How to develop an app like Snapchat: tips, budget and key features

Do you plan to break into the social media world? If yes, it is definitely worth looking at the examples of giants, like Snapchat. In 10 years the platform grew from a small friends-owned startup to a global multi-billion industry leader.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the Snapchat journey and answer all burning questions about mobile app development. Learn about necessary features, costs, and tips on how to choose an agency for quick remote development. Let’s go!

Reading time: 16 minutes

how to develop an app like snapchat
Table of contents

What is Snapchat

Snapchat is a social media platform that allows users to share disappearing “snaps,”  such as photos, videos, or drawings, as well as to tag location, send messages and add new friends. It started in 2011 with the idea to make an app for disappearing photos and videos. It launched onto the market as an iOS-only app called “Picaboo.” After several months of testing, the founders relaunched the platform and changed its name to Snapchat.

how to develop an app like snapchat The founders named the logo “Ghostface Chillah”, after a rapper Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan.

First, users could send only disappearing pictures that were available for 1-10 seconds. But as their mobile app development advanced, the team added new features, for example, video snaps, memories, direct messaging, and others. The app grew very quickly, and within one and a half years, the startup gained 10 million users with 20 million images sent per day.

If you want to know how to develop an app like Snapchat, we should discuss what attracted users to the platform and who they were. Let’s dive in and break it down!

Evan Spiegel,

Snapchat isn’t about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It’s about communicating with the full range of human emotion—not just what appears to be pretty or perfect

Evan Spiegel, 
CEO of Snapchat

The core of Snapchat is its unique business model. It is based on content that can be seen only one time and disappears after a few seconds. This feature appeared way before Instagram introduced view-once direct messages, and was innovative and revolutionary for the time.

Originally, the founders thought about how to make it less stressful to post your life publicly. So, they positioned the app as a solution to unforgetful permanent social media. For example, if Facebook users regret they posted a photo and want to delete it later, they would have to spend time going through albums and selecting pictures. Snapchat users didn’t have this problem, because images there don’t stay permanently.

But some users disagreed and argued that disappearing photos cause fear of missing out. Over the years, Snapchat came up with another distinctive shtick — personalization. The app allows users to customize the content, and create their own look-alike avatars.

how to develop an app like snapchat Here is how users can create their own Bitmoji avatar and turn it into stickers for photos and videos.

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Who is Snapchat’s audience?

If you are wondering how to develop an app like Snapchat and succeed in the social media industry, the key is to know your audience. Snapchat regularly launches global research and surveys to better understand who uses their app and how to make the platform more user-friendly. As of now, Snapchat has 319 million users globally.

how to develop an app like snapchat Snapchat’s research on the global usage of the app.

As of now, most Snapchat users are from 18 to 29 years old and live primarily in the United States, India, or France. 

The majority use the platform to post snaps and direct messages. However, some people take Snapchat as a dating app — a
 revealed that 55% of single respondents prefer the app for flirting over other social media.

According to data, 60% of Snapchat users tend to make impulsive purchases. The company is not only aware of these statistics but also uses them for its own benefit to create personalized ads and attract advertisers.

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How does Snapchat make money

When you think about how to develop an app like Snapchat, it is important to consider how you plan to make money. Every year Snapchat grows its income and is on track to become profitable in the near future. Only in 2021, the app’s revenue was $4.1 billion which was almost twice as much as the previous year.

99% of the income came from online advertising, while the remaining 1% was earned by selling smart glasses Snap Spectacles with a digital camera in the lens that records what a wearer sees.

Snapchat has an Ads Manager platform, similar to Facebook, where advertisers can create an ad, set up an audience, and budget, as well as track results, and check the analytics. To narrow down the right audience for their products, advertisers can adjust age, location, gender, choose typical behavior, influencers users follow, and content users interact with.

Overall, there are many types of ads on Snapchat. We will cover two of the most popular ones to give you an idea of how Snapchat’s advertising works.

