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July 26, 2022

How To Develop an App Like TikTok: Everything Behind The # 1 Most Downloaded App

In this article, we’re taking an in-depth look at TikTok architecture, features, and stats and providing a guide to Tik-Tok app development.   

Dasha Rizoy

Head of Business Development

Have you ever found yourself watching TikTok for hours in a row? Don’t blame yourself, we have all done that. Often it’s not about the lack of self-discipline but about the TikTok app algorithms that make us continue to scroll. For some people, this app is just full of entertaining videos with cute animals, for others, it is a full-time job. And  there's no doubt that the TikTok app has become a full-on phenomenon. It’s now the most popular app in the world and you’ll find out how this social media app made it.

Hooked: How does TikTok work in 2022?   

Can you believe that TikTok was created seven years ago? On the TikTok app, you can find useful tips from doctors, recipes, home workouts, and cute animal videos alongside lots of cringe as well. In 2021, they celebrated reaching one billion monthly users, making TikTok the most popular app in the world. Yes, the most popular app on Earth, and not just the most popular social media app or video sharing app. In case you’re interested in building this type of app (or a similar one), we recommend reading our guides to developing a live streaming app and making a social media app from scratch, as well as our article about the cost of app development.

Important TikTok app stats  

Holding the title of the most popular app in the world is impressive. Being the social media app that drives stronger brand impact than other platforms let the TikTok app earn $4.6 billion in 2021 on in-app purchases, which makes it bigger than Twitter Inc. and Snap Inc. combined! In June, Bloomberg published an article called, “TikTok Turns On the Money Machine” where we can read the story of a 22-year-old American who used to live at her parents’ house but now earns thousands of dollars and works with Amazon, Coach, and Netflix, promoting their goods and services on her TikTok account. And her case isn’t unique. So, what else does the TikTok app have to impress us? Let’s jump into the recent stats:

1. The TikTok app isn’t only for teenagers. Statista reports that as of April 2022, 24% of the TikTok app’s global audience were women between the ages of 18 and 24, approximately 18%were male of the same age group. Female users aged between 25 and 34 years composed 17% of the audience, while male users in that age group composed 14%.

Global TikTok user age and gender distribution 2022
Source: Statista 2022

2. This video sharing app is more popular than Instagram among Gen Z users in the USA–with 37.3 million to Instagram’s 33.3 million.

Source: eMarketer, May 2021

3. TikTok is the most addictive social media app by user time spent per month. In 2022, US Android users spend almost 30 hours per month there.

Average time per US Android user
Source: Data.ai

4. 90% of TikTok users access the app daily (GlobalIndexWeb), which is a very high level of engagement.

5. TikTok is the number one app for driving consumer spending. It surpassed Youtube and Tinder in this ranking with $2.3 billion spent on in-app purchases for all of 2021.

Hootsuite Digital 2022 Report
Source: Hootsuite Digital 2022 Report

How do algorithms work? 

Making apps like TikTok is impossible without understanding how the recommendation system works, as this is actually what makes us spend hours consuming an infinite feed of short clips. Here’s how Tik Tok defines them:

“The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors — starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too.”

What are those factors?

1. User activity. The more likes, comments, and shares–engagement in general–the video receives, the more likely it will appear on For Your Page (FYP)

2. Subject. TikTok asks you about your interests and preferences during the very first interaction with the app.

TikTok interests screen

Then, it uses caption keywords, sounds, hashtags, effects, and content to categorize videos and suggest those relevant to you. The more you interact with a certain type of videos, the more the system thinks that you like them, and the more you’ll see them in your feed.

3. Language and Location. The algorithms will recognize the user's type of device, language preferences, and posting location to suggest the content based on what it believes to be of high interest.

4. “Not interested” feedback. If you don't like a video, you can long-press on the video and tap Not interested and similar videos will be shown less. (But who wouldn't like this adorable video with two cats?)

TikTok feedback screen

What makes TikTok: An overview of its basic features  

Apart from basic features like signing up, setting preferences, liking and commenting on content, TikTok offers many possibilities to create and share videos without any professional skills. That’s why you can watch Fort Worth’s 82-year-old Steve Austin joking around and then the videos of 22-year-old Khaby Lame, currently the most-followed TikToker, who creates videos where he silently mocks overcomplicated life hack videos.

