In this article, we explore the development of VoIP apps based on our experience developing a secure chat and VoIP messenger for the Middle East region. Read on if you want to learn how to make an app like Discord, Skype, or Telegram.
Future of VoIP apps
In 2021, the global market for VoIP services was worth $85.2 billion and according to the Research and Markets, it will grow to $102.5 billion by 2026. The COVID-19 pandemic gave a big push to the industry that was already growing fast.
The technology is also on the side of VoIP apps — new protocols for faster and better connection at lower cost are released every year. For those who wish to make a voice chat application, this means lower investment with higher possible returns.
For the closest future, the VoIP industry is predicted to make use of AI and machine learning, especially in brand-customer communications. This means that VoIP is becoming an integral part of virtual assistants and chatbots — instead of communicating with a chatbot over text, customers call it.
At the same time, in the main industry for VoIP use — messenger apps — we see the increasing demand for mobile apps instead of desktop or web applications. On the rise is the use of mobile VoIP apps in workplace communication: about 59% of employees are reported to use more than one device at work.
New VoIP apps are also expected to offer video conferencing or video calls as well, likely also due to the pandemic-related lack of face-to-face communication.
Finally, as a result of the overall rise for VoIP demand and of stricter compliance regulations, the issue of communication security will be front and center of the future of VoIP development. We’ll see more sophisticated encryption and the increased use of AI for fraud protection.
Now, keeping in mind all this, let’s go over the VoIP app development insights we at Mind Studios have to offer.
Features to Consider for a Discord-like App MVP
Discord is sort of a combination of messenger and a forum board, which makes it extremely useful for semi-large and large groups of people to communicate regularly and keep tabs on everything of importance. Built around VoIP as its core, it is nonetheless different from a regular messengers like WhatsApp or Telegram. Discord shares some similarities with Slack but is ultimately also different. Let us go over Discord app features one might consider for a new VoIP app.
Servers and channels
Servers and channels are spaces where people hang out in groups. It can be groups dedicated to certain topics, or it can be groups of co-workers, for example.
Discord was created as a messenger for gamers but the system of servers (which can be closed) with multiple chats and channels with limited posting rights is extremely convenient for any group to communicate and distribute information/tasks. Thanks to this functionality, it’s not a rare occasion for companies to employ Discord for communication.
Roles and permissions
Admins can assign roles for members and tweak permissions within servers and channels. It’s possible to adjust roles and permissions for all channels on a Discord server as well as for each channel separately (channel settings will override server settings in this case).
In traditional messaging apps, there are one or two roles that can be appointed in group chats — chat admin and sometimes chat moderator. These roles have specified permissions for managing the group. On Discord, there are about thirty options for permissions, and you can combine them in a number of ways. This flexibility in managing channels is one of the most attractive features of Discord. Consider it if you plan to make a website like Discord.
Discord was created primarily for voice communication, though of course text messaging is also possible. Discord allows for both voice and video chats, and there are dedicated voice channels without a messaging option. Participants can connect to those channels and start talking or listening in a couple of clicks.
Video calls and streaming
Video calls aren’t necessarily a must in a VoIP calling app but it’s a functionality many users expect to have these days. Discord does offer video chats, and if you plan to build a voice chat app to rival Discord at some scale, consider implementing this functionality as well.
In Discord, voice and video chat functionality is built using WebRTC (web real-time communication), an open source project that uses APIs to provide applications with high-quality audio and video communication.
If you’re planning to make a voice and text chat service like Discord, file sharing is a must. All messaging apps today have this feature, so skipping it would be a mistake. Discord falls short here compared to Slack, however: it has a file upload limit of 8 MB for a free account and 50 MB with the Discord Nitro subscription plan. However, this doesn’t seem to be a big problem with users. You’ll need to research the needs of your target audience to calculate reasonable file size limits (if any). Uploading large files generally requires more powerful servers.
Some chat apps offer a setting where your messages are automatically cleared after some time. This is mainly done to offer secrecy and privacy, but it can also save storage on users’ devices: text messages don’t really weigh much, but they can accumulate with time. This feature can be valuable if you use an app a lot but rarely go back to check messages and files sent.
On the other hand, if you’re making an analog of Discord for business, you’ll need to think about providing unlimited storage. The value of reviewing communications from months back can’t be overestimated when it comes to business.
Furthermore, if you do offer a long or unlimited storage history, you should also implement search functionality. This will make the user experience much smoother.
Every messaging tool needs notifications. At the same time, a modern chat app needs an option to partially or completely mute notifications — you don’t want your phone blaring with a call or beeping with continuous messages when you’re at school, at a board meeting, or on a date, after all.
Here’s what might be useful in notification settings of a chat app:
- Mute all notifications
- Mute specific channels/groups
- Partial mute option 1 — users get notified when their username is @mentioned
- Partial mute option 2 — users get notified when specific words are used
The option to integrate other accounts and services with your chat app isn’t a must but can be a nice addition. For example, you can allow users to connect their social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook or to connect their YouTube or Spotify accounts. If you’re making a chat for gamers, Twitch and/or Steam integration will be a winning feature. For businesses, it can be industry-specific apps and networks.
Screen sharing is another exceptionally useful feature for messengers, and this one isn’t yet too widespread. The option to share your PC or mobile screen with those you’re talking to will come in handy not just for gamers but for coworkers as well, making it easier to relay your message with the help of visuals.
Those using your chat service for business will also love it if you add a bit of Figma to your Discord, i.e. implement a feature to not only share the screen but leave notes on the shared screen. Let’s take a team working on visuals as an example. When a designer shares their screen with a design they’re creating, other group members might draw over it to offer corrections and ideas. This makes communication more efficient.
One of the features that sets Discord apart from its competitors in VoIP messengers is the option for tech-savvy users to tweak the desktop app to add bots and special features.
On the other hand, this isn’t really a feature used by many, and it also might be challenging to implement, so whether you need it in your VoIP calling app will depend on your target audience.
What other features can be added to become better than Discord
Discord is really a feat for its primary target audience of gamers, and it even offers paid plans to cater to other audiences like businesses seeking convenient communication tools. However, there are reasons people choose other VoIP services over Discord.
So, anyone willing to enter the market of VoIP apps has this card to play: analyzing other apps and adding features from them that Discord lacks. Here are just a few.
More color themes
Developer tools allow configuring the Discord app but for regular users without tech knowledge, Discord only has the standard and the dark theme. Mostly, this is due to the fact that Discord users rarely need fancy interface; they flock to this app for other reasons (e.g. community, quality audio calls, possibility to host thousands of users in a single server).
As you ponder how to create a voice chat application, consider adding customization. You can add a limited easy-to-use customization like most messenger apps; or you can additionally offer those familiar with CSS — and easy enough to master programming language — to change the whole app theme. This is a fairly popular solution for techies among Slack aficionados.
Discord servers are centralized, which means that technically, it’s possible to access data on any servers and channels hosted by Discord from the app owners’ side. This also makes it easy to go around server-specific bans and restrictions.
You can get a peep of an alternative solution from TeamSpeak. It’s an older VoIP app also targeted at gamers. Among its features are decentralized and self-hosted servers. Self-hosted servers offer owners more control over everything that’s going on with a server, starting with permissions and ending with encryption.
Voice and video messages
Discord is a top-notch VoIP service for live communication. But it lacks one feature that users might love. An ability to send video and audio messages was pioneered by Telegram years back and it’s been a huge success. Consider it when you build a voice chat app of your own.
Messages to self
Another feature messengers and VoIP apps copy from Telegram is the so-called Saved Messages. This is a feature that allows users to send messages they wish to remember in a separate chat.
Project management tools
If you’re thinking about how to create an app like Discord but for businesses, you can take a page out of nTask’s book. Besides VoIP and other communication features, which aren’t at the core of the app, nTask offers reminders, task progress tracking features, and the use of Kanban boards and Gantt charts.
One of the alternatives to Discord is Wire, a secure messenger created solely with business in mind. And one of its most popular features is the option to safely communicate with people who have no Wire account.
Guest rooms are often used to add clients to team communication without burdening them with creating an account they won’t use for anything else.
However, this feature would only be a win for your Discord web app alternative if you implement high-level security and encryption for text, voice, video communication as well as for shared media.
Voice app design best practices
Discord is so popular that one might assume its design is utterly perfect. However, as it turns out, the service’s selling point is just so good that Discord’s somewhat counterintuitive UX is happily overlooked by users. After all, people get used to everything as long as their needs are met.
What we’re trying to say here is that Discord is hardly perfect in its UI and UX. In fact, multiple case studies are made on the topic of Discord UX improvements.
So what are the best practices an experienced UI/UX designer would apply for voice chat app development?
The biggest issue many designers find with Discord UX is that the list of servers a user participates in gets confusing the more servers the user gets in: the servers on a side panel are only displayed with icons, which may change.
When you decide to build VoIP software similar to Discord — i.e. with an option to be part of multiple spaces — give extra thought to how to make it intuitive. It might be some way of sorting said spaces or distinguishing between them easily. And the same goes for any lists in the app, be it channels, direct messages, or friend lists.
Another design recommendation from us is carefully examining your target audience and making the design engaging for them. For example, Discord is initially a VoIP app for gamers but yours might be aimed at business communication. Both UI and UX will differ for these two audiences. Business people and companies often expect stricter designs and would find it great to add corporate branding.
Finally, an ever-going trend in app design in general and in communication apps in particular is accessibility. If you decide to build a competitor to Discord web app, consider offering flexibility and extra features for users with disabilities. This might include larger fonts and more contrast-y themes for users with low vision, voice-to-text and text-to voice for blind users and those with mobility disabilities.
How to make a voice and text chat like Discord
Discord is built with the help of top-shelf modern technologies. One we’ve already mentioned is the WebRTC project. But there are more technologies you’ll need to use if you’re going to create a voice chat service like Discord.
Server-side tech stack
The core of any chat app is the server part, also called the backend. A good backend for mobile apps ensures that communication between users will be smooth and uninterrupted. If your idea is a large-scale web and/or mobile app to connect a big chunk of the world’s population — like Discord, which has over 250 million users — you’ll need a backend of superb quality.