Sponsored lenses and filters

The growing number of active users draws brands to Snapchat to create their own lenses that will boost engagement and raise the awareness of the company. The flow is very simple: a brand uploads its lens or filter, promotes it to the relevant audience, and users can post snaps and stories using it. 

While the costs of advertising on Snapchat start from $5 per day, the development of a high-quality lens can be quite expensive and cost anywhere between $5,000 to $750,000. So, to attract more advertisers and make this type of ad more accessible to small businesses, Snapchat released the Lens Web Builder, a platform that allows users to create a lens directly in the Ads Manager now.

how to develop an app like snapchat Starbucks brand profile and sponsored lens on Snapchat.

Snap Ads and Story Ads

Snap Ad is a photo or video full-screen ad up to 3 minutes long that appears in between user-generated content, for example, user stories. It contains a swipe-up link to direct the audience to a product page. Advertisers of Snapchat can set their own budget and adjust it based on their goals and performance.

how to develop an app like snapchat Source

Story Ads are similar to Snap Ads, but there is one difference: there is no swipe-up link that redirects users to the page with more information. Therefore, Story Ads have to be more engaging and memorable.

5 key features of Snapchat

To better learn how to develop an app like Snapchat and recreate its success in the social media industry, it is essential to know what is at the core of Snapchat’s functionality and what makes an app they created so engaging and user-friendly. 

We made a list of 5 key features of Snapchat and broke down what they look like and how they meet the needs of the users.

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1. Camera interface 

To create any type of content, including snaps and stories, users will need the camera interface. While creating a custom camera screen is not complicated or unusual, there are several important details to consider during mobile app development.

First, a designer needs to create a layout for an in-app camera with icons for customizable filters, stickers, text, and other effects. Then, a developer needs to write a code that will capture images or videos and save the result. Moreover, your app will need to ask for permission to use the device camera, storage, location, and mic access to create audio recordings. Also, not to forget: after using the camera, the app should release it for other applications to use.

Snapchat has a very minimalistic camera layout with the main button in a thumb-friendly area, an in-app menu at the bottom, and effects on the very right of the screens. After taking a picture or a video, users can customize it without leaving the screen.

how to develop an app like snapchat Two examples of camera screens on Snapchat.

🤔📸 Sounds like a lot to take in? That is why when someone asks us how to develop an app like Snapchat, we always recommend working with an agency or a freelancer with relevant experience who will make sure all these small yet crucial elements are not overlooked when they make an app.

2. Filters and lenses

AR (augmented reality) filters and lenses are immersive digital effects that can be superimposed on real-life images. They use original photos or videos as a background and add an extra layer of imagery. For example, make-up effect with long eyelashes and blush, or mustache and glasses.

how to develop an app like snapchat Snapchat has an extensive catalog of visual effects.

Snapchat has its own filters and lenses, as well as brand-sponsored ones, allowing users to tweak their content as much as they want. The personalization opportunities for the content directly correlate with the engagement rate of the app. A user spends time on the platform, browsing the filters and looking for the right one that reflects their mood. The more filters and lenses are available, the more time the user will spend in the app. The longer they stay on Snapchat, the longer the average session is — the determining factor for advertisers. 

Brands don’t want to place a sponsored ad on an app where a user spends 2 minutes daily on average. Instead, they are looking for platforms where users stay for longer and engage with an interface. For example, an average Snapchat user spends 30 minutes on the platform daily.

However, designing AR elements can be expensive, especially for startups in the early stages. Therefore, for starters you can make an app with just a few filters and leave the floor open for users and brand profiles, letting them upload AR filters, masks, or lenses if they want to. This will increase the engagement rate of the app without stretching your budget in the very beginning.

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3. Voice, text, and video chats

Messaging functionality is also important for engagement and conversion rate. If a user receives a text or a snap from their friends, they have a reason to come back to the app and stay there to reply and chat for a bit.