Video editing and video uploading

A video sharing app can’t exist without basic features like video editing and uploading features. Every user can record, crop, flip, choose a song from the music library, or add their own sound and background, rotate the videos, or do the same with their uploaded videos. Then post it with just a few taps. That’s it! You don’t need to spend hours editing your video and waiting for it to render. 

Initially, TikTok’s video length limit was 15 seconds, then 60 seconds; in July 2021 the company announced that videos could be up to three minutes in length. In February 2022 TikTok expanded their max video length to 10 minutes, with the hope to “unleash even more creative possibilities for our creators around the world.”

Filters and effects

You can choose from plenty of filters, effects, stickers, and animation to enrich your video content. Want to change the feel and color of your video? TikTok filters are made for it. 

Wondering what you would look like with a different eye color or hairstyle? TikTok effects will give you the answer. Just want to have fun? A plethora of effects like Puppy Eyes or Time Warp Scan is available for you. It’s so much fun!

What else you can do with your videos:

  • Transition. You can use this effect to zoom in or rotate your video and repeat transitions on your video. 

  • Split. You can split your videos into up to 9-frame collages.

  • Time. This effect allows you to reverse, repeat, or slow-mo your videos.

Live streaming 

All TikTok users can go live and have access to filters, effects, and camera control. Unlike standard video formats, there are no limits on recording time. All TikTok users can go live and have access to filters, effects, and camera control. You can go live for about 60 minutes, but TikTok recommends keeping your streams up to 30 minutes.

Social sharing

Video sharing is easy! TikTok users can share the videos they like to other social media platforms, like Instagram or Whatsapp

TikTop Social sharing

Likes 

There’s a separate tab for checking out all the videos users have liked.

Notifications

Every TikTok user can set push notifications to get notified about likes and comments on their videos, and new followers. Notifications can also be muted.

Chat

Instead of wondering how to create an instant messaging app to send a video to your friend, you can implement a chat feature in your solution. Friends send each other videos on TikTok all the time, so your app should also consider this feature.

What’s inside: The overview of TikTok’s technology stack

Cool, now you have a general idea of its features and functionality. The next step to develop an app like TikTok is to understand the required technologies. In this section, we’re going to give you the approximate list of what they are and describe the app development process as well. So, the tech stack of Tik Tok includes:

iOS app

  • Programming language: Swift

  • Network: Alamofire

Android app

  • Programming language: Kotlin

  • Network: OkHttp3

If you’re wondering what is the difference between mobile and web applications, make sure to read our guide.

Back-end 

  • Programming language: Node.js

  • Framework: Express 4

  • Database: MongoDB, SQL, MySQL

  • Cloud: AWS or Azure

Implementation tools

  • Storage: Amazon S3

  • Signup: Amazon SES, Amazon SNS

  • Notifications: Google Cloud Messaging (Android) and Apple Push Notification Service (iOS)

  • Real-time analytics: Azure stream analytics, Google Mobile App Analytics

  • AR-filters: ML Kit, ARCore

  • Geolocation: Google Maps API, MapKit/Core Location frameworks (for iOS).

  • Chat: Twilio

Ready, steady, go: 5 steps to develop an app like TikTok

At this point, you’re familiar with all important aspects to know before starting developing a TikTok-like app. Now we’ll split the process into 5 main stages.

1. Create a portrait of your target audience

To do so, try to understand where your potential users live, what they like, their hobbies and interests, and most importantly, why would they use your product. In other words, what they’ll achieve using it. 

Why is this stage super important? The answer is quite obvious: By basing it on your target audience’s portrait, you can make an informed decision about the design complexity or list of features to add to your future product. Knowing who your users are is essential for finding product-market fit and getting investments.

Later, a precise target audience portrait will help:

  • to get a loyal customer and build long-term relationships with them

  • to increase brand value

  • to create relevant branding and marketing strategies

To provide you with some examples, let’s observe the list of industries that could benefit from TikTok-like apps. 

📌Education 

The pandemic changed the way we work, date, eat, and learn. It’s no wonder that the educational industry has changed, too. Now people learn new things and even get degrees on their mobile devices. With a simple and functional interface, it can only get easier. Wondering what the cost of developing an educational app is? We’re now working on the complete guide with a list of features, MVP building cost, and stats and will publish it soon. You can subscribe to our newsletter to get notified about new articles as well as all things digital. 

