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August 23, 2022

How to Create a Chat App like WhatsApp: The Extensive Guide

WhatsApp has become one of the most popular messaging apps in the world and its popularity doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. How do you make a competitive app like WhatsApp that will be welcomed by the audience and will be profitable? Here’s the answer.

Mitya Smusin

Chief Executive Officer

The way we couldn’t imagine our life without phone calls a decade ago is the same way we can now hardly imagine it without instant messaging. Today it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t use messaging apps at all or has never heard of them. Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WeChat, Snapchat—the messaging app market acquired some big players that already skimmed the cream off.

The question of how to create a WhatsApp clone is really urgent today. Almost all smartphones have a chat app installed, usually more than one, and each minute their users send billions of text messages, memes, and funny videos to each other.

WhatsApp is one of the most influential and popular instant messaging applications. Founded in 2009, this app has already won the attention of a lot of users, more than 80% download it to stay in touch with their loved ones.

WhatsApp usage reasons

The success of big players like WhatsApp made a lot of entrepreneurs nurture the idea of making a chat application. So, how do you enter the market successfully and make your idea likable to potential users? We are going to help you with that.

Why is this messaging app so popular?

When it comes to instant messaging, WhatsApp is one of the most popular solutions that people use. But what makes WhatsApp so appealing to users? Well, there are plenty of factors that contributed to the worldwide fame of WhatsApp. The most relevant of them are the following:

  • Affordability

Yes, it’s that simple—this instant messaging app is free to use. You need only an active Internet connection to send text, audio, and video messages. When the app was released, it was a true innovation: No fees for messages and calls compared to SMS and calling minutes from mobile carriers.

  • Accessibility

A lot of chat apps exist only on a certain list of platforms and are not available on others. WhatsApp is platform-agnostic meaning you can access it on smartphones, desktops, and even smartwatches.

  • Worldwide usage

Since WhatsApp is available in almost every part of the world, you can easily make fee-free international calls to connect with new people from other countries or stay in touch with your family and friends while abroad.

  • Right timing

WhatsApp was launched in 2009 and was the first messenger app of its kind. People already had Skype for calls, but it was not available on mobile at that time. So, WhatsApp was what people really needed.

  • SMS-like experience

What is good about WhatsApp is that they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and build an entirely new interface that will confuse app users. Instead, they made the app look like SMS messaging so people will feel comfortable when transitioning from SMS to the chat application.

The pandemic that started last year actually brought some positive changes to the market. Working from home and self-isolating played a huge role in chat apps' popularity skyrocketing.

WhatsApp statistics for you to know

If you still have some hesitations about building your own chat app like WhatsApp, here are some distinctive numbers that will show you what your idea can potentially turn into, other things being equal.

  • Active users

In 2022, this metric reached an incredible 2.4 billion monthly active users. Taking into account the previous 1.5 billion users milestone reached in 2018 and 1 billion reached in 2016, WhatsApp acquires half a billion users each two years. It's slowly crawling up to Facebook, the most popular social media platform, which right now has 2.80 billion monthly active users. Impressive, isn't it?

Most popular chat apps

  • The number of downloads

In March 2021, the app was downloaded 12 million times and ended up in the top five most installed non-gaming apps. WhatsApp goes ahead of Zoom, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger. Also, the platform preferences changed: compared to the previous March, iOS users started paying more attention to WhatsApp than Android users.

  • Availability

We already mentioned it as one of the leading factors that contributed to WhatsApp's popularity, and here is the proof: this chat app is available in over 180 countries and 60 different languages. Africa seems to be the most popular region for WhatsApp market presence, with 97% in Kenya and 96% in South Africa. Then there is South America, where Argentina has 93% and Colombia has 92%. Europe is the third region that makes up the top 15 countries of WhatsApp's penetration level, with 85% in the Netherlands and around 83% in Spain and Italy.

  • App’s features and add-ons

In 2017, WhatsApp introduced Status, which is quite similar to Instagram and Snapchat stories. Even though its launch may have been questionable, the popularity of this feature is growing: in 2019, around 500 million people were using Status daily, and now this number may be even higher.

WhatsApp Business is a messaging app that was launched in 2018 for allowing small businesses to establish smoother and more precise communication with their customers. It has labels, chat filters, automated messages, and catalogs for helping businesses organize their customer service. Only a year after its release, it reached the 5 million users mark. Also, for medium and large enterprises there is a WhatsApp Business API that connects businesses with their clients all over the world with the instant messaging feature.