Snapchat has a regular chat with text messages that get deleted by default when you close it, as well as voice and video chats. To start a conversation, a user needs to tap on an existing thread or choose a recipient from the friend list. They can exchange snaps (camera access again), text messages, Bitmoji stickers, or initiate a live chat. Snapchat will invite users back to the app by informing them when someone is typing or about new messages.

how to develop an app like snapchat Voice and video chat icons appear on the top right.

4. Snapcodes

When you explore how to develop an app like Snapchat, there is one more distinctive feature to learn about. Snapcode is a unique automatically generated QR code for a user to share and make their profile more discoverable. To add this feature to mobile or web application development, you will need to embed a code and link generator with the necessary buttons. The key here is to make the design as user-friendly and seamless as possible. That way, it will intuitively encourage users to share their Snapcodes on other platforms and receive more exposure for the app.

Snapcodes have a very simple, but recognizable design. They are created with yellow brand color and a clear layout to make it easy for users to share the code and find each other using this feature. 

how to develop an app like snapchat Snapcodes can be shared as a picture or as a link.

5. Friend lists

For this feature, Snapchat, like many other applications, accesses contacts to find friends who already use the app. Users can add and remove friends and exchange messages or images. Also, people can post stories or snaps privately, in friends-only mode. Apart from mutually added friends, Snapchat users can also follow brands and influencers to watch their content and stay on top of main trends. But they won’t be able to see private snaps posted by influencers for friends only.

how to develop an app like snapchat The quick add feature sources users from the device contacts.

For the safety of its users and their images, Snapchat recently released a new feature that reminds people to check their friend lists and delete outdated connections. Imagine, you added someone you met at a party once and forgot about it, but that person still watches your content and can take a screenshot when something goes south. The reminder prevents leaks and shows that the app cares about the users and their privacy. During mobile or web application development, think about how your app can show that you put customer experience first.

how to develop an app like snapchat Snapchat is known for its user-friendly UI/UX design and copywriting with a bit of humor. 

How to develop a Snapchat-like app: a step-by-step guide

Snapchat-like app development process involves several essential stages. We’ve refined it to the five most important ones:

App development process

Our Snapchat app development process includes 5 steps

Step 1. Fleshing out the Snapchat-like app idea

Identify crucial Snapchat features you’ll focus on, such as camera filters and voice chats. At the same time, try to brainstorm a unique selling point (UTP) or a feature that sets your app apart from competitors. You can use this UTP as leverage when getting new users; they’ll stick with your app because you offer something that no other company has.

Step 2. Researching the market

Market research is crucial in determining what the Snapchat clone app should include. Try identifying the target audience and both direct and indirect competitors of your app. This can help you recognize gaps in the market and niches your product can fill. At the same time, you’ll discover your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, which you can use to your advantage. 

Also, we suggest conducting interviews with potential users, as it can provide valuable insights for refining the app’s main features and increases the chances of your app becoming successful.

Step 3. Creating UI/UX design

User-friendliness and the visual look are essential when it comes to app design. Try creating a refined user interface (UI) and mapping out an excellent user experience (UX) that prioritizes simplicity and intuitive navigation.

At Purrweb, we start with mind maps and wireframes to pinpoint the Snapchat clone app‘s logic and features, which we follow by designing finished screens and compiling a UI kit. The latter simplifies the design process in the long run.

Wireframes and finished screens example

Here’s what the difference between wireframes and finished screens looks like

Step 4. Developing and testing the Snapchat-like app

This phase involves building the Snapchat clone app’s back-end and front-end. The former includes the server-side logic that powers the app’s features, like camera, filters, and video chats. The latter enables users to actually interact with the app and these features.

After we program each feature, our QA engineers begin checking them for bugs. They identify errors in the Snapchat clone app’s functionality, ensuring that it works smoothly across different devices and platforms.

Step 5. Releasing the Snapchat-like app

The most exciting part of the development process 😀 We launch the Snapchat clone app and collect feedback from the first users. Their feedback helps us generate ideas, which we can implement in later iterations of the app, as well as reveal flaws that developers could miss. We release the app on both the App Store and Google Play Market.

