The popularity of chat messenger apps is off the charts, covering billions of active users and yielding astronomic profits. Such level of human communication was unthinkable even a decade ago, but today it is perceived as an ordinary part of everyday life. 

Along with social networks, real-time chat apps are potentially highly lucrative, yet challenging software projects with a wide range of possibilities. For this reason, many developers and Internet entrepreneurs wonder how to make an instant messaging app and turn it into a profitable business or pursue other goals with its help.

This article will provide valuable information on building chat applications, from their intended functionality and optional app features to monetization models and technology stacks.

Contents:

Reasons for Building a Chat App

Before describing how to make chatting software, we need to answer another important question – “why.” Namely, why do you need to build a custom chat application instead of using the existing ones? The reason that justifies spending resources on development lies in the drawbacks of currently available chat applications. Let us review several disadvantages of modern messengers that scare off their potential user base.

- Privacy policy. Some applications do not ensure the safety of user data or even sell it to advertising providers. Besides, they are vulnerable to leaks and hacking attacks.

- Inefficient targeting of different audiences. For example, certain groups would prefer “thematic” chat applications dedicated only to one subculture to establish and maintain a community with a common hobby or lifestyle. Authors of some small app project may research various target groups and design messaging software specifically for doctors and patients, fitness enthusiasts, bitcoin miners, goths, straight-edge fans, MMORPG gamers, you name it.

- Low performance and large size of apps. It is a widespread flaw of old mobile apps, especially written for Android: they get bloated with legacy code required to support outdated versions of operating systems and ensure compatibility with an increasing number of device brands and models.

- Inadequate functionality. Often, apps lack desired functions or offer too many unused features, making users look for more relevant solutions for their needs.

- Inconvenient design. Mobile design has certain requirements, and the most important one is convenience in terms of reading and typing text using the on-screen keyboard. Some chat applications do not offer adequate comfort and do not support different screen resolutions or proportions.

- Excessive in-app advertising. While various kinds of advertising are among the most popular monetization strategies, they are annoying and can ruin user experience completely.

- Limited usability without paid addons. This flaw is another result of an ill-considered monetization strategy. Some authors offer a useless stub of software under the pretense of a functional application, forcing users to pay to get it working.

As you see from the list above, merely overcoming the disadvantages of current apps would be a viable reason to develop a messaging application. However, there are also several benefits related to employing a custom-made chat app either for private or corporate use.

- Better group cohesion. Chatting software dedicated to the needs of a close community brings its members closer together. In addition, it helps to protect the communication from “trolls” or other “toxic” individuals or groups.

- Improved corporate security. A messaging application available only for users registered via corporate e-mail addresses would be a much better place to discuss company-related topics than a free-for-all chat app. It also creates a positive effect on employees and reduces the chances of business espionage.

- Faster and more responsive customer service. A dedicated messenger app for company clients is a massive boost for reputation and trust, as well as a good source of customer-related data. The combination of chatbots and live operators provides more rapid feedback than phone communication and web forms.

Chart of top 8 popular mobile messaging apps in the world as of April 2019

Three Popular Types of Features in a Mobile Chat App

Before planning the development strategy for your chat application, it is important to define the target platforms. In recent years the trend for mobile software is growing for several obvious reasons.

Smartphones are more convenient and readily available at any time and place, which is especially advantageous for instant messaging. Mobile software has more monetization possibilities, particularly regarding various types of advertising.

Smartphone engineers employ technological advances to improve customer data privacy using both hardware and software methods. Many Android and iOS phones offer fingerprint and face scans, security updates for operating systems, and enable using multifactor authentication and additional security software.

Considering the abovementioned advantages, the rational decision would be focusing on mobile development since it offers more possibilities regarding functionality, safety and monetization. Thus, in this article, the aspects of building a chat application will be described in the context of mobile software development.

Profile-related functionality

- Account registration. The chat application may accept and e-mail address or a phone number as a login in order to employ additional authentication measures.

- Profile management. Users can input personal information they want to display on their profiles, as well as alter and delete at any time.

- Personal status sharing. The application may offer a pre-designed set of status messages or allow creating custom ones. The software designers may provide specific types of statuses for different target audiences, for example, “beginner” or “pro” for a skating community, or “troll-hunter, 120 lvl” for RPG fans.

- Online/offline status. This feature displays whether a user is online and also shows the sender whether the recipient has read the message.

- Multifactor authorization. This essential safety feature is especially easy to implement in mobile applications with the help of an SMS service in addition to a login/password combination.

- End-to-end encryption. This basic security measure ensures that only parties engaged in conversation can see each others’ messages.

- Integration with social networks. Customers got used to chat functionality combined with social media features. Thus, your chat app should support sharing chat messages in social networks, as well as the opposite action – sharing messages from Facebook news feed, for example, to a chat.

Contact-related functionality

- Database search. This basic functionality allows looking through chat contacts using various search parameters and filters, and sorting search results.

- Adding/removing contacts. This feature offers a way to maintain a chat contact list in a relevant condition, clean outdated entries, and add new ones.

