With its disruptive effect to mobile market since 2013, no wonder many dealmakers and vendors are curious about how much does it cost to make an app like WhatsApp. As Financial Times state: “WhatsApp has done to SMS what Skype did to international calling on landlines”. And 1.2 billion monthly active users are a solid proof of that.
How does Whatsapp work?
A wordplay in its title is justified, as WhatsApp is a messaging service for smartphones relying on the internet connection. It is a cheaper alternative to SMS messaging provided by mobile carriers, and offers a low-cost subscription model. It is especially nice for group messaging and texting people abroad.
This mobile messaging app, that has been bought out by Facebook, enables text, image and video sharing through messages. WhatsApp handles about 600 m images and over 60 b text messages daily. It works perfectly on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows devices, PC/Mac, and is completely free for users.
Whatsapp core features
Let’s start with a visual chart of features making up WhatsApp.
Before starting to review the issue of how much does it cost to make an app like WhatsApp, we should take a closer look at these features. This functionality is the core of an app, and if you wish to build a messaging app like WhatsApp, these are the building blocks of your cost to invest.
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Instant messaging is first on the list, as the most obvious. It works through Internet connection, nothing like SMS fees. Even when offline, users receive all the messages as soon as they get online. Group chats, allowing up to 256 persons at once, are great if you want to speak to family or co-workers.
When user gets a message or someone invites him/her to group chat, user gets a notification. Also, push notifications to keep us posted 24/7 about discount, deals, instructions, alerts, etc. WhatsApp also provides data on availability online, allowing users to set their status. Location sharing, using geo-location, is cool as well.
Voice and video calls, as extra free features, are great in case you want to limit your fees just to Internet use. Of course, these are just basics, other essential things like file sharing, data encryption, contact sharing, registration/login, web and desktop app are topics for another discussion.
Technology to make an app like WhatsApp
WhatsApp’s server side is written in Erlang language, as it is sustainable and capable of handling huge amounts of data. Though others, like PHP or Java, could also be good options.
WhatsApp tech stack also includes the custom version of XMPP (Extensible messaging and presence protocol). A phone number for user account login, with random password for first login. Then the app scans the contact book and builds a contact list for in-app use.
Regarding other tools and technologies:
- FreeBSD as the app’s operating system,
- Mnesia as the database
- YAWS as web-server (also of Erlang)
- Obective-C/Java/C# for native development
Note, that developers may use other tools as well, which, in turn, could affect the cost of making an app like WhatsApp too.
Reviewing every aspect of WhatsApp messaging app development, tools in use and so on bears a risk of boring our reader. So for the purpose of this article we’ll just name big general tasks that go to make an app like WhatsApp. Those components are backend development, design/UX, native platforms, frontend and web app, and quality assurance.
How much does it cost to make an app like WhatsApp, also, depends on a team involved. We can not say for every agency or project scope, but a standard average practice is:
- 1 project manager
- 1 business analyst (optional)
- mobile developers (2 Android devs, 2 iOS devs)
- web developers (1 front-end, 2 for back-end)
- 1-3 quality assurance engineers
- 2-4 designers
- 1-2 marketing managers (optional)
Now, let’s go through some basics of app like WhatsApp building.
Constructing the skeleton on which all functionality of a messaging app like WhatsApp runs is the first responsibility of any dev team. The approximate app architecture would look like our explanatory chart below. Firstly, Mnesia DB and MySQL (or PostgreSQL) and cloud media storages can be used as database frameworks.
XMPP application server, again, is perfectly suitable for implementing and maintaining voice calls, video calls, messaging. A Rest API to send requests from user interface to the app to get, post or delete data. For notifications within the app, developers may use cloud services like Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) or Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM).
The whole backend for app like WhatsApp with all critical features would take minimum of 500 hours, as our development team estimates.
The minimal budget for building an app like WhatsApp would suggest just single platform. iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows… it’s up to you to decide, taking target audience or region into account. Clearly, iOS and Android are two most popular options, and finding developers working in Objective-C, Swift, C# or Java shouldn’t be a problem.
Of course, there are peculiarities in native development – various chat SDKs to build a messaging app, cloud services by Google and Apple, libraries, etc. But one doesn’t have to go so deep if hiring a development agency – those guys know their trade. We estimate it would take 200+ hours for one platform.
As you may know, hourly development rates vary geographically. $20-40 in Central Asia countries, $40-80 in countries of Europe, $100-150 in UK and USA. For our approximate estimation of how much does it cost to make an app like WhatsApp, we’ll stick to median $50 rate, per say.
|iOS application||Android application||App for both platforms|
|QA / PM||$5.000||$5.000||$10.000|
|Total cost (approx.)||$50.000||$55.000||$80.000|
In regard to development timeline of a messaging app, backend (30%) and quality assurance (25%) would probably become most time-consuming components. Native platform(s) development – around 20%, design/UX – 15%, front-end and desktop app – 10%.
Now, how much does it cost to build an app like WhatsApp? Summing up all the above, and stressing again many factors at play, an app like WhatsApp would cost around $50.000 – $55.000 for one platform at $50 hourly rate. For multiple platforms consider $80.000 budget, or even more.
If you’re interested in this subject, you may also want to read How to make an app like Viber.