything. Take a look at WeChat. Not only the messaging option is available, but also a user profile, instant calls, QR-code scan, newsfeed, an ability to upload pictures and a broad collection of cute stickers to choose from - all of these used to make UX unforgettably handy to use. Socket-based technology and custom-written frameworks allow to implement all of the previously-mentioned features, however, the more options wanted - the bigger stack of tech becomes, and so the scope of work also increases.

Finally, Chat App Development Cost.

As we have emphasized, the chat messengers are diversified. They serve a variety of purposes, leaving the prior one - communication among the users yet at the app’s core. So, eventually, it is the question of price when speaking of how to develop a mobile chat application.
The standard MVP we as chat app developers are about to cover would be a WhatsApp clone with all the same features.

For iOS it would require the following development operations:

Feature Hours needed
Onboarding with phone number validation 24
Favorite contacts 16
Contact info (+ edit contact info, custom notifications, media links and docs, starred messages, save media) 48
Chat with contact 80
Group Chat 80
Group info (media, starred messages, locations, encryption, custom notifications, export) + edit 80
Sync with device contacts 16
Call (voice + video) 140
Calls history 16
Settings 12
Edit profile + Fetch Facebook data 16
Starred messages 12
Connect web/desktop (qr reader) 8
Account (privacy, security, change number, delete account) 20
Chats settings (theme, media downloading) 32
Chats backup 40
Notifications settings 8
Data & Storage usage 16
About app & Help 8
Sharing 4
Encryption 40
Notifications 24
Total 740
As it always goes, the Android chat app development requires a bit more time due to fragmentation and more lines of code to be written on Java.
Feature Hours needed
Onboarding with phone number validation 30
Favorite contacts 24
Contact info (+ edit contact info, custom notifications, media links and docs, starred messages, save media) 60
Chat with contact 90
Group Chat 95
Group info (media, starred messages, locations, encryption, custom notifications, export) + edit 88
Sync with device contacts 25
Call (voice + video) 180
Calls history 20
Settings 17
Edit profile + Fetch Facebook data 20
Starred messages 16
Connect web/desktop (qr reader) 10
Account (privacy, security, change number, delete account) 24
Chats settings (theme, media downloading) 36
Chats backup 44
Notifications settings 12
Data & Storage usage 20
About app & Help 12
Sharing 6
Encryption 48
Notifications 28
Total 905

Back-end development also isn't a thing to forget, so for a WhatsApp-like app server part development would take around 350 hours and more.

The hourly rate may vary, depending on the service provider, platform and type of contract you choose. Therefore, the average price for iOS would start at $27 000 and respectively Android chat app would cost up from $ 30 000.

Making Your App Work For You.

As the “chat wheel” has already been invented in 2000, when Jabber (XMPP later) was launched, so the demanding tech realia wants more and more from your product than just an instant messaging app development. All the retail soothsayers claim that “hybrid products”, serving more than 1 purpose are about to conquer the future market segments, bringing us to the next thesis: that apart from being an excellent tool for communication your product needs some additional features to delight your users.
Though with this affluenza rush every app needs to be profitable for the owner first. The case of the messaging application might be lucrative if you choose a proper monetization scheme to stick to.
Here are a few tricks we would try to roll with as a development team:

  1. In-app advertisement. Snapchat has encouraged people to be seen everywhere while using their Snapads, so it is a great practise to take after for every messenger.

  2. Video calls as the trendiest of trends these days (speaking of which, WhatsApp has just added this feature) + voice messages - annoying for ones, emotionally-connecting the others.

  3. Custom camera and photo editor - for users to take pictures and try payed filters on them.

  4. An ability for documents (PDF, mp3, excel, etcetera) to be sent & received.

  5. Custom calendar and reminders - if your messenger is suitable for business purposes.

  6. Geolocation tracker & in-built navigator - to track user’s whereabouts, same as every other messenger app does.

  7. Private data security - the option of secret chats (à la Telegram’s secret chats) or the self-destruction feature for the selected messages, on both devices respectively.

  8. Video and voice calls might be a money-making privilege, as there is a growing tendency for group chats to kickstart these days.

  9. And many-many more, depending on the way your startup idea has, and our business logic allows. ;)

Apparently the Statista’s survey suggests there is a growing tendency for messaging app’s revenue - here is the graph of potential income in 2020 for all the Message Sharks.
Chat Apps' Revenue in 2020

"Let's make an app like WhatsApp!"

“But come on, there are dozens of chat apps worldwide already!” you might deny, and this statement would be perfectly correct. However, the balanced messenger where all the handy features are meant to serve the thoroughly-chosen audience is something that will always keep users on the edge of their seats.

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Written by Alex Sheyanov, Max Mashkov and Elina Bessarabova.