- Blacklist. Allows putting a “tag” on certain contacts a user does not want to communicate with and prevents these contacts from sending messages to this particular user. Users may remove contacts from the blacklist whenever they change their minds.

- Favorites. This feature helps to organize a chat contact list by marking the most popular entries and putting them on top of the list. Thus, a user does not have to look for them in the entire database.

- Importing contacts from your e-mail contact list, mobile phone contacts, social network friend lists, and other sources.

Messaging functionality

- Text messaging. The basic functionality that requires minimum resources and traffic.

- File attachment options, including images, videos, and other files. Some supported media formats may be displayed in the chat window, while the rest would appear as file attachments with a link.

- Emotion icons (emojis). This feature is tremendously popular among millennials and social network enthusiasts and has become an essential part of messengers. Due to their popularity, emoticon and sticker packs are the excellent option for monetization that does not annoy the customers, unlike the ads.

- Group chat functionality (“Chat rooms”). By default, all members of a group have equal rights to post messages, add or remove users. These conditions may be altered, for example, to include a group chat moderator or to make a group invisible to non-members.

- Voice calls. A smartphone-oriented messenger has all the technical possibilities to offer voice calls in addition to text chats.

- Video calls. Since the presence of a front camera has become a standard in the smartphone industry, a chat app for Android and iOS may offer video calls as a core functionality or as an additional paid feature.

- Channels. Only a channel admin can post messages. Channels may be open where everyone can join, and private/hidden – available only by invitations.

- Push notifications. This feature requires the mobile chat app to keep running in a background mode, slightly draining the phone battery. However, many users are ready to allow this in order not to miss any incoming messages. In addition, the chat app may allow marking messages as “important” and sent notifications via e-mail or SMS when they are sent to a user who is currently offline.

- Chat history and other offline functions. The chat application may use the local storage to keep the chat history for offline browsing. Upon demand, some chats or the whole history may be archived to save storage volume or for easier sending over the network.

Core and additional functionality of a mobile messaging app

Making a Messenger with Extra Functionality

All of the aforementioned features may be divided into the core set and the optional set. The division is subjective, as every developer decides what functions will constitute the core of the app, and what features will be optional or omitted.

Building a messaging application with an extensive set of core and optional features requires significant resources. In order to keep your software project economically feasible, you should consider certain limitations to cut expenditures without severely damaging your app’s usability.

It is important to keep in mind that limiting the functionality of an app helps to reduce development costs but also narrows down the target audience. In its turn, the reduced user coverage is harmful for the app popularity and profitability.

Here are some examples of extra functionality that would be a nice addition for a chat application but won’t seriously hurt its usability if the developers choose to omit these features:

  • emoji packs: stylized, animated, etc.;
  • sticker packs and sticker creation;
  • additional skins and color schemes;
  • invisibility status – ability to hide online presence and appear offline;
  • extra slots in the blacklist;
  • extended capacity of created chat rooms/groups;
  • increased size limit of attachments;
  • scheduled message posting in channels;
  • chatbots.

You may use the abovementioned list of extra functionality for developing the monetization strategy. Consider the fact that a certain percentage of your target audience will be willing to pay an extra fee to get these optional features. Some of these paid perks are purely visual, so you should have talented designers in your team.

Scheme of a user interface for mobile messenger

Building a Convenient Design for Mobile Messaging App

Thoroughly planned UI/UX is crucial for mobile application due to the small screen size and a different nature of user input in comparison with desktop apps. Touch screen interfaces require clear and minimalistic design that allows quick and precise interaction with the app using one or both hands.

Finding and maintaining the balance between convenience and functionality of the interface has a direct impact on the app’s potential profitability. Thus, you should have a team of skilled designers that prefer practical usability and simplicity of the user interface. However, those designers who love to impress and bedazzle with fanciful art may be assigned to creating skins, icon packs, and other paid “cosmetic” addons.

The sphere of UI/UX for mobile messaging applications has already developed an optimal layout: the menu area on top, the message area in the middle, and the typing area in the bottom. This scheme is used in most chat apps and became a de-facto standard, so your messaging app would be more intuitive to new users if you employ a similar interface structure.

While creating a recognizable design, don’t neglect the importance of color schemes. The designers may research and predict the tastes of the target audience in order to choose a default color theme of the messaging app, as well as several optional variants. For example, a reasonable decision would be using brand colors for a corporate chat application. Also, don’t forget that dark UI themes are the current trend in software design.

Message window interface on a mobile phone

How to Choose an Optimal Technology Stack for Messaging App Development

Keeping in mind that your chat app is smartphone-oriented, there are two development strategies that will define the choice of technology stacks. Mobile apps may be:

  • hybrid, where one version of the application is used both on Android and iOS devices; 
  • native, where each mobile operating system gets its version of the application;
  • cross-platform, where one version is developed both for web and mobile platforms.

In relation to native software development, technologies and their stacks are different for Android and iOS solutions. Besides, they also differ for cross-platform and hybrid app development. Thus, the chosen strategy to cover target platforms has a direct effect on the time, staff, and funds required for building a chatting app for mobile.

For example, here is the technology stack of WhatsApp: PHP + Erlang + SoftLayer + lighttpd.

