With the surge in digital connectivity through social media and instant messaging apps, there are big dollars and a big focus on messages apps. Their popularity stems from the fact that messaging has become integral to phone usage. So the question looms – how to make a messaging app that’s successful?
The app market is rife with a plethora of messaging apps. The blurring of the fine line between social media apps and instant messaging apps has made the communication space one of the most sought after app categories. Our detailed guide on how to make a successful app will be particularly useful if you’re at an early stage of app development.
With intense competition from one of the big names in the industry, it is natural to wonder if you have what it takes to make your instant messaging app stand out from the crowd and ensure its success? While the idea of creating a chat app is great, is there enough scope in the market for new entrants?
Scope for messaging applications
App stores are full of success stories like WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, Snapchat, Telegram and so many others. There are also numerous other options which haven’t made it to the headlines making this niche super competitive. Making it big in such a competitive market requires some serious brainstorming on your part.
When WhatsApp was conceptualized 10 years ago, the list of features and functionalities it offered was very limited. Over the past decade, it has shown significant advancements and features incorporation to become the most popular messaging application of the current times with a user base of more than one and a half billion users.
This user base is still growing which is indicative of an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs looking for creating a messaging app just like WhatsApp.
Since the competition is with the top performers, building a simple chat app would no longer do the trick. Your app needs to incorporate at least the basic features that existing messaging apps like WhatsApp currently offer. In addition to that, finding dynamic features that are not commonplace yet is bound to give you a competitive advantage over other messaging apps.
Core functionalities needed in a messaging app
- End to end encryption of chat: User data privacy is one of the rising concerns among app users and having chat encryption gives them an assurance that their data is safe from third parties with malicious intent. Stringent data privacy measures have to be in place to ensure that your business is safeguarded from future litigations and trust is built among the users.
- Voice over internet protocol: Incorporating VOIP has become a common feature among the instant messaging apps available in the app stores. The technology allows the users to make voice and video calls using an internet connection instead of the conventional phone line. This enables voice chat, video chat and group chat in addition to the text messages functionality within the app.
- Multimedia integration: Transfer of files and documents in various formats in the form of images, videos, GIFs, voice notes etc is an important app functionality. It can be easily be incorporated within your messaging app by making use of the appropriate APIs (application programming interface)
- Contact sync: Syncing the mobile contacts helps in streamlining the onboarding process. The app should also allow the users to send out invites to their friends to use the app (and preferably offer some intensive for this as well). Having an existing circle of friends already on the app significantly increases the chances of user retention.
- Multi-platform support: Making it easy for users to access the app from multiple devices adds the component of convenience. WhatsApp does it beautifully with WhatsApp web. Cross-platform support is essential if you intend to let the users access the mobile app via different devices such as tablets or laptops.
- Geolocation integration: Location sharing and integration of geolocation within the mobile app adds an element of convenience for the users. It helps them communicate better and the feature has also become commonplace in almost all messaging apps available today.
- Push notifications: Push notifications are immediate attention-grabbing elements. Enabling them helps the users avoid any lapse in communication and boosts the engagement as well. Incidentally, the introduction of push notifications by Apple was the landmark moment that changed WhatsApp’s fortune back in 2009, so make sure you include this feature in your application as well.
How do you build a messaging app?
A series of decisions taken early in your entrepreneurial journey go a long way in making the road to success a smooth ride. Irrespective whether you hail from a tech or a non-tech background, you need to cover the bases and do some homework before transforming the app idea into an actual product.
You may plan to build the app yourself or may need to hire a mobile app development company to do it for you, but having clarity on what needs to be developed is vital.
Here are the steps that go in to build an instant messaging app.
Step 1. Decide the platform – Native or Hybrid
Before starting with the development process, you need to decide the platform you are developing for. Whether the messaging app is aimed at Android users, iPhone users or both? This would help in the decision regarding whether you should be developing a native app or a cross-platform app.
Native apps have better functionality and provide an enhanced user experience but are only platform-specific i.e. it is either Android or iOS. If you are targeting a wider audience, having native apps developed during the initial phase of your startup puts a significant financial burden. In such cases, cross platform app development makes better financial sense.
Step 2. Define the target audience
Who does your messaging app target? Is it the business professionals or the general population? Deciding whether the app is aimed for enterprise-level communication or business chat would help you narrow down the scope of the product and help you select the features that you need to include within the app.
