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How to сreate a messaging app in 2024: features, cost & timeline

Could you name one thing that unites all of us? Our answer is the fact that we all have at least one messenger installed on our phones. We use messaging apps not only for daily communications but also for keeping up with news, setting appointments through bots, and chatting with customer support.

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How to make a messenger app
Table of contents

The number of active users is expected only to grow, and the messaging app market is blossoming and thriving. At Purrweb, we have received a lot of questions about how to create a messaging app, therefore we decided to share our experience. You’ll learn what messaging apps are popular and which features are necessary to make a messaging app. Enjoy this article and get your free app estimation at the bottom of the page!

The Facebook Messenger app is used by 1.3 billion people globally, while WhatsApp has 2 billion active users worldwide. Popular in Asian countries, WeChat is slightly behind, having 1.2 billion users. Slack helps 12 million people maintain business communication within companies. The great news is that the majority of app users have multiple chat apps installed on their smartphones, so all listed companies are complementors rather than competitors.

How to define the key features

There is a set of functions you need to consider in order to create an instant messaging app. At Purrweb, we believe an app should be user-friendly in the first place and consider customer pain points.

Therefore, we always advise you to start with brainstorming and defining your niche, unique characteristics, and target audience. Then, you can move on to execution and pick the functionality you need for your app. You can find more tips on selecting MVP features in the article below.

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Must-have features

Based on our experience, we created a list of must-have features for the best messaging app. 

Authorization 

The registration process should be fast, and to make it fast, we recommend adding the ability to log in via social media, phone number, or e-mail. After this, the user will be able to choose a photo and a username. Some apps like Telegram allow users to create multiple profiles. It might be really useful, for example, if you live between two countries and have multiple SIM cards.

Access to contacts

This feature makes the onboarding process in an app like WhatsApp much easier because a user can sign up, sync contacts, and instantly start messaging.

Messaging 

The instant messaging feature is the core of your chat app. Your app will need elements like private and group chats, send and unsend messages, delivery status, text history, and editing functionality.

File exchange

The ability to exchange media files can extend the variety of reasons why people will use your instant messaging app. Let users send photos, videos, GIFs, and documents to each other and use chats as cloud storage.

Push notifications

Users should instantly be notified that they have received a new message. If you have ever used a messenger in your life, you probably know how important notifications are 😉

Data protection

When it comes to any kind of communication, personal or work — privacy is important. Users’ data is usually stored on app-owned servers, messages are encrypted and transferred between devices using different communication protocols. Consult us to learn more about data security technologies and create a safety messaging app.

Geolocation

It can be integrated into your messenger with the help of third-party services. Geolocation allows users to share their position with others. The messenger also uses geolocation to set the language of users’ current place of residence.

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Nice-to-have features

These features are not required from the start, as they can ramp up the cost of building a chat app. But they definitely enhance the instant messaging app experience, so note them for the future.

Video and voice calls

Consider adding voice and video calls. Maybe it’s not that necessary in the first app development stage, but as soon as you have resources, it’s good to think about expanding the functionality to the call exchange.

When you implement voice and/or video calls, make sure that they are properly protected. With end-to-end encryption (E2EE) in place, no third party will be able to intercept information traveling between the devices of call participants. And even if they do gain unauthorized access to the data flow, it will be impossible to decrypt.

Chatbots

This feature will attract businesses to your messenger. Chatbot is automatic software that maintains online communications with customers, sends automatic replies, and answers frequently asked questions. They can also call a human if a user’s question is too difficult for the machine.

Channels

First launched by Telegram back in 2015, channels are a form of one-way communication platforms similar to communities in social media. They allow users to directly reach their subscribers with any type of content, be it text, video, or audio. The current staple in the industry are Telegram channels, which support an unlimited number of subscribers, feature multiple analytics tools for admins, and offer content protection measures — for example, the channel owner can block screenshots or disable message forwarding.