Technologies that Discord uses for backend:
On the other hand, if your VoIP application isn’t targeted at millions of users, you can hire backend specialists working with Node.js. This will be cheaper and simpler, but the load you’ll be able to manage will be somewhat limited.
Client side tech stack
Discord can be used on any device: there’s an app for Windows desktop, Linux, Android, iOS, and macOS. There’s also a web version. Discord is aimed at gamers, who can be found everywhere and who use every platform in existence.
If your Discord alternative isn’t targeted at gamers, it would probably be more logical to focus on a web browser version and Android and iOS apps. Unless your pre-development research brings different results as to what devices your target audience uses for communication, of course.
Challenges in building an app like Discord
When you build a voice chat and text messaging app like Discord, you mustn’t overlook the issue of encryption and data protection. Messaging apps aren’t public boards or Facebook Feeds, even if there are hundreds of users in a chat. Any information can go through apps like Discord, including personal data and sensitive business information.
Today, the best way to protect user data is with end-to-end encryption using TLS protocols.
The world is a twisted place and whether it’s a messenger, a forum, or a social network, chances are there will be users hellbent on destroying others’ experience. If you’re building a voice chat app for diverse social groups and not for business communication, you’ll need to offer a reporting feature and have a team of moderators to impose bans for violating your Terms of Service.
This, however, might clash with privacy of users, so you’ll need to carefully work out the proper way to conduct moderation. For example, Discord itself doesn’t monitor users’ communication at all times — the company states that users’ privacy is their core value. Instead, Discord’s moderators rely on reports from users for severe cases of ToS abuse (like servers dedicated to terrorism or white supremacy), while owners of servers manage inside moderation on those servers themselves.
Messenger apps are a dime a dozen these days, meaning finding your users and enticing them to choose your VoIP software over some other is a challenge all right.
What we usually recommend our clients when it comes to finding first adopters is:
- Creating landing pages
- Developing an MVP for early launch
- Having consistent presence on social media and forums
- Running ad campaigns
- Approaching influencers in their niche
- Email marketing
There are more ways to market a new VoIP app you might uncover through the initial development stage — the Discovery.
What options are there for monetizing apps like Discord?
The traditional app monetization models are:
- Paid downloads
- In-app purchases
To avoid overwhelming you with information, we’d just like to note that the freemium model — a free download with optional premium subscription plans or one-time purchases — has proven the best option across most chat apps like Discord. It allows casual and light users to use the app for free while those in need of extra features can pay. There are no restrictions in communication between paying and non-paying users.
Paid downloads are a good solution if you already have a solid reputation and a pool of users willing to trust your new VoIP software. Ads are usually discouraged in apps dealing with personal or business communication.
However, you can, of course, research your target audience and come up with an alternative solution.
How much does it cost to make an app like Discord?
Once you’ve decided to entrust the development of your custom voice chat app to a development company, consider the scale of your app and what platform you’re targeting: It’s usually cheaper and more reliable to outsource development for all platforms to a single company.
At Mind Studios, we develop apps for the three most popular platforms: iOS, Android, and web browsers. If you decide to develop for all three, this will be the team you’ll need:
- 1 project manager
- 1–2 UI/UX designers
- 1–2 Android developers
- 1–2 iOS developers
- 1 frontend developer for a web app
- 1–2 backend developers
- 1–2 QA specialists
Things that will influence the final cost are the number of people involved, the complexity and number of features, and the timeframe. With a tighter schedule, more people will be needed to complete tasks on time. Hence, completing a project faster without sacrificing quality will be more expensive.
Here are the rough breakdown of stages for VoIP chat app development.
|Stage||Time required (hours)|
|Discovery and idea validation||60|
|UI/UX research and prototyping||180+|
|Front-end (web interface)||320+|
A rough estimate of the cost to make a chat app like Discord under standard conditions is $67,950 and up for one mobile platform (iOS or Android). This includes backend development and testing. If you add another mobile platform, expect to invest an additional $32,000, which will include extra testing but no backend as it’s the same for all apps. The development of a VoIP app for web will cost an extra $23,000 (again, with testing and no backend).
Mind Studios experience
One of the ongoing projects Mind Studios has is a highly secure video and audio chat app created for personal and business communication. During its development, we’ve mastered several new technologies, dived deep into encryption and data protection and as a result, we’ve managed to build an app whose security rivals that of Signal but the UI/UX is much smoother.
The app MVP is currently in beta, it has been downloaded 17K times and has already hosted over 366,000 messages.
Discord-like app development: Summing up
VoIP chat apps aren’t the easiest to build. A lot of things must be taken into consideration: the tech behind group voice and video calls is in constant development, and you also have high-priority data protection issues to resolve, powerful secure servers with solid backends to maintain, etc. It’s not a simple task by any stretch.
In this article, we’ve covered the questions that often arise when one searches for information about how to build a voice chat like Discord. If you’ve found this article useful and need a more in-depth consultation or are interested in developing a chat app, contact us. It’s free :)