There are a lot of high-end features that you might be tempted to incorporate in the app such as artificial intelligence, chatbots, IOT integration but defining the target audience is instrumental in helping you draw the line. On the basis of the actual requirements and extensive market research of the target audience, you can decide what the scope of the mobile app should be.
Step 3. Scope out the Minimum viable product
A minimum viable product is the first version of your messaging app that offers only the core must-have features. The nice-to-have features are added to the application in its subsequent iterations.
From the core features mentioned above to the additional features as a result of technology incorporation, the scope of the messaging app that you wish to develop can vary a lot. Defining the MVP app can give you and the developers working on creating your messaging app clarity of the project as well as well defined timelines.
Step 4. Start with the development
Now that you have a clear picture of the final product that you want to develop, it is time to get the ball rolling. If you hail from a tech background and have the requisite skills, you can probably start working on it yourself. If not, it’s time to look out for a talented team of developers that have the potential to turn your app idea into reality.
While there is no dearth of options, hiring a team that best meets your needs is definitely tricky. There are a lot of variables to be considered, remote or in-house, freelance or full-time? The budget that you have set aside also plays an important role.
In the initial phase of the startup, to hire a developer, it requires considerable digging. Do your research and you will discover that finding the developer to partner with you on your quest of making a mobile app isn’t all that difficult either.
Step 5. Incorporate the changes
The highly competitive niche and rapidly occurring technological changes ensure that the messaging app you develop would require constant updates to stay relevant within the market. Since the competition is from the industry leaders, the user experience that your app offers has to stay in league with the rest of the party.
The app development journey may include some roadblocks and you need to be able to pivot in the direction of success. This is what they call getting to Product Market Fit. Developing an app is a resource intensive activity so you need to consider the monetization aspect of the app as well.
Whether you offer a subscription based plan or need to incorporate an advertisement based model, the monetization plan has to be in place to be incorporated in the future iterations of the app in order to ensure long term profitability.
How to make your messaging app stand out from the rest
The market for mobile apps is growing rapidly. Developers are working to expand the use of the apps, making new functionalities possible. Investors now see their huge potential which has driven the apps to ever-higher valuations.
As Fred Wilson, managing partner and Union Square Ventures and investor in the Kik messaging app told the New York Times, “Once they become full-blown ‘portals’ for mobile content and mobile commerce, we will really see how massive this opportunity is.”
Here are five tips on how to make a messaging app with massive scale like WhatsApp:
Tip #1 – Make the most of app functionality
Apps have a unique opportunity compared to the desktop’s social-messaging counterparts. As Benedict Evans points out, smartphone apps can access a user’s address book and photo library, bypassing the need to rebuild social graphs or upload photos. They can also use push emails to get people to check in, rather than relying on users to go out of their way to check a website.
Tip #2 – Do more than one thing
As Evans says, people use several of these at once for different purposes. While WhatsApp may win ‘text chat’, Instagram has carved out its own niche. With the app KakaoTalk, people can discover and share other new smartphone apps. Users can send money to one another within Snapchat, and Line enables people to pay for things at brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Tip #3 – Build your network
According to VentureBeat, messaging is a utility that drives up the value of an app, but the network behind the app is just as important since the larger the network the more valuable the app is. And it’s not just about gaining users; it’s about keeping them.
Four weeks after user installation, Viber and Snapchat are able to retain at least 24% of their users, much higher than the communications category average of 1.84%. Network building requires creative thinking and possibly partnering.
Tip #4 – Find partners
In 2013, WeChat joined Chinese smartphone company Xiaomito to offer a limited quantity of the company’s newest phone for purchase on the chat app. Xiaomi reportedly sold 150,000 phones in less than 10 minutes. The WeChat app is known in China as a hub to find new mobile games with Tencent’s (maker of WeChat) mobile games revenue alone accounting for $420 million.
Tip #5 – Get ahead of the curve
Perhaps one of the most important tips is not to become complacent with the status quo. Many entrepreneurs see WeChat as the ideal model for building a business in messaging with its 500 million monthly active users using it to send image-laden messages, play games and even book car rides and plane tickets.
Media outlets like ESPN, Vice and CNN reportedly are expected to publish original content directly to a new editorial section in Snapchat.
“Media and communication are converging,” Jonah Peretti, chief executive of BuzzFeed, told the New York Times. “Some of what we’re all creating now will be a huge part of these messaging apps over the next one or two years.”
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