Self-destructing messages

Self-destructing or ephemeral messages are a simple and effective privacy protection tool. Once the recipient reads the message, the app permanently erases it from every chat server. Perfect for discussing legal matters, receiving medical consultations, or sharing sensitive corporate info.

Looks massive? Here’s a compact list of the key features for you to take a look at.

Must-have messenger features Nice-to-have messenger features
Authorization Calls
Access to contacts Chatbots
Messaging Channels
File exchange Disappearing messages
Push notification
Data protection 
Geolocation

Technology stack for a messaging app

There are several aspects of building a messaging app like WhatsApp. First, you need to consider which communication protocol to use. It regulates how devices exchange information with servers.

Three protocols can be used in instant messaging app development:

    • Extensible Messaging Presence Protocol (XMPP) — an old protocol made for real-time messaging, easily adaptable to different needs.
    • Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) — popular in IoT (Internet of Things) devices, comes with minimal features only.
    • WebSockets — a newer protocol that allows the user-server exchange even without requests from the user’s side.

To create a messaging application, you’ll need to choose between native and cross-platform app development. Native app development essentially means building different apps for each operating system. To build a chat app for iOS natively, you’ll need developers experienced in Objective-C or Swift. For native Android apps, the tech stack will be Java and Kotlin.

And if you want to make a messaging app suitable for both systems, opt for cross-platform development. Then, the tech stack for both iOS and Android app development will be the same.

Before we move on to the app development costs, here’s a bonus tip from us.

Save your time and money by choosing React Native

When entering the market with your first-ever messenger, choose to develop it with React Native. It is a UI software framework created by Meta in 2015. It works with JavaScript — one of the most popular programming languages across the world, so it’s not difficult and time-consuming to find a contractor for your messaging app development.

Why choose React Native?

There are 4 major benefits of working with a team that develops on React Native.

    • Cross-platform development cuts the time for messaging app development, reduces costs, and enables developers to deliver a unified user experience across multiple platforms using just a single codebase. And there is no need to hire and pay two separate teams for software development.
    • React Native has massive libraries of native UI elements for building interfaces.This simply means that your future app will scroll, swipe, and tap like native-build ones. And it matches what users expect. The performance of the messenger will be native, but you’ll save tons of time and money choosing React Native over the native chat app development.
    • React Native is a JavaScript-based framework. It allows developers to use the same language for both client-side and server-side development, simplifying the workflow.
    • React Native allows for simple integration of third-party services. Using them is a way to reduce the costs of chat app development. If you have a tight budget, implement certain features with ready-made solutions. Examples include payment gateways, chatbots, ad managers, social media embeds, etc.

We have been working with React Native for the past five years. The framework allows us to create MVPs for our clients in 3 months — you will have a working chat app that you can test to collect user feedback and show to potential investors.

An image depicting the simplified principle of cross-platform development with React Native

With React Native, you can develop an app simultaneously for both Android and iOS

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Step-by-step guide: how to create a messaging app from scratch

Creating a messaging app requires experience, knowledge, and time. There are some steps to follow:

Pick the most crucial features and estimate the scope of work

In the first stage, you need to estimate the functionality of your project. When you approve all the necessary chat app features, a business analyst estimates the scope of work. If you’d like to follow the MVP approach, we recommend you focus only on the most crucial features.

Design the messaging app’s UI/UX and make a UI kit

Designers collect references, which helps to grasp the client’s taste. Then, they draft the instant messaging app architecture — a mindmap that shows all the logic of the app and wireframes that show the position of buttons or content. Then, designers create a concept — a ready-made part of the app that shows a particular flow. When the client approves the screens, designers make mockups and UI kits.

Develop the front/back-end and implement all the necessary features

Specialists put the app development process in motion — it’s a task for backend and frontend developers who will build a fully working product and all the app functionality. The process is complex, but here are some of the steps our developers follow to create a chat app. To build a messaging app, we:

    • Create a directory and install the required dependencies.
    • Develop a channel list to display a list of available chat channels or group chats
    • Develop a message list to display the conversation history within a channel or group.
    • Develop a message input feature that allows users to compose and send messages.
    • Implement a user authentication system.
    • Implement a file-sharing feature, push notifications, audio and video calls, and geolocation.
    • Add other chat functionality you want to include in the app.

