How many messenger apps can you count off the top of your head? Probably, more than one. They’re quite varied these days, users have a range to choose from. At the same time, there’s always something lacking — just a little bit, but users would always crave something else, something more. That’s why there’s still space on the messenger app market.
In this article, we’ll tell you about mobile chat app development: types, processes, costs. We’ll apply the knowledge we’ve gained while developing a messenger app focused on tight security and work-life balance for users in the Middle East region. Read on for statistics and experience-based information, or scroll down to a section with cost estimates.
Should you create a chat app like WhatsApp in 2022?
As of January 2022, the top-6 popular messaging apps have globally had over 5.9 billion monthly active users. Granted, most of us have more than one messenger installed, so the mean number of messaging apps users is probably somewhere around 3.21 billion. But even so, WhatsApp alone boasts 2 billion MAU. That’s 1/4 out of the nearly 8 billion of people currently living on our planet. Imagine the scale.
While WhatsApp has been dominating the global messenger app market for years, the number of chat apps challenging it — like Telegram, for example — shows that there’s still space to create a messaging app that will have high chances of becoming popular. Especially if you focus on a specific region. Some examples of messengers popular in certain parts of the world:
- Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia — LINE
- China — WeChat, QQ
- South Korea — KakaoTalk
- Eastern Europe and Africa — Viber
- Vietnam — Zalo
- Qatar — imo
These might not be bigger or more popular apps when compared with WhatsApp, but they have earned significant loyalty in their countries and are successful businesses. We see the existence of successful niche competitors to WhatsApp as a clear sign of demand, and that is enough reason to engage more in instant messenger app development.
Messenger app types
It’s possible to sort messenger apps by different parameters, but as a tech company, we would mainly differentiate them by the way they are developed. There are two main ways to build a messaging app: HTTP + Push Notifications and Extensive Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) with Sockets-placed chat.
The HTTP + Push Notifications model does not provide a constant real-time connection. Basically, what happens is this:
- A client sends a request to a server
- The server brings the accomplished request back
For instance, Instagram’s comments work this way — one user leaves a like or a comment, then the recipient gets a push notification. Only once the app is reopened it reconnects to a server.
The XMPP + Sockets-based chat model is when the server-client connection is held constantly, in the background. If the connection is lost, users are switched to an offline mode. WhatsApp and most other instant messaging apps employ this model, and therefore, that will be most likely the model if you’re planning to create a messaging app like WhatsApp.
At the same time, even instant messaging apps still need push notifications so chances are, you’ll be combining the two models.
How you can compete with an application like WhatsApp
WhatsApp seems enormous and taking it on is a daunting task however you look at it. But daunting does not equal impossible, and while an app is yet to appear that will bite off a big chunk of WhatsApp’s users, the success of other instant messaging apps shows that the giants can move a little to allow competition.
So what do existing competitors have to offer that made it possible for them to become successful and popular messengers? Quite a bit, actually.
- Tencent messengers WeChat and QQ target mainly Chinese markets, which are huge. Both WeChat and QQ are also more than just messengers, they’re whole ecosystems with in-app payments for shopping, gaming, social networking opportunities. Both are considered super apps.
- Telegram offers self-destructing heavily encrypted secret chats, social network-like public channels, an infinite number of sticker collections plus an opportunity to easily create your own. There’s more but let’s stop here.
- Snapchat’s uniqueness is that it’s a messenger and a photo app for in-the-moment communication, since everything posted disappears after a short time.
- Signal offers bare minimum design-wise but is probably the most secure messenger today.
As you can see, as long as you develop an app like WhatsApp but with a twist — a unique feature or several — your product has all the chances to be a commercial success.
Case in point: One of our projects in recent years was an instant messenger for the Middle East region. It responded to several pains of users in that region:
- It boasted extremely high levels of data protection and had high-end privacy settings.
- It offered an opportunity for users to separate their work-related communication from personal one without the need to create two separate accounts.
By properly focusing on the niche target audience and main unique features, we’ve built an app that’s been downloaded over 17,000 times. For an app focused on one region, this is a great result.