  • WhatsApp’s revenue

Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion, and right now, its revenue is estimated to be from $5 billion to $15 billion. Also, it's worth mentioning that before being acquired by Facebook, WhatsApp got two large investments from Sequoia Capital: $8 million in 2011 and $52 million in 2013.

WhatsApp estimated revenue

All these numbers clearly state that the chat app market is profitable and attractive for investors. With the right approach to development, it’s possible to meet all the audience’s needs and approval. The best way to start building a development strategy for an instant chat app is to define the list of possible functions that your potential app will have.

What features you may use for a WhatsApp clone app

The functionality of your messaging app will define most of the future development process: tech stack, obstacles that may be faced, team size, and potential costs. Some features are considered must-haves for a chat app because they define its main purpose, so they are suitable for MVP or a basic app version, for example. Other functions make the app stand out from the crowd and add more uniqueness. Let’s take a closer look at what you can implement in your project.

Must-have functionality

So, what should your chat app undoubtedly have to get a warm welcome from the audience?

User sign-in/log-in

Most apps, not only chats, start with authorization. There are a lot of ways users can create a profile: via phone number (which is the most popular way), social media, or email. You can implement only one way of authentication, however, making more options for signing up more appreciated by users since they can choose an option they’d prefer.

Contact import

This feature contributes a lot to the app’s user-friendliness. The ability of a chat app to import contacts from your device will make it extremely convenient and free users from the monotonous task of adding numbers to the new app. It would be even better if this process is automatic and kind of backstage.

Messaging

Well, this point is kind of obvious: A chat app cannot exist without its main function—the instant messaging feature. Besides text messaging itself, there are several items to consider while developing this function:

  • Message status—everyone wants to know if their addressee received the message, read it, or edited some of their own.
  • Group chats—it's always fun to stay connected in one virtual space with your family and/or friends.
  • Search—users don't want to scroll the entire conversation to find a message.
  • Voice messaging—this feature can become a very useful option for users when they are in a rush or want to express emotions more clearly.
  • Security—messages must be encrypted so no one can access them without authorization.

Profile customization

People want to show their individuality in all possible ways, and your chat app should not be an exertion. It’s good to implement simple profile customization, like adding an avatar photo or creating a unique username.

WhatsApp personalization screenshot

File sharing

Today, it’s hard to imagine an app like WhatsApp that doesn’t allow users to share photos, videos, and other types of files in a chat. This feature will require permission to access device storage and a fast file transfer system.

Storage

Texts and files sent must be stored, so users can access them anytime, and storing them on the users’ devices may not be a good idea. Cloud services are a better option: The device’s storage is not clogged, and all messages are easy to access.

Push notifications

In today’s unstoppable flow of information, app users want to be notified about messages from others, so push notifications are a must for a chat app. But don’t forget to enable a muting function, either complete or partial because sometimes they can become a distraction.

WhatsApp notifications settings

Location integration and sharing

This feature can be handy when you are looking for a meeting point or get lost in an unknown place. You can send your location to a friend, and they can help you out.

Killer features

We finished with the functions that will become the base of your chat app. Now, let us show you some level-up features that can become your competitive advantage in the market.

Advanced customization

Sometimes, avatar photos and usernames are not enough. Users also can change the chat background, choose a color palette for an interface, change text fonts, and search for funny stickers (or even create them) in your messaging app.

WhatsApp advenced personalization screenshot

Voice and video calls

Call integration is a useful feature for chat apps. It allows users to save money on mobile calls and talk to each other in real-time. Also, implementing group calls can present an advantage.

Broadcasting

Message broadcasting is not the same as group chats, since when you broadcast the message, you send it to all of them separately. There is no way other recipients can know who else got this message. Such a feature can find its recognition among news agencies or bloggers who can communicate with their fans in a more personalized way.

Now that we have defined the list of features we want to implement, it’s time to start building an app!

Main steps on how to build an app like WhatsApp

App development is a complex process that can be divided into several main stages. Here is our list of steps to follow for creating a WhatsApp-like app that will be successful among users:

Steps to create a WhatsApp-like app

Step #1: Choosing a business model

The very first step to take is to conduct some research and choose the right business model for your project. That will help you define potential challenges and some market insights that will come in handy while building a chat app like WhatsApp. What should you consider in this step?

