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. 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. In January 2021, the Global State of Digital named WhatsApp as the third most-used social platform with 2 billion users. It ranks behind Facebook (2.7 billion) and YouTube (2.2 billion). It’s even more popular than Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.
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.
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:
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.
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.
WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption to protect the privacy of its users, which means that only the sender and the recipient of a message can read it. This is especially important in today's world, where online privacy is becoming increasingly important.
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. WhatsApp is available in over 180 countries and supports more than 60 languages, which makes it a great option for people who need to communicate with people in different parts of the world.
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.
The app has a simple and intuitive interface, which makes it easy for people of all ages to use. It also has a variety of features, including the ability to send text messages, photos, videos, and voice messages, as well as make voice and video calls.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, what should your chat app undoubtedly have to get a warm welcome from the audience?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In today’s unstoppable flow of information, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, which is especially useful for users who are not in the same physical location. Also, implementing group chat and calls can present an advantage.
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!
In WhatsApp, the "Reactions" feature allows users to quickly respond to a message with an emoji or emoticon. To use this feature, a user can long-press on a message and select one of the available reactions from a list. The selected reaction will then be displayed next to the message, along with the name of the user who reacted.
The choice of operating system (OS) can be an important consideration in the process of messaging app development. An operating system is the software that runs on a device and manages the hardware and other software on the device. Some examples of popular operating systems include Android and iOS. We’ll observe advantages and disadvantages of both OS.
Let’s start with Android. There are several advantages and disadvantages to building an app like WhatsApp on this OS.
Large market share: Android is the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, with a market share of over 70%. This means that by building an Android app, you will have the potential to reach a large number of users.
Customization options: This OS allows developers to customize the user interface and user experience of their apps, which can be useful for creating a unique and differentiated app.
Lower barriers to entry: The Android platform is generally more open and flexible than other platforms, which can make it easier for developers to get started building apps.
Fragmentation: There are many different devices and versions of Android in use, which can make it more challenging to ensure that your app works consistently across all of them.
Competition: The large market share also means that there is a lot of competition among Android apps in the Google Play Store, which can make it difficult for your app to stand out.
Complex development process: Developing an app for Android can be more complex than developing for other platforms, due to the wide range of devices and versions that need to be supported. This can require more time and resources to develop and test your app.
Now let's talk about iOS.
Advantages of building the app on iOS:
High quality user experience: iOS is known for providing a high-quality user experience, which can be especially important for an app like WhatsApp that relies on real-time communication.
Strong developer community: The iOS platform has a strong developer community, which can provide support and resources for building and promoting your app.
High user engagement: iOS users are generally more engaged with their devices and apps than users of other platforms, which can translate into higher usage and retention for your app
Limited market share: iOS has a smaller market share than Android, which means that you will have a smaller potential user base to target.
Strict app review process: The iOS App Store has a strict app review process that can take longer to get your app approved and published.
Higher cost of development: Developing an app for iOS can be more expensive than developing for other platforms, due to the need for specialized hardware and software.
Messaging 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 popular messaging app that will be successful among users:
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 other messenger apps that you compete with will give you an understanding of what you can offer the audience.
When the set of features is defined and the business model is set, it’s time to choose a development agency that will help with messaging app development. While choosing a partner, pay attention to their experience, location, and the number of mobile app developers. 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.
The best way to start a mobile app development process, 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.
The testing phase is an important step in the process of developing an app like WhatsApp. It is during this phase that you will identify and fix any bugs or issues with the app, as well as ensure that it is working correctly and is ready for launch.
There are several different types of testing that you should consider during the testing phase:
Unit testing: This involves testing individual units or components of the app to ensure that they are working correctly.
Integration testing: This involves testing how different components of the app work together to ensure that there are no issues when they are combined.
System testing: This involves testing the app as a whole to ensure that it is functioning correctly and meets the requirements set out in the design phase
User acceptance testing: This involves testing the app with a group of users to ensure that it is user-friendly and meets their needs.
During the testing phase, you may also want to consider enlisting the help of beta testers to try out the app and provide feedback. This can be a valuable source of information for identifying and fixing any issues with the app.
Once you have thoroughly tested the app and addressed any issues that were identified, you can move on to the launch phase, confident that your app is ready for prime time.
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.
Besides the actual launch of the app, you should pay close attention to attracting new 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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
This is how Google Cloud Messaging works and enables the exchange of messages between different devices and apps using Google services such as Google Apps for Work, Gmail, and others. It allows for easy communication between users, regardless of the device or app they are using.
The tech stack for separate platforms would be different, so here are the possible variants for your mobile chat app.
Programming language: Java, Kotlin
Storage: SQLite, Realm
Social authentication: Facebook/Google/Twitter SDKs
Calling: WebRTC, TwilioSDK
Programming language: Swift 5
Reactive programming: RxSwift
Chat application architecture: MVVM+C
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
Programming language: Java, Node.js
Web server: Nginx, Puma
Hosting: Amazon Web Services
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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