If you’d like to release a Snapchat-like app on all mobile devices and save time, we recommend going for cross-platform development. In this case, you develop both apps using a single codebase. This reduces the time and resources you have to spend.

The tech stack we use for Snapchat-like app development

The tech stack of the app depends on the platform you’re going to release your app on. We’ve outlined the three most prominent technologies for different app types. Let’s check them out:

React Native. We use this framework to develop cross-platform mobile apps for iOS and Android. During React Native development, we write a single code base and work on it alone, which allows us to create apps for both operating systems in half the time. The two resulting apps are virtually indistinguishable from native ones written for a specific platform. Thanks to this framework, you can hire a single development team to build two apps for you, circumventing the need for separate professionals to create different apps.

WebRTC. It’s a technology for real-time video chats and messages. We use it to get access to the phone’s microphone and camera, which can be used for communication within the app. If you want your Snapchat clone app to have features similar to FaceTime calls and voice messages without stutters — it’s a must have.

AWS (Amazon Web Services). We use it for mobile app hosting. Essentially, instead of storing code on the user’s phone and taking up their storage space, we put it on the cloud server. This way, the Snapchat clone app can run without issues. Also, we can scale it without any hassle; even if the number of users doubles overnight — the cloud servers capacity can be easily increased.

Snapchat clone app tech stack

Each technology corresponds to a specific platform or device on which the app’s going to work

3 must-haves when you make an app like Snapchat

If you got to this part of the article and are still confused about how to develop an app like Snapchat, and where to start, no worries, we got you. To begin with, make sure you have these 3 elements for a successful mobile app development process.

👩🏻‍💻 Reliable developer. To knock out the competitors, you will need someone to make sure that your app runs seamlessly and provides a top-notch experience for all users. Your choice of a contractor will directly impact the final result. If you pick someone who doesn’t have relevant experience, constantly misses deadlines, and disappears in the middle of the process, your app will end up raw and sloppy. So, even if you read thousands of articles on how to develop an app like Snapchat, without a good professional developer, there is no guarantee of success.

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👩🏻‍⚖️ Lawyer. When you deal with user-generated content, it is a must to think about who owns the rights to the images and videos. You also need to learn local copyright laws in the country or the state where you operate. Usually, the apps include this article in the terms and conditions and rule it in the favor of the platform, defining that it owns all the rights to the content. To avoid any potential loopholes for lawsuits and liability issues, we recommend consulting with a professional lawyer who knows the details and will help you craft a conditions agreement for the app.

📝 MVP stage. Don’t skip it — MVP is necessary to test the idea and assess the market before the full release. Don’t mix it up with a prototype, MVP (minimum viable product) is a finalized fully-functioning version with a limited set of key features that provides the entire experience to check the waters before investing the full budget.

Let’s start the Snapchat-like app development process today!
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How to choose the right developer

As we mentioned, having a skilled and competent developer is the key to having a secure and robust mobile app and minimizing the number of bugs. It doesn’t matter if you are interested in how to develop an app like Snapchat android or iOS, Java or React Native development, the process of looking for the right person will be similar.

1️⃣ Choose if you want an agency or a freelancer. This will help you to narrow down your options. Consider how complicated your mobile application will be and how many people you will need for the development.

2️⃣ Check their portfolio, client references, and their UI/UX on previous cases. Turn into a private investigator for a bit and do your cyberstalking to check their credibility and expertise.

3️⃣ Ask if they offer post-release support.​​​​ To stay relevant and trendy, you will need to continue using development services after launch. For example, to release updates, fix some bugs or scale up and add new features. Make sure your developer won’t disappear and will be there to help you with new versions.

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How much does the development cost

Here we reached the most important part. How to develop an app like Snapchat on a tight budget and is it even possible?

Let’s break down how much mobile or web application development costs for a similar project.

🚨Disclaimer: These are our estimations and we don’t guarantee other companies have the same costs or timelines. The following is valid only if you make an app with us.

