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May 28, 2021

Step-by-Step Guide on Custom Mobile Chat Application Development

Recently, mobile messengers have become incredibly popular, and they don’t seem to lose any of their spotlights. The market is flourishing, so now is the best timing to think about your own chat. This article is here to give you a hand in understanding how to build it.

Dasha Rizoy

Head of Business Development

The mobile chat applications market grew significantly in the past ten years. Almost everyone has a smartphone with two or three chat apps installed. Some people use them equally, some have one preferred, and some use one messenger for personal communication and another for work or school. The amount of such solutions is huge, and users can choose what corresponds to their needs the most.

The previous year brought instant messaging communication to a new level. The global working remote and several lockdowns played an indisputable role in the increase of the usage of chat apps, and nothing is going to change in the near future. Mobile chat apps help people stay in touch with their friends and family, keep the workflow organized, or even find new people to chat with.

The question is how to do it right? How do you build a user-friendly mobile messenger app that will get recognition? And is it worthy at all? Let us help you find these answers.

Is it worth creating a mobile chat?

The number of mobile instant messaging applications today is truly huge. Taking into account the market size, does it mean that creating your own chat is useless? Well, no. The audience needs are constantly evolving, and sometimes existing apps cannot cover them. Besides, statistics prove that a chat application can become a valuable investment. Here are the numbers!

Reason #1

Today, users do not limit themselves to only one app for communication. People install more than one messenger for different purposes. According to On Device research, users in China have three on average, and people in Europe usually go with two. It means that with the right niche, extensive functionality, and user-friendly design, your app has all the chances to appear on people’s phones.

The number of chat apps installed in different countries

Reason #2

Mobile chat apps are now more frequently used for social connections than social networks. Weird, isn’t it? The Business Insider’s Global Messaging Apps report states that these apps now have 20% more active monthly users than social networks. A lot of people now decide to minimize or erase their social presence, but it’s hard to avoid messengers since there is still the need to communicate.

Reason #3

Another reason to consider developing a chat app is its value to the business. The role of chats in purchasing is expanding, and a lot of platforms and companies focus on chatbots to get revenue from users’ attention. For example, Facebook allows advertising via Messenger, giving users more opportunities to attract new clients to their businesses. Also, according to the RetailDive report, most Millennials who interacted with a chatbot representative say it positively affected their attitude toward that business.

Reason #4

Finally, the number of activities users perform on mobile apps is immense. For instance, Snapchat has 166 million daily active users who create at least 3 billion snaps a day. 50% of WeChat users open the app 10 times a day. And the most popular mobile chat apps, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, have 2 billion and 1.3 billion users, respectively.

Most popular global mobile messenger apps

So, the answer to whether it’s worth it to create a chat app is yes. Now, let’s dive into what functionality will make your solution competitive in the market.

List of the necessary features of mobile chat applications

There are a lot of potential functions that can be implemented in your chat app and that can make it stand out. But which of them are worth including in a mobile solution? Technically, we can divide desirable features into those that will pass for a minimum viable product (MVP) or a basic app version and those that can boost up your performance and give you a competitive advantage on the market.

Basic functionality

The functions listed below will build up a perfect choice for a mobile messenger’s core. That is what every chat should have in order not to fall behind their competitors.

  • Registration and log-in

There are many ways for your messenger to sign up and then sign in users: via a phone number, email, or social media accounts. A phone number seems to be the most reasonable for a mobile chat app, but it doesn’t mean you have to limit users with only one option. You can easily implement two or all three ways so the users can decide on their own how to log in.

  • Messaging

The primary function of any messenger app is, well, messaging. Sending text, audio, or video messages and files, organizing group chats, even making calls - it seems like a lot, but today it is truly a bare minimum for a well-built chat. Also, it would be great to implement pinned messages in individual and group chats, so the most valuable information will always stay close and be easier to find.

Messaging feature
  • Cloud backup

Cloud synchronization will allow your chat to store message history and files without occupying the phone’s space. Users can access everything at any time with an active Internet connection. Also, cloud services integration is great if people need to access their profiles and chat from more the one device. Another situation is a person losing or damaging their phone, and with the help of the cloud, they can easily restore everything on a new device.

Cloud backup
  • Profile customization

For a basic mobile app, the customization should not be complicated: the profile picture, username, and a small bio will be enough. Later, with further updates, you can add a status feature, customizing a chat background, or creating personalized stickers. It will help people make themselves comfortable in the app and get recognized by other users.

  • Contact import

Contact import will contribute much to the app’s attractiveness to users. They should realize that they can effortlessly connect with their family and friends. If there are contacts in their phone book that also have the app installed, this feature will show them. The contact import will be a convenient addition to a mobile chat app that sets users free from remaking a contact list from scratch.

  • Data security

Information protection is a truly pressing issue today. Individuals don’t want any third party to access their messenger, files, or personal data, and companies using chat apps for business purposes want their confidential information to be safe from hackers and fraud. If you want to win the attention of the audience and build a trustful relationship with them, data protection should become one of your top priorities.