📌Game industry

The concept of game-streaming was popularized in the mid-2010s. Today the industry of watching other people play video games continues to surge in popularity. Just in Q1 of 2022 alone, Twitch’s users spent 6,129 hours watching live streams. 

Number of hours watched on leading gaming live stream platforms worldwide in 1st quarter 2022, by platform (in millions)

Number of hours watched on leading gaming live stream platforms worldwide
Source: Statista 2022

The gaming market is big and diverse which makes it a great industry to make and launch an app like TikTok.

China and US dominate international gaming market
Source: NewZoo

📌Health and Fitness 

Video streaming social media apps give millions of users with not enough money, time, or the ability to train at home or other places without a personal coach.  

Depending on the industry you pick, the portrait of the target audience will differ.  

2. Hire a software development team

What are the benefits of hiring them? They will do additional user research and carry out the product development–from prototyping to testing the very first release of a future digital product, and carrying out the post-release maintenance. 

  • Time benefits

When you have a business idea and want to start small and build an MVP, it’s better to not spend a lot of time finding and onboarding developers to assemble an in-house team. By hiring a software developing company, your project can be up and running much more quickly. 

  • Expertise benefits

The main benefit of hiring a dedicated software development team is not only in their coding skills. Usually, they have a large portfolio of projects and a bigger picture of the IT industry as well as market insights. Their expertise allows them to come up with the best combination of technologies for each project.

  • Delegation benefits

While the software development team is responsible for the actual app development, product owners can focus on the areas where their attention is truly necessary, like communication with other stakeholders and investors. 

  • Budgeting benefits

According to the Society for Human Resources Management, the cost to the company for hiring a software developer, especially for an in-house position, is between $28,548 and $35,685, and it becomes more expensive the longer it takes. When you hire a custom software development company, they are able to start within 24 hours after submitting the requirements. 

If you’re looking for a dedicated software development company, we’re here for you. We’d be happy to discuss your idea with you and then turn it into a running and profitable video sharing and social media app. 

To make a TikTok-type app, you’ll need a team of professionals in app development. Suppose you want to start building an MVP for iOS. Here’s the team that will help you do so. 

3. Draft design 

According to Northumbria University, the first impression of an interface is 94% design-related. Put simply, the way your interface looks has a direct impact on such important metrics like LTV (Lifetime Value, refers to how much revenue a customer is estimated to deliver) or ROI (Return on Investment).

Great and functional UX/UI design is not only about the shape of buttons and the color of fonts. UX/UI designer dives into the user's journey and flow, identifies behavioral patterns, and only after that starts prototyping the future interface. They need all these preparatory steps to provide users with effortless control over the social media app. At this stage, they will need the portrait of the potential target audience. 

4. Build an MVP

What do Uber, Instagram, and Spotify have in common? In addition to the fact that they are successful businesses, they all have started with the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) process. MVP has at least 3 advantages over an all-or-nothing approach to app development that makes it worth paying attention to and starting with

  • Testing hypotheses. With the iterative and agile approach of MVP development, teams can test and validate their ideas with little or no risk since the whole concept is based on the “build-measure-learn” process. Here is how it works: The feature is released, users test it and app development team collects feedback to prepare analysis and make decisions regarding future iterations and features to add. 

  • Testing usability. It may often occur that the way we see things is completely different from what our target audience needs. Making people push that “Install” button isn’t the end but only the beginning. The retention rate has always been a pain point for product owners. According to Localytics, only 32% of users continue to use an app after three months and 21% of users abandon an app after one use. With MVP, teams can gather data about how users interact with the app and then adjust the app development process and change the user flow to provide a better user experience. 

  • Saving resources. While mature products are often the fruit of years of development before the release, building an MVP allows you to start small, test your assumptions and then scale laterbased on feedback from early users and  informed decisions that you make.

5. Test 

When the first version is ready, it’s time for the QA engineer to test it. Even code written by Senior mobile app developers needs testing. QAs will verify whether the app meets requirements and quality standards, before the launch of the product. The test stage is important for all products from all industries as it helps to determine weak points and vulnerabilities of a future tech product without damaging the brand’s reputation, which can be built by giving clients easy-to-use and bug-free products. 

Cost to develop an app like TikTok: Factors that affect the final price

The TikTok-style app development is a complex process that involves teams, thousands of hours of work, creativity, building basic features, and coming up with a unique code. Just as with any other social media app, it’s hard to say the exact Tik Tok app development cost because there are many factors that influence it.