  • Target audience. Who will primarily use your app: Gen Z or millennials, business people or students, family members, or strangers.
  • Monetization strategy. The way your app will make money. We will talk about it in detail a bit later.
  • Competitors. Knowing who you compete with will give you an understanding of what you can offer the audience.

Step #2: Finding a partner

When the set of features is defined and the business model is set, it’s time to choose a development agency that will help you realize your idea. While choosing a partner, pay attention to their experience, location, and the number of staff. The team should have relevant experience and understand the business needs of your project. Also, location and staff count will be some of the most influential factors for their hourly rate.

Step #3: Development

The best way to develop a good product, whether it’s a chat app for instant messaging or a trivia game, is to start with building an MVP. This stage will allow you to understand if the audience needs what you offer them and if they have something in mind that you hadn’t thought of.

Step #4: Testing

Several testing options can help you see if everything is working seamlessly:

  • Unit tests—a way of testing the smallest piece of code that can be isolated as an entire system—a unit—independently.
  • Load tests—a type of performance testing that checks the reaction of an app to user actions under various loads.
  • Manual tests—a process where a special person—a QA engineer—plays the role of the end-user, using most of the app’s features.

Also, it will be useful to conduct A/B testing that will define the most pleasing design for your potential users.

Step #5: Launch and further support

When all the development and testing are finished, the app is ready for release! But it doesn’t mean that the work is over. Now, the users will flood you with feedback on user experience and bugs, so fixing and updating will then be your main focus.

Step #6: Marketing

Besides the actual launch of the app, you should pay close attention to attracting new app users and retaining those who already installed your messenger. The most basic techniques that you should implement include starting social media pages for your app, App Store Optimization (ASO), and building a simple landing page. However, since the communication apps market is already saturated, the basics are not enough.

Besides what we already mentioned, you can try options like influencer marketing. If someone famous in your community likes the idea of your messaging app, they can help you with promotion. Also, work closely not just with one or two influences but with the community as a whole to use the power of word of mouth.

Technology stack and requirements

Choosing the right tech stack for your app is the most important part of the development process. Technologies will define the speed of development, its cost, and the possibility of scaling up. Still, with so many options to choose from, how do you go with the right tech stack for messaging apps and not make a mistake?

What technologies WhatsApp used

First of all, let's get an insight into what WhatsApp used to create the app.

  • Backend: Erlang, PHP, custom Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)
  • Operating system: FreeBSD
  • Web-servers: YAWS, Lighttpd
  • Database: Mnesia
  • Offline database: SQLite
  • Virtual machine with customized patches: BEAM
  • Hosting: Facebook Data Center

Erlang is one of the rarest programming languages and is extremely useful for building chats with multiple simultaneous users and no downtime. Also, FreeBSD was chosen as an OS because of its appropriate requirements for safety and reliability.

Technical requirements you need to keep in mind

The choice of the tech stack should be driven by the potential features you want to implement and the challenges you want to avoid. Let’s dive into the most significant parts of WhatsApp-like app development.

Privacy and security

First of all, laws. Please be sure to follow all the legal requirements of the countries you want to release. For Europe, it's GDPR—General Data Protection Regulation, and the US has HIPAA—Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Also, since the privacy of user data is an imperative topic today, it's important to pay extreme attention to how the security feature on your app is built. It can be complicated to implement since there are still possibilities for third-party accessibility, but the technologies continue to get more and more innovative, so choosing the right solutions for privacy and security is not going to be hard.

UI and UX

The interface of your app should be simple and intuitive. There shouldn't be any long tutorials that users have to go through. The simpler, the better: people should be able to just pick up the contact and start chatting! Also, if you are going to create a chat for multiple devices, make sure to use a responsive design, so users won't have any trouble moving from one screen to another.

Cloud sync

Cloud synchronization is extremely important these days. No one wants their device to be clogged with a lot of cache or files, and at the same time, they want everything being saved. Cloud sync will keep all texts, images, videos, and other files in one place without occupying the device space. So if someone changes or loses their device, everything will be available from the new one.

Recommended tech stack for WhatsApp-like app development

The tech stack for separate platforms would be different, so here are the possible variants for your mobile chat app.