The highest level of security can be achieved via implementing end-to-end encryption when only dedicated addresses can receive and see the message. Both recipient and sender can see the encoded messages and be sure that no one else will access the conversation.

  • Push notification

No one likes to miss a notification about messages, both personal and business-related. That is why a mobile messenger must have push notifications as a part of the functionality. The app can notify users not only about new messages but also about new contacts who installed the app or online/offline status.

  • Chatbots

The ability of the messenger to create automatic agents is crucial for running a modern business. Chatbots help companies build trust and awareness among users and also work great in advertising. Some messengers already offer platforms for creating and deploying chatbots, like Telegram and Facebook Messenger. With chatbots, mobile messengers become more user-friendly and dynamic. The most realistic chatbots with integrated AI offer the greatest level of communication with users. Also, it’s easy to start and stop them at any time depending on the users’ needs.


Killing chat app features

When the list of basic functions is ready, it’s time to think about what features would make your app even more engaging and appealing to users. We listed some prominent features to level up your messaging solution.

  • Self-destructing messages

Some big players like WhatsApp and Snapchat implemented this feature quite a while ago, and users are fascinated by it. These messages disappear from the chat’s history after a period of time set by a user. Also, users can choose what messages can stay in the chat and what the app should erase.

Self-destructing messages

  • Channels

Channels in messengers work like groups in social media apps. They can be made private, where you need either an invitation or permission to access, or public, where people can join on their own. Channels look like a simple group chat with posts and comments instead of messages. The most successful case of implementing this function is Telegram, where every user can create channels and manage their settings.

  • Audio spaces

The question of audio communication became urgent when Clubhouse entered the market. Most of the buzz about this voice-based chat app is already gone, but implementing audio-only chats is still echoing in the digital world. Not only messaging solutions chose to opt for this: recently, Twitter implemented Spaces, online voice-only chat rooms, and now you can talk to others in the app. Among mobile messengers, Telegram is now able to transform its group chats and channels into Voice Rooms.

Audio spaces

  • In-app games

People like entertainment and gaming elements deal with the entertaining task the most. It may not be the most popular function among the chat app users since communication head-to-head or in groups is still preferred. Still, a certain level of gamification gives ordinary users and businesses more opportunities: it’s easier to retain the user's attention, show them advertising in a less annoying way, and, as a result, make more revenue from cooperation with other organizations.

What are the main steps of mobile chat apps development?

When you define the final set of functions your app will have, you can hop onto development! The whole process can seem complicated, but with proper organization and structure, the chances of possible issues and pitfalls emerging will decrease to a minimum. Here are the milestones of a messenger development flow:

1. Analyze the market

One of the greatest tools to use at the beginning of development is market research. Look at what the modern market offers to users, who occupies the most market share, and what niches need chat solutions. Take your time to analyze how competitors work and what points they do not cover and be ready to address the needs they fail to meet.

2. Find a partner

If you have your own competent development team, this step can be omitted, but when there is no in-house team or they don’t have relevant experience, it’s time to choose an agency that will help you realize your idea. Before the actual work starts, you and the agency you want to work with should discuss the project’s specifications and agree on the terms of your partnership. When everything is set, move to the next step.

3. Develop

We can divide development into two main parts:

  • UI/UX design

A modern mobile chat app should provide an extreme level of user experience. The process of creating a convenient and eye-pleasing design can take a lot of time since there are plenty of functions to take into account.

One of the most important parts of making an app’s design is prototyping. Prototype, or wireframe in a digital world, is a draft implementation of your future product. It is usually quite basic, black and white, with Lorem Ipsum instead of the unique text and empty spaces instead of images and animations. It may seem not that necessary - just a bunch of colorless screens - but prototyping serves a greater cause - not only to show you the beauty of your solution but to help you understand if people feel comfortable using it.

  • Frontend and backend

The term “frontend” implies everything users see while inside the app, and “backend” refers to things connected with servers and databases that work behind the scenes. Their smooth cooperation is the most influential factor for your app’s performance. Also, these two factors will define the composition of the development team: native development for Android and iOS will require two separate teams for each operating system, and with a cross-platform app, one team with the necessary skill set will be enough.

4. QA

Testing is a process that your team should constantly conduct. To create a messaging app that will address your users’ needs completely with its functionality, you need to apply testing on every stage of product creation. There are a lot of tests that help you find out bugs and fix them before the release:

  • Unit tests – independent testing of the smallest piece of code that can be isolated from the whole system.

  • Load tests – performance testing that checks how the app behaves under various loads.

  • Manual tests – a testing process where a special person – a QA engineer – acts like the end-user, using most of the app’s features.

Some companies might recommend applying tests only at the end of the project. This can result in huge technical debt and additional time and money spent, so to create a reliable chat app, it would be useful to conduct testing parallel with the main development process.

5. Launch, collect feedback, and update

When all the previous steps are completed, it’s time to show your final solution to the world! Still, it doesn’t mean that you can stop working on your app. After the launch, users will start bringing feedback to you about bugs, errors, and user flow, so communication with your audience and updating your app will become your primary focus.