1. Design complexity

It takes about 100 hours to make a TikTok-like MVP design. Let’s calculate the approximate cost of UX/UI design development based on different hourly wages of UX/UI Designers. 

RegionAverage UX/UI Designer hourly rateTotal price
North America$45$4500
Western Europe$40$4000
Central Europe$30$3000
Latin America$20$2000
Asia$15$1100

2. Functionality

It’s quite obvious: The more of a sophisticated system you want to get, the longer it takes to an app development team to create it.

Time spendings to create the TikTok app basic features

FeatureiOS Development, hBack-end Development, h
Log-in/Sign-in3550
Profile Editing 4050
Upload Video3035
Filters & Effects150150
Video Editing140160
Likes & Comments4520
Video Sharing10-
Notifications2525
Total time475490

General time spendings for the video sharing app basic features development

Type of workiOS developmentBackend development Total number of hours
Features development 475490965
UX/UI design100-100
Framework integration306090
DevOps366096
QA--270
Project management --200
Total Time--1,721

3. Legal compliance 

Users around the globe treat their privacy very seriously. Companies that collect and store users’ data (and video sharing apps do that) must follow legal compliance with regard to practices conducted in accordance with international, national, or local laws of the country or countries in which the business operates. For example, if you want your app to operate in the EU market, you must obey GDPR compliance. If your users are California residents, then CCPA rules apply. Checking country-specific rules will help your company stay compliant.  

In cases of non-compliance, companies set themselves up to face a huge fine.

4. Software development team location

The final cost of developing an app like TikTok is greatly affected by the location of your software development team. It can vary in 2 or even three times, and will directly influence the app development cost. Below is a comparison of IT specialists’ average hourly wage depending on regions. 

RegionAverage iOS Developer hourly rateAverage UX/UI Designer hourly rateAverage Project Manager hourly rateAverage QA Engineer hourly rateAverage Back-end Engineer hourly rate
North America$50$45$35$35$60
Western Europe$40$40$35$30$55
Central Europe$35$30$30$20$50
Latin America$25$20$15$10$30
Asia$20$15$10$5$25

As we can see, the average hourly wage of app development specialists may differ by two or even three times. However, we don’t recommend going for the cheapest option as there are many pitfalls and hidden costs in such a decision, like huge time-zone differences, cultural differences or the lack of transparency and credibility.

Wrapping up

TikTok has become the symbol of the attention economy, offering people the possibility to get their 15 sec, 10, or 60 min of fame. For some of them, it turns into a money machine and changes their lives forever. Brands increase their value on this platform and in general earn more than on other social media platforms. Looks like TikTok can benefit all parties. 

The secret of TikTok is in its recommendation system and simple logic. It’s known for its addictive quality and high levels of engagement because of its hyper personalized feed and the possibility of filming and posting your own videos. And no video editing skills are needed! This video sharing app could not not become a phenomenon.  

In this article, we observed the important stats, list of features, steps, and the composition of a team that will turn your idea into a running video sharing and social media app.

Based on estimated time spendings and average hourly wages of IT specialists involved in developing a TikTok-like mobile app development, we can calculate the approximate total price of the TikTok app development.

RegionCost of iOS development Cost of Back-end developmentCost of Project managementCost of UX/UI designCost of QA engineeringTotal price
North America$4500$7200$7000$4500$9450$32660
Western Europe$4000$6600$7000$4000$8100$29700
Central Europe$3000$6000$6000$3000$5400$23400
Latin America$2000$3600$3000$2000$2700$13300
Asia$1100$3000$1500$1100$1350$8050

Some simple calculations illustrate that the cost of a TikTok-like app MVP creation starts with $8,050 and depends on many factors.

Feel free to contact us and get more information about the app development process and detailed calculations. Your idea deserves to exist, and we’ll be happy to turn it into a running app for you.

🎶Is TikTok the most popular app in the world?

Yes, TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world in 2022.

🎶How can I make an app like TikTok?

1. Create a portrait of your target audience 2. Hire software development team 3. Draft design 4. Build MVP 5. Test

🎶How much does it cost to develop an app like TikTok?

The approximate price of developing an app like TikTok (MVP version for iOS) is between $8,000 and $35,000, depending on design complexity, functionality, and the location of your development team.

🎶How long does it take to make a TikTok-like app?

On average, it takes approximately 1,200 hours to create an MVP for iOS.

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