Features to include for an app like WhatsApp & their costs
In this section, we’d like to list the features we’d recommend considering if you want to create a messaging app like WhatsApp. We consider this list to hold the most important features without which few, if any, instant messaging apps will survive on the competitive market. However, we also advise our clients and our readers to conduct thorough research on which features their target audience needs, and which might be postponed to after the MVP.
In the table below, we list the features themselves as well as approximate time to implement them into a mobile app. For this estimate, we go by developing an app for one platform — either iOS or Android. The time estimate will not differ too greatly between these two platforms.
If you decide to launch your messenger app for both platforms (for example, if your target area holds near to 50/50 ratio of Android and iOS users), the Android and iOS development can, of course, take place at the same time.
The estimate here includes only the development stage. We will provide a fuller estimate, complete with design, project management, and testing hours, in a separate section.
|Feature||Time, h||Cost, USD|
|Sign-up with phone number validation||36||1,620|
|Profile (phone number, icon upload, bio, username)||20||900|
|List of contacts||24||1,080|
|Contact/group info (with shared media)||64||2,880|
|Sync with device contacts||38||1,710|
|App settings (notifications, storage and data use, etc.)||40||1,800|
|Starred/pinned messages and contacts||32||1,440|
|Connect web/desktop (QR reader)||16||720|
|Account settings (privacy & security, connected devices, change phone number, delete account)||32||1,440|
|Chats settings (themes, text settings, accessibility features, etc.)||80||3,600|
You might have noticed that the list above contains some features most messenger apps rolled out at later stages of app launch. We’re talking about features like audio and video calls. Naturally, you can do the same, or it’s possible to leave out the calling functionality completely, since the essence of an instant messaging app is in delivering text messages.
However, these days, users have certain expectations when it comes to messengers, and such a decision might be unwise. A deep research into your target audience will help you prioritize features to build WhatsApp like app MVP better.
Apart from the features everyone already expects a messenger to have, you’ll also need a unique value proposition — a feature or several that will make your app attractive to the users. What features might those be? Here are just a few suggestions and how long they’ll take to build:
- Custom photo editor (basic editing plus frames and filters) — 120h+
- In-built browser (like Telegram’s Instant View) — 32h+
- Scheduled messages and reminders — 48h+
- Self-destructing messages or chats — 32h+
- Location sharing — 100h+
- Group calls — 240h+
- Voice and video messages — 180h+
- People nearby — 160h+
These are considered advanced features as they require more time to implement and sometimes extra tech, which will inevitably increase your chat app development cost. However, they might also become your app’s way to get ahead of competition.
Tech stack for your messaging app like WhatsApp
To develop a messaging app like WhatsApp, you need to carefully consider the choice of technologies. A mobile chat messenger is a peculiar app with a certain level of complexity when it comes to development. For starters, users these days expect their communication to be safe and protected — against hackers, advertising agencies, and governments. The Cambridge Analytica scandal happened quite some time ago but its repercussions are still heard all over the world.
Hence, a big part of mobile chat app development will focus on data protection. Encryption and implementation of the latest most secure safety certificates are a must. Moreover, encryption will have to be applied to not just text messages but calls and file sharing, too.
Your app will need a strong backend to manage the message exchange, file sharing, and quality audio/video calls between numerous users at the same time. For this reason, while developing a messenger app for our Middle East client, we’ve switched from Ruby on Rails to Elixir for server part development. Ruby on Rails isn’t fit for high loads successful messenger apps have.
There are more challenges on the path of real-time chat app creation, as our experience shows. However, none are damning and all are solvable. You can check out some tech stack we used in a secure messenger already in the table below. The list of solutions isn’t exhaustive, of course, and we’re also adaptable to new technologies.
Team of designers and developers for your app like WhatsApp
To make an app like WhatsApp, you’ll need a team of experts. Besides developers, which is obvious, you will need other specialists as well. In this section, we’ll explain what specialists will be necessary and how to find a good partner to entrust your project to.
In short, the list looks like this:
- 1 project manager
- 1–2 UI/UX designers
- 1–2 iOS developers
- 1–2 Android developers
- 1 backend developer
- 1 frontend developer
- 1–2 QA engineers
The longer explanation is below.
