A Bit of History
Real time chat app (also known as an instant messaging app) is a type of software which enables users to exchange messages in real-time. Instant messengers’ history starts from the mid-1960s when such software was first used as simple notification systems with a variety of equipment like printers, security systems etc. However, with time, chat applications transformed into a tool of interpersonal communication. Since the start, though, chat app development already followed two essentially different approaches: peer-to-peer and server-client models. The first approach needs only two computers to establish a communication while the last one – a dedicated server to process and transmit messages between users.
Instant messengers as we know them nowadays, first emerged in the middle of the 1990s. This was the moment when such legendary products as AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ appeared. Each of those IMs were based on their own proprietary protocols, which made users install several different messengers in case people on their contact list used different messaging systems. This situation changed only at the dawn of the 2000s, when an open-source Jabber and XMPP protocols were released, which allowed creating first multi-protocol messengers.
Mobile Instant Messengers
And what was happening in the mobile world? It is important to note that since its appearance and for a long time, SMS was the main method of textual messaging. The changes started when smartphones appeared and their popularity started growing. At this moment the main principles of building a mobile chat app were worked out; they are still actual with some minor changes. Many experts consider this the start of the instant messaging boom. Being free of charge or low cost in most cases, mobile chat apps gained a reputation of an affordable alternative to messaging via SMS with lots of bonuses, which included custom app design, video and audio sharing, emoticons, stickers and other features.
Today, mobile chat apps are extremely popular. According to the Statista survey, there were about 4.5 billion active users of mobile IMs in April 2016. The most popular messengers in the world are WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger: both of them have about 1 billion monthly active users. WhatsApp is the top messaging app in South America, Russia, India and most of the Europe. Facebook Messenger is the most used app in US, Canada, Australia and a number of countries in Eastern Europe.
Typical Steps of Messaging App Development
So what are the requirements of creating high-quality mobile IM application? We’ve prepared a step-by-step manual, which covers all the stages of the development process.
Since startups usually have limited budget, it is important to know factors which influence chat app development cost and the programming concepts essential for app development.
- The first thing you should do is choose the development platform, for which you wish to build your app. Most viable options today are Android and iOS as these platforms have the maximal user coverage. Other alternatives include Windows Phone and Blackberry – everything depends on your target audience. You may choose a single platform or multiple, whatever suits your project. Just keep in mind that the more platforms you choose for development, the more time and money will be needed to finish the development process. Also in the case of multi-platform development, you can prefer to build a cross-platform app with affordable price.
- The second step would be choosing the messaging protocol. It is important to make a reasonable choice since the protocol will surely influence the future look of your application. Also, some protocols require the support of server backend and some work through the peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, when two devices connect with each other directly. The most notable examples of peer-to-peer messengers work through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Direct.
- If the chosen protocol implies the use of backend, it should be capable of processing and storing various data like user profiles, messages themselves, different connection options, security information, etc. The more functionality there will be on backend side, the less loaded your client messaging app development will be. Backend development is followed by creating the client messaging app source code which will interact with the server according to client-server architecture established before.
- Next, the notification methods should be selected. There are plenty of above mentioned, i.e. Google Cloud for Android, Microsoft Azure and a number of third-party cross-platform notification services like Pushwoosh. No matter which way of delivering notifications you chose, you should also pay attention to the way of how notifications are connected with the backend.
- The final step is making your chat app good-looking by developing proper UX and UI, which will meet the basic standards of IM design as well as the user needs. All in all, it all requires qualified support of your in-house or external team providing mobile app development services.
Why choose Messaging apps? The Key Benefits for Business
Modern messengers give much more opportunities to users than plain text message exchange. Today, users can easily send photos and videos to their friends, transfer money and even call a taxi right outta messaging app.
In fact, the new instant messaging ecosystem is created right before our eyes. Developers of the most popular apps treat their products not as just apps, but as something very similar to the operating systems. This reminds us what happened once to phones when at certain moment cellular services turned from the main phone feature to one of the auxiliary features.
All this gives a variety of novel opportunities for monetization. First of all, now companies can get in touch with their customers directly, right in the chat. Thanks to this, they can build a value-added, long-term and trust-based relationships. Secondly, when a business decides to create their own messaging app, it makes sense to integrate the access to their core services right into the app so that clients never has to leave an app. A good example of such approach are banking chat applications, which allow clients to communicate with the bank and each other and at the same time get useful notifications about their current balance, active promotional campaigns right in the chat. Not to mention posting feedback about the quality of the services right away.
About the author:
Max Hornostaiev, CTO of Erminesoft, an app development company. Having more than 10 years of experience in IT field, he is sure the key for growth is constant self-development, learning new things and knowledge sharing.