Whatsapp technology stack

Android application coders usually use such programming languages as Java and Kotlin. The development process is performed using such tools as Android Studio, Android Developer Tools, and Android SDK to enable effective code editing and debugging.

For building an iOS messaging app, coders use Objective-C or Swift as programming languages. They are combined with such tools as Apple Xcode and iOS SDK that offer an extensive set of development instruments and documentation.

Each platform represents a separate software market with its set of advantages and drawbacks regarding competition, profitability, customer behavior, etc. You may choose to build a chat app solely for iOS, for example, but then you willingly sacrifice at least half of your potential audience.

The more efficient solution would be presenting your software on both Google Play and Apple Store as one hybrid application or two separate native apps. Hybrid applications fall behind in terms of performance compared to native software. However, they allow covering two mobile platforms with one app.

Hybrid software development is generally performed using React Native and Node.js. Here are some examples of efficient technology combinations that would make a functional core for building a hybrid chat application:

  • React Native + Javascript + Firebase (a backend-as-a-service platform provided by Google) + Expo framework
  • Node.js + Javascript + Expo + Stream Chat SDK
  • React Native + Javascript + Expo + Microsoft Bot Framework + Gifted Chat UI + (optionally, Xcode and/or Android Studio)
  • Ionic + Javascript/Typescript + PhoneGap/Cordova + Openfire server + strophe.js

As you can see, some of the components are present in most stacks due to their effectiveness and ease-of-use. React Native allows writing one code to work on both Android and iOS. Expo is a convenient framework for React that facilitates chat coding and other development aspects. Various chat SDKs are ready-to-use solutions that offer chat APIs to integrate into applications.

Overall, the choice of a technology stack depends on the set of functions desired for a chat application, on the target platform, the availability of developers in a team, and other factors. If you are in doubt, contact us, and our specialists will consult you how to make a messaging app for Android or iOS and propose an optimal technology stack.

How to Make a Profitable Chat App: Three Popular Approaches

A free mobile messaging app has higher chances to attract a large audience immediately from its release. Because of this peculiarity, the most popular monetization strategies imply that the application is free by default and makes a profit using one or several of the following methods:

- Advertisements in the form of video ads, splash screens, or banners. Nowadays, customers tend to be more indulgent in relation to ads because they understand their necessity to maintain a free app. Nevertheless, advertising is annoying, and you have to carefully choose the tolerable amount and types of ads to keep both your profits and audience.

- Subscription is a flexible monetization option that usually offers several plans with different duration and price rates. Thus, a subscription for one year is usually more cost-effective for customers than the sum of twelve individual monthly plans. A subscription gives access to a premium version of an application with extra functionality and better user experience.

- In-app purchases are the most understandable option for customers, as they clearly see what they buy. These purchases may refer to additional features, UI perks, extended cloud storage capacity, and other functionality that remain permanently on a buyer’s account.

These are only three illustrative examples of the most popular monetization options, which may be used separately or in combination. There are many other profitable possibilities that may be used in addition or as an alternative to the listed ones. The comprehensive review of various monetization strategies is presented in the article “How free apps make money” also available in our blog, so read it and learn how to maximize the profits of your future application.

How Long Does it Take to Create a Messaging App

Depending on the chosen target platform of your chat app, its development time and cost may vary significantly. Hybrid software is a versatile solution that is able to work both on Android and iOS. This “write once, run anywhere” approach generally requires less development time and accordingly less funds.

Native apps are built specifically for one platform, that is why they usually outperform hybrid apps. If you want to cover several mobile platforms, you will have to create a separate application for each of them, which additionally increases costs. However, this approach provides better user experience and performance, making an app more attractive to customers.

A rough estimation of MVP development time for a chat application with two front-end versions for Android and iOS and a common server-side code for both platforms would be as follows:

  • iOS UX/UI design – about 150 hours;
  • Android UX/UI design – about 120 hours;
  • Quality assurance – 90 hours;
  • Android frontend development – 500 hours;
  • iOS frontend development – 500 hours;
  • Backend development – 540 hours.

Total: 1900 man-hours for both native versions combined.

Employing an agile development approach, a product with a small but competitive set of functions would require approximately 3 - 4 months to be ready for release. The development team would generally consist of 2 UI/UX designers, 2 Android developers, 2 iOS developers; 1 QA specialist, and 2 backend developers. Medium-sized and complex applications require proportionally more time, reaching 6-8 months and even more, as well as a bigger team and funding.

Keep in mind that these numbers are given only as an example, and correct time and staff requirements will depend on your chat app specifications and development conditions, including tech stacks, team experience and availability, etc. To get a comprehensive evaluation, contact us and our specialists will estimate your mobile chat project free of charge.

Clear and convenient interface of a chat app for smartphones

Conclusion

Mobile chat software is one of the most popular and profitable types of applications in both Apple Store and Google Play. However, there is always room for improvement, and new messaging applications for Android or iOS may solve the problems of the existing software, focus on a particular audience, or simply offer better performance and user experience, earning their place under the metaphorical sun.

If you set your mind on conquering the mobile chat market with new ideas and optimized solutions, Light IT is ready to help you!

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