Android

  • Programming language: Java, Kotlin
  • Storage: SQLite, Realm
  • Social authentication: Facebook/Google/Twitter SDKs
  • Calling: WebRTC, TwilioSDK

iOS

  • Programming language: Swift 5
  • Reactive programming: RxSwift
  • Chat application architecture: MVVM+C
  • Storage: CoreData
  • UI: UIKit, Snapkit
  • Notifications: Apple Push Notifications Service
  • Social authentication: Firebase Auth SDK
  • Networking: WebRTC, TwilioSDK, Alamofire
  • App distribution: Firebase, TestFlight
  • Crash reporting tools: Firebase Crashlytics
  • Product analytics tools: Amplitude
  • Dependency management: CocoaPods, Swift Package Manager
  • CI/CD tools: Fastlane
  • Deep linking: Branch

Backend

  • Programming language: Java, Node.js
  • Web server: Nginx, Puma
  • Hosting: Amazon Web Services

Monetization strategy

As we already mentioned, WhatsApp is free to use and makes most of its money with the help of WhatsApp Pay and WhatsApp for Business. However, this strategy requires a certain level of trust and a positive reputation among app users. Since your messenger app is new to users, implementing additional services may only add to the expenses and not bring the desired results. There are several options for a beginner messaging app to make money:

Chat app monetization strategies

  • Subscription. Weekly or monthly fees are suitable for a lot of applications, but it can be damaging for a new messaging app. Most popular chat apps are free to use, so if you enter the market with a paid solution, the audience will not find it amusing.
  • In-app purchases. This is one of the safe options you can choose. You can add exclusive paid content like sticker packs, additional features, or in-app minigames.
  • Advertising. It’s the most common and probably the easiest way to monetize your app—just show some ads to users. But be careful with what and when you show them: Going too far with it will provoke a lot of users to leave the app since they will be annoyed by constantly appearing ads.

Challenges you may face

Creating a messaging app like WhatsApp can bring many benefits to your business, but it doesn’t mean it comes without any challenges. There are a few points to consider while building a new chat app:

Attracting the audience

Sure, one of the biggest challenges is going to be attracting users to your solution. It should address the maximum amount of users’ needs, also, the app should be flexible and responsive to feedback.

All-in-one app

A lot of users expect their messaging app to be more than a chat. Launching ad campaigns, making one-to-one payments, applying chatbots, playing games—all this is supposed to be present in a modern chat app.

Being a "normal" app

It seems hard to make a chat app stand out from the crowd. You need something extremely attractive so users will choose you over other mainstream chats. Adding one or two unique features will draw the additional attention of the audience.

How much does it cost to develop an app like WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is considered to be a complex chat app since it has already existed for quite some time and managed to widely expand its functionality. Building it from scratch might be a waste of time and money, so starting with an MVP is a better approach. Approximately, the costs of a WhatsApp-like chat app with all the features like instant messaging and authorization will start from $25,000-$40,000. The actual cost will depend on the project’s specifications, the number of specialists, and the tech stack.

Our expertise

We are proud to say that the Yellow team is highly experienced in working on chats and chatbots. Let us introduce you to some examples of our work.

  • CashChat is a mobile app where users can find people around the area and meet them to improve their skills or help them learn something new.
  • Famlicious is a mobile chat application for iOS and Android that enables people to get closer to their families.
  • Fireaway is a simple chat with minimal requirements for its functioning. It's anonymous, registration-free, and very lightweight. Fireaway is great for instant business and private communication.

To sum it up

The chat app market is booming now, so it’s the perfect time to make an entrance! We have described a strategy you can follow to ensure your messaging app will be warmly welcomed by your target audience. Besides the regular features, be sure to add something that will make your app unique. Don’t forget the security issues and implement an intuitive UI and UX—and your chat app is ready!

Related articles:

How to Create a Chatting Website: Important Features and Design Tips

✉️ Why is WhatsApp so popular?

The reasons that make WhatsApp a popular app for instant messaging are affordability (the app is free), accessibility (WhatsApp requires just an active internet connection), and global usage (talk to anyone from any part of the world).

✉️ What features to include in a WhatsApp-like messenger app?

The must-have functions that will provide app users with basic experience include authorization, contact import, messaging itself, profile customization, file sharing, storage, push notifications, and location integration. More complex features are advanced customization, voice/video calls, and broadcasting.

✉️ What are the steps to create a WhatsApp clone?

The strategy for creating a WhatsApp-like instant messaging app is the following: Choose a business model, find a partner to complete the development, develop an app, test it, then launch and support.

✉️ How much does it cost to build an app like WhatsApp?

The average cost of an instant messaging app will start from $25,000-$40,000. The actual cost will depend on the project’s specifications, the number of specialists, and the tech stack.

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