Mobile chat application architecture

Building a mobile chat app can hardly make it through without a proper chat architecture. In a nutshell, we can highlight its two major parts: Chat App, which is the app itself, and Chat Server Engine, consisting of some external servers handling message delivery and dispatch.

Chat App is the part users directly interact with. It's divided into three root components:

  • Client Engine – the communication with the Chat Server Engine.

  • Chat UI – displays all the data to users.

  • Chat Device Storage – an internal database that stores messages and files for offline access.

Chat Server Engine consists of external servers that help the chat operate correctly. It usually includes the following components:

  • Chat REST API – for user authentication, settings, or inviting friends.

  • Chat WebSocket Server – for transmitting messages between users.

  • Chat Media Storage Server – for storing media files.

Chat architecture

Such an architecture makes your chat app scalable, customizable, and friendly to third-party services integration. Also, when all the components are made on their own, you can reuse them in other projects.

Recommended technological stack

The choice of the most appropriate technologies depends primarily on what requirements you give to your team. They, in turn, will help you decide if you should build a native chat app or use a cross-platform approach.

Native development, in general, takes more time and money than cross-platform or out-of-the-box solutions, but usually, it offers better managing and stability. On the other hand, cross-platform apps share one codebase for everything, work on multiple operating systems, and perform equally on several devices. They take less time in production and they are easy to maintain, but they can be less advanced than native apps.

Here is an approximate tech stack for a mobile chat app:

  • Server: Ejabberd server, YAWS

  • Programming language: Erlang

  • Protocol: XMPP

  • Database management: Mnesia & MySQL

  • Operating system: FreeBSD

Also, off-the-shelf solutions can come in handy. For example, Dialog House, a chat development suite created by our team, will help you build not just a support window for a website, but a whole WhatsApp-like solution.

How much does it cost to develop a mobile chat app?

If you want to build a mobile messaging application, custom-made or with out-of-the-box tools, you would like to know how much time and money you will spend on it. With no sugarcoating, native development from scratch will definitely cost more than using premade solutions. Still, such an investment can benefit in the long run, depending on what you are going to do with your idea. On the other hand, if chosen properly, premade solutions can cover all functionality of your app.

Building a complex app at the very beginning can easily become a waste of resources, so for a chat app, it’s better to start with an MVP that will cost around $10,000-$30,000. The further development will include other factors that will have a major impact on your budget:

  • Your potential customers’ needs

  • The team composition

  • Their hourly rate

  • Competitive advantages of your rivals

  • Expected deadlines

How to earn money with a mobile chat app?

There are three most popular ways to make revenue out of a mobile chat app: subscription, ads, and in-app purchases.

How to earn money with a mobile chat app
  • Subscription

It may be hard to believe, but WhatsApp actually started with this model. Now the app is completely free-to-use since subscriptions proved to be one of the most ineffective monetizing strategies for messengers. If you still decide to opt for it, you’ll need to offer your paid users some exclusive additional features that will make paying a weekly or monthly fee worth it. For example, it can be a more customizable design, an ad-free app version, or the ability to call an ordinary phone number.

  • Advertising

If you choose ads as your leading monetizing strategy, you need to think about places for ads while making the UI. This way, you can earn money with the help of sponsors whose ads will be shown within your app. Also, you can implement ads that will briefly appear over the app, but this can quickly annoy users.

  • In-app purchases

The most effective and user-friendly way to make money from a messenger is to apply in-app purchases. Buying sticker packs, in-app games, or interface add-ons will not irritate users that much and make the messenger more interesting to use.

Our experience

Yellow is really proud to say that chat app development is one of our primary work areas. We know how chat functions, work with the most suitable tools, and are ready to provide you with deeper insights. Here are some examples of our mobile messengers’ projects:

  • CashChat

CashChat is a mobile chat app where users find each other in the nearby area and meet to learn more or help others improve their skills and expertise. First of all, the app defines the user’s location, then they set up preferred settings: the radius of the area and topics they are interested in. After applying the customized settings, CashChat filters people inside the indicated area and determines who fits the user the most. Possible filters include music, movies, discussion topics, and business.

  • Famlicious

Famlicious is a mobile chat application for both iOS and Android created especially for family communication. The app helps people get closer to their families which is extremely important in today’s circumstances. The most remarkable and yet challenging function is the unique way of building dynamic family trees. Since a standard family tree can grow from the bottom upwards and can’t add each new user automatically and to the necessary trees, we implemented a graph database to make it work.


Wrapping it up

It can be hard to understand all the technical details of messenger development. The huge mass of solutions at hand, possible pitfalls, your team’s experience - all these factors significantly influence the whole project and must be considered before beginning.

It may sound obvious and quite plain, but the best way to assure yourself of the project’s success is to find a trusted and competent partner who will offer a detailed analysis of your idea and provide you with all the explanations you need. Ignoring this point can have truly disastrous consequences, in both large-scale projects with little room for error and startups who must impress their investors.

The chat app market is growing, and instant communication via mobile messengers is becoming more and more widespread among users. The more people want to talk to each other online, the more software solutions should address their needs, so now is the perfect time to appear on stage. The idea of creating a mobile chat application will become a success if you approach it in the right way.

Read next:

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

Software development
Mobile development

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