We develop apps using two-week sprints, and at the end of every sprint, we are ready to show one or two finished features.

Check your messaging app’s functionality and security

QA specialists test your instant messaging app and check its efficiency, safety, and functionality. If you develop a cross-platform app, they will test it on both iOS and Android. At the end of each sprint, we allocate two days for bug fixing. Every two sprints, we do regression testing because we need to be sure that all features work together correctly.

Launch and market your messaging app

When the app has been released, it doesn’t mean that the task is completed. Often, the released app needs maintenance, and in most cases, the app development agency supports the app after the launch.

Let’s discuss the messenger development price.

An image of a map depicting key stages of mobile MVP development

The map we use here at Purrweb

What factors affect the messaging app development price

If you want to create a messaging app, pay attention to two factors that influence the development cost.

    • Project complexity. The price depends on how big and complex your future messenger will be. You have to increase your budget according to your needs. On the other hand, if you want to develop an MVP, you can focus on high-priority features and improve your messenger later. 
    • Hiring option. To build a messaging app, you need a team. There are 3 main groups of app developers: freelancers, in-house teams, and outsourcing teams. The development costs with each group are different. Most freelancers have lower rates. If you want to hire an in-house team, you have to set up an office with all the facilities. With outsourcing, you get both effective communication and lower costs.

How much does it cost to make a messaging app?

We reached the most important part of the article — estimated costs and timelines. App development involves a team of developers, UX designers, product managers, and QA specialists. And everyone needs to be paid 🙂

Our philosophy is to be as open and transparent as possible, so we always discuss prices and timeframes beforehand. We offer a full-cycle development of a React Native app from scratch. Moreover, to develop an on-demand messenger, we will take additional measures to ensure data security. Meanwhile, our UX designers will research your potential users, plan the architecture of the app, and create a design concept.

Here’s the timeline with prices. But remember, this estimation is for an average messaging app.

Stage What we are doing Estimation in hours Estimation in weeks Approximate cost
Project estimation We discuss an idea of your messaging app and estimate the costs and time needed ~4-16 hours 1 week no costs
UI/UX design We make an app architecture, come up with design concepts for each step, and present them to you 150 hours 5 weeks $6,000
Development Our team develops an app  1646 hours 18 weeks $48,880
Admin panel Our team develops an admin panel 424 hours in parallel with the project $16,960
QA Testing We search for any possible bugs and fix them before launch 450 hours In parallel with the development $8,100
Project management A manager assigns tasks, controls deadlines and removes any bumps from the road In parallel with the project In parallel with the project $500 – design

$4,500 – development

Below you can find an estimation of how long it would take for our team to develop each feature for a messaging app

Features Backend (hours) Frontend (hours)
Authorization 40 40
Access to contacts 80 100
Messaging 40 60
File exchange 60 120
Push notifications 40 40
Data protection (end-to-end encryption) 80 80
Audio-, video calls 180 180
Geolocation 12 20
Chatbot 20 30
Admin panel (Authorization, chat manager, user manager, servce manager) 160 264

 Overall, if you want to make a chat app, it will take you 5 months and $85,000.

Let’s start working on your custom messenger app today!
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Let’s finally do the math!

Overall, a team of 6 people will create your messaging app. According to similar projects we have made, the estimated cost of development is about $85,000 for a full cycle of development. This budget includes UI/UX design, building a prototype, QA testing, creating iOS and Android versions, connecting to servers, and everything else needed. In 5 months, you will get a fully-working messaging app with all crucial features.

As a bonus — we will answer all your questions about how to create a messaging app and share with you tips on how to launch successfully. You can always check our portfolio and reviews and reach out to us anytime via the contact form.

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