How much does it cost to build an app like WhatsApp in 2023?
Messengers are one of the most popular ways to communicate online and have billions of active users. The creators of such applications strive to meet all the needs of users — some value security above all, and some want chatbots or custom stickers and emojis. However, users are always missing something or acquiring new needs. That’s why there’s still space on the messaging app market and you can compete even with such giants as WhatsApp. In this article, we’re going to tell you how to develop a messenger like WhatsApp, how much it can cost, which business model to choose, and how to compete on the market.
Reasons to build a messenger in 2023
With over 2 billion users, WhatsApp takes the first place on the list of the most popular messaging apps in the world. Talking about WhatsApp’s annual revenue, it was $906,000,000 in 2022. The second place on the list is taken by WeChat, a Chinese messenger, while Facebook Messenger takes the third place.
As you can see, while WhatsApp is leading the global messaging app market, there are other chat apps that compete with it successfully. Statistics also show that messengers are one of the most downloaded mobile apps worldwide. A new messaging app has a high chance of becoming popular and taking its market share if it targets a specific audience or offers users a unique experience.
Which business model suits messaging apps?In-app advertising
In this model, businesses pay to place ads in your app, while it stays free to download and use. The advantage of this model is that it can help to attract new users since people are more willing to use apps for free than to pay for them. However, ads can be irritating and even make users leave the app, so you need to place ads carefully.Freemium
With this model, the app has a free version with limited features and to get extended features, users need to pay for the premium version. This model helps to attract users, shows them the app’s basic functionality, and inspires them to try the premium version.In-app purchases
This model lets you sell products on the platform and gain profit. In the case of a messaging app, these can be digital products like stickers, themes, avatar frames, etc.Subscription
Users pay monthly or annually to get access to the app. With this model, you can also offer users a trial version to let them test the app before paying for a subscription.
WhatsApp used to have subscriptions, but then they started offering a premium version for businesses. You can combine different monetization models to create an app like WhatsApp — it all depends on your business goals.
To compete with WhatsApp, you need to know their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s see what the app was built with and how it works.
Best and worst features
Advantage of WhatsApp
- Free to use and zero ads. Initially, WhatsApp had a subscription-based monetization model, since the founders were against ads. In some countries, users paid $1 a year, while in other countries, they had a trial version and were charged after the first year. Now when Facebook acquired WhatsApp, they gave up on subscriptions and started making money through Business API, and the app stays free for regular users.
- Multiple features. WhatsApp allows users to exchange text, voice, and video messages, make voice and video and calls, share media content, send emojis and stickers, and create polls. Users can also create group chats to communicate with several people at once.
- End-to-end encryption. This method of communication ensures no third party will get data from chats between WhatsApp users. The messages are secured with a lock, and only users participating in the conversation have the special key needed to unlock and read the messages. The process is automatic, and users don’t need to turn on any special settings to secure their chats.
- Message statuses. WhatsApp uses check marks to indicate the status of messages. A single gray tick shows that the message was sent, a double gray tick shows that the message was delivered, and a double blue tick shows that the recipient has read the message.
Disadvantage of WhatsApp
- Lack of safety. WhatsApp provides users with end-to-end encryption but not everything they do on the app is private. First of all, the app shares all the information about its users with Facebook. Moreover, users can’t hide their phone numbers, which means that the numbers can get into the hands of scammers. Of course, there’s no app that’s perfectly secured but these moments can definitely be improved.
- Inability to edit messages. If you make a mistake in a message on WhatsApp, you won’t be able to edit it or cancel message delivery. What’s even more annoying, you can’t delete a message without a trace. WhatsApp always leaves a note that the message was deleted, which is visible to all participants of the conversation.
- Files clog up the phone’s storage. WhatsApp automatically downloads all media files like photos, videos, and gifs sent to the user. These files can take up a lot of space, which irritates users. You can change it in the settings, however, by default, the app saves everything on the phone.