Stage What are we doing Estimation in hours Estimation in weeks Approximate costs
Initial meeting Discuss the idea of your app 1 day No costs
UI/UX design Map users’ journey, create and present you interface mock-ups 180 hours  6  weeks  $8 100
Development Work on architecture and the interface on both client and server-side 1500 hours( 17  weeks  $67 000 
QA Testing Look for any potential bug and fix it  510 hours  Alongside the development $10 200
Project management Manage the mobile app development project and solve administrative tasks Alongside the UI/UX design and development  UI/UX design –  $900
Development –   $5 950

Overall, the development of an app like Snapchat will cost you $ 92 000 and will take approximately 6 months.

How to cut costs on Snapchat-like app development: three methods

How do you roll the app out cheaper without sacrificing its quality or your users’ trust? We have 3 methods you can use to cut Snapchat app development costs — here they are:

Start with an MVP

Let’s start with a counterexample. Imagine an entrepreneur with an ambitious idea for an app; let’s name him John. John found some developers, created a project plan, and began working on the app. Together, they worked on the project in its entirety: implementing every feature from most important to minute, fleshing out thousands of app screens and design elements, etc.

The app had to be perfect from the start, so the whole development process took 8 months. The moment John presented his idea to investors, however, it fumbled, and he failed to secure funds. As a result, he wasted a lot of time, money, and effort.

With MVP Snapchat app development, it’s a different story. You outline key Snapchat features first and work from there. In the end, you get a viable, functional app without any fluff. Your users are happy because they get a decent product, and you get the necessary first-client feedback to improve your app later. That’s why starting with an MVP first for Snapchat-like app development is so important.

Outsource development

Say you’ve already fleshed out the idea of the app and researched the market. Now would be the perfect time to begin development. To do that, you need a Snapchat app development team that can help you, but where do you even look for them? Actually, choosing a team can go two ways:

In-house teams. In this scenario, you have to create a team from scratch. You’ll need to find specialists on your own by contacting them or posting job listings. Assembling a team of 5-7 developers may take approximately 4-5 months. After that, you’ll have to think about paying salaries, taxes, as well as providing paid leave and a bonus. 

Outsourcing. In this case, you hire a development company and delegate the entire Snapchat app development process to them. It’s cheaper than hiring an in-house team in the long run, especially for startups and small businesses. You get a company for Snapchat-like app development for 3-4 months; after that, you can extend your agreements or part ways. You also won’t need to maintain an office space for them or pay benefits.

Develop with an Agile-methodology

At Purrweb, we work using this framework. Essentially, our development process is divided into two-week sprints, and you get a completed feature at the end of each one.

Because we work on an iterative basis, it’s easier to course-correct. If your investors are urging the company to pivot, the Agile method allows us to do it painlessly and save you money. Another benefit is that you get a tangible part of the app every two weeks. This means that if investors pester you about the app’s progress, you actually have something to show them and calm them down.

Wrapping up

In the article we discussed how to develop an app like Snapchat step-by-step and provided some insights on key features, costs, and timeframes. 

Сreating a social media app is complex and challenging, but everything is possible with the right developer who has relevant experience and pays attention to detail. At Purrweb we work with mobile and web app development, providing straightforward and cutting-edge UI/UX to level up the user experience for your customers.

Wanna move forward with your app idea and consult our developers? Drop your email and we will get back to you soon.

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  • What is Snapchat?

    Snapchat is a social media platform that allows users to share disappearing “snaps,” photos, videos, or drawings, tag location, send messages and add new friends.

  • Who uses Snapchat?

    Snapchat has 319 million active users. Most of them are young millennials between 18-29 who live in the United States, India, and France.

  • What are the key functions of Snapchat?

    Snapchat has 5 main features: camera interface, filters & lenses, messaging functionality, snapcodes, and friend lists.

  • How much does it cost to make an app like Snapchat?

    To make an app like Snapchat with similar functionality, we recommend having a budget of around $92 000 for mobile or web application development.

  • How long does it take to make an app like Snapchat?

    On average, it takes 6 months to develop a mobile application similar to Snapchat.