Unless you want to personally manage all project intricacies yourself, you’ll need a person to do that. A project manager is someone who coordinates the development, assigns tasks to team members, and controls these tasks’ completion. They also conduct research together with analytics, manage documentation, curate requirements compliance, and report to the client.
A project manager follows the project from start to finish, from the first contact between the team and the client to launch day, and sometimes after that as well, for future iterations.
Project management time: 730 h
Designers create the user experience within your group chat app. This means both the visuals and the user journey: what button leads to what screen, the user-friendly interface, and how to make it engaging for users. Usually, the process starts with a navigation concept, a series of simple wireframes to sketch the user journey. After multiple iterations of increasing complexity, you receive a final design of your future app.
UI/UX design time: 220 h
iOS and Android development
This is the development phase itself, which includes the app core development for your selected platforms as well as the implementation of features. We’ll calculate the time necessary based on the table of features in a section above.
iOS development time: 1,460 h
Android development time: 1,460 h
Even if your messenger does not store users’ messages on servers (to offer top-shelf data privacy), it will still need a server-side for operations. And server-side development is, as we’ve mentioned, not a simple matter. To ensure quality service, the backend development needs ample time.
Backend development time: 800 h
Finally, testing is another process you can’t go without if you want to have a stable bug-free application. For those inquiring how to build an app like WhatsApp, we always stress on the importance of testing since a bug in the system might become a vulnerability in your data safety, and an app crash can cost you valuable users who will leave for a more stable app.
Testing time: 860 h
You can hire the specialists separately or as a team. Usually, hiring specialists separately is the choice when you already have an in-house team and only need experts to do specific tasks. For example, you might need someone adept at a certain technology, or a specialist you only need for a part of the development process.
If you’re planning to gather a whole team to outsource the development to, it might be more sensible to approach an outsourcing company. This will save you time you’d otherwise have to spend looking for each professional. Another benefit of this approach is that teams in outsourcing companies are well-synced, have no barriers in communicating, and generally understand each other better.
Finally, an outsourcing company will surely agree to and uphold the non-disclosure agreement.
You can find separate specialists in outsourcing companies as well, of course. For example, Mind Studios provides staff augmentation services alongside offering full-stack development teams.
How much it costs to develop an app like Whatsapp
The cost of making an app like WhatsApp will consist of several parts and will depend heavily on the features you’d want to implement. We’ve already listed the features in a table in the corresponding section so you could refer to it to choose what features to include and what to leave out in your cost calculation.
In this section, on the other hand, we will list other processes in addition to the development itself — for those interested in hiring a full-stack team. Building a mobile app is a multifaceted process, after all.
|Stage||Time, h||Cost, USD|
|Discovery / research||80||3,600|
Mind Studios' experience in messaging app development
In 2020, we released the MVP version of a secure messenger for the Middle East market. It was — and is! — a project full of interesting challenges. The initial question was how to make an app like WhatsApp but better and suitable for the region with historically tight restriction on VoIP and messenger apps.
The two main pain points for the target audience were:
- Work-life balance
It took some time to solve the numerous issues, like managing the load, sharing files without sacrificing encryption, battling bots, building two “groups” with customizable notification settings within the same account to separate work communication from personal, and more. But at the end of a metaphorical day, we’ve released an app that became a successful solution, was downloaded 17k times, and raised investment for further development.
Now, we continue working on this messenger, enriching it with features. Our client has big ideas and we are hyped to turn them into reality.
Messaging app market has huge potential. Globally popular messaging solutions don’t even cover 50% of the global market: as of June 2022, WhatsApp is dominating 31% of the global market, Facebook Messenger — 7%, and Telegram 4% (source: SimilarWeb). That’s 42% of the market conquered. This means that the other 58% are a playground for other apps, some of them local, others just niche in their feature sets. The chances of winning over a solid chunk of users are still high.
Moreover, new messaging apps gather a lot of attention as there are quite a number of opportunities for improvement in existing solutions. This leaves ample space to build a messaging app like WhatsApp that will become a lucrative business by solving some of the users’ pains.
If you’re aspiring to plunge into the business of messengers, we can be of help. Mind Studios has experience building successful messaging apps from scratch, solving all issues that come our way. Get in touch with us and see for yourself: our managers provide a free consultation where they will answer all your questions.