- Backups. To transfer the history of chats to new devices, users need to set up their backups. The data can be stored locally or on Google Drive. When transferring an account to a new device, the user needs to download the backup file from the old device or restore it via Google Drive. If the user didn’t set up their backup, they will lose all the chats. This disadvantage isn’t critical, but it can annoy users, as they need to deal with backups instead of just accessing all the chats by signing in.
- No useful updates. WhatsApp is constantly being updated, but at the same time, no new useful features appear in the application. Since Meta bought the app, they haven’t even tried to fix all the flaws listed above, despite user complaints.
- Outdated design. WhatsApp’s design is another thing that Meta hasn’t been improving much. There are a lot of UX issues in the application that makes it not very convenient to use. Account settings, message and chat management, as well as customization — other messengers such as Telegram, made these features more convenient.
You can take WhatsApp’s disadvantages and turn them into your advantages. It can help you to create an app like WhatsApp or even better.
The WhatsApp team uses Erlang as their main development technology for the server side of the app. You might not have heard about Erlang before, as it’s a very old programming language that appeared in 1986. It’s used for creating scalable real-time systems with high reliability. As for the client side, WhatsApp uses native languages — Java for Android, Swift for iOS, and C# for Windows Phone. Here are some other technologies used for the project:
- PHP for web development
- FreeBSD as the operating system
- Ejabberd for handling messages
- Mnesia as the database for storing messages
- YAWS as the web server for storing multimedia data
As you can see, the choice of technologies to create an app like WhatsApp is quite flexible. Now let’s think about how you can distinguish your app from WhatsApp by studying its competitors.
How other messengers compete with WhatsApp
Like Whatsapp, Telegram is a free application, but it offers a premium version with advanced functionality: exclusive emojis and reactions, text transcription of audio messages, fast downloads, etc. Unlike WhatsApp, Telegram syncs between all devices automatically, there is no need for users to set up any backups. The main advantage of this app is it allows users to create channels where they can share their thoughts, news, or any other content. Another interesting feature of Telegram is the ability for users to create their own chatbots.
WeChat/Weixin is a super app that combines a messenger, a social network, a payment application, a mobile game, and many other functions. It was developed by Tencent for the Chinese market. Popular messengers like WhatsApp are blocked in China because of the country’s policy, that’s why WeChat is very popular there.
Viber is very similar to WhatsApp in terms of functionality — both apps provide users with messaging, end-to-end encryption, voice and video calls, group chats, and media-sharing features. Unlike WhatsApp, Viber allows users to hide and encrypt individual chats with a PIN, make external calls, and play simple board games. Viber is mostly popular in Europe, especially in Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia.
When it comes to security, Signal is one of the safest messengers to use. Apart from end-to-end encryption, Signal protects users’ metadata and doesn’t collect their personal information.
Snapchat is a free-to-use messaging app that makes money through advertising. Like WhatsApp, the app allows users to send each other messages and photos. However, all media and messages are automatically deleted after 24 hours, and the app doesn’t allow saving any media on the phone. Snapchat also has multiple photo and video filters, including AR.
How much does it cost to make a messenger like WhatsApp?
The cost of building a messaging application depends on several factors — the number and complexity of features, the chosen technologies, and the development company’s prices. To find out the most accurate cost estimate, you need to discuss the app idea with a development partner. We recommend sharing budget expectations right at the start, so the contractor would be able to choose the optimal technologies to build a solution for your business.
To find a suitable contractor, you can check platforms like Clutch and Goodfirms. There you can get acquainted with the prices of development companies, their portfolios, and client reviews. You can also check the websites of companies and learn more about their services.
As for the number of features, we recommend starting small and developing only must-have features and a killer feature that can distinguish your app from competitors. This way you’ll be able to enter the market faster and test the idea on real users, without investing millions of dollars in the development of a large project. The main features for messengers are:
- User profile
- Contact integration
- Media sharing
Based on this list of key features, we can roughly estimate the cost of messaging app development in our company:
At Ronas IT, the cost of making an app like WhatsApp would range between $60.000–$90.000 for an MVP. The costs and timelines are approximate so if you wish to get a precise quote, feel free to contact us by clicking the button.