How much does it cost to make an app like WhatsApp?

An app such as WhatsApp is similar to an iceberg: there’s a lot more going on under the surface than above. Like many of the apps we have covered in our How much does it cost? series, WhatsApp’s seemingly simplistic design and easy-to-navigate functionality disguise its internal complexity. Every app’s development cost comes down to the following equation: Feature set + scale + hourly rate = total development cost.

Using this equation, we can determine that based on the scale of the app being created, the cost of developing an app with a feature set similar to that of WhatsApp would range from $75,000 to $95,000. These are, of course, the ranges of your app’s initial development cost – you can expect to spend one-fifth of your app’s total development cost in app maintenance every year. Also, different hourly rates can increase or decrease your overall spend drastically.

It’s important to note that no app is the same – and until you have your app’s entire feature set planned out, it’s backend systems architected, and your market research complete, you won’t be able to accurately assess the true cost of your app’s development. The estimates below are just that – estimates. While these ranges do come with the backing of years of professional experience and know-how, development of any app’s feature set can vary wildly depending on many factors.

WhatsApp’s market presence

WhatsApp was founded all the way back in 2009, and five years later, in 2014, was sold to Facebook for $19 billion. To put that return-on-investment into perspective, their initial app was developed with $250,000 in seed money.

WhatsApp didn’t just experience record growth in the company’s valuation – in just four years time, the app had seen its monthly user metric rise to 419 million – that’s more monthly users than Facebook Messenger, Gmail, Twitter, and Skype’s fourth year monthly numbers combined.

Now, in 2019, WhatsApp’s monthly user number rests at 1.5 billion. That’s a lot of messages.

Let’s look into the feature set that created the environment for such a wildly successful app:

WhatsApp’s feature set

UI / Design / Animation

There’s a pattern in UI/UX design that’s so constant it could be called a rule: the simpler an interface is, the more time and thought was spent designing it. Taking the entirety of WhatsApp’s feature set and creating an easy-to-use interface takes time, resources, and plenty of experience. Designing an app that uses the number of features that are present in WhatsApp would cost at least $10,000, but this cost can vary depending on the functionality you want your app to possess.

Instant messaging

This is the main feature of WhatsApp – for many of the app’s users, the instant message feature either replaced or beat SMS to the punch – and this is made especially recognizable by the app’s large number of international users.

All messages (and indeed, all forms of communication) sent through the app are free – users only need to provide WhatsApp with a phone number that is used to create a unique profile, and they are able to instant message with any WhatsApp user for no charge.

WhatsApp sends messages over a wifi connection using end-to-end encryption – if a user is not connected to the internet when a message is sent to them, the message will be stored temporarily on WhatsApp’s servers, until the user has established a connection again. Once a wifi connection has been re-established, the message is downloaded to the phone. After a message has been sent and received between the parties communicating, it is deleted from the WhatsApp servers.

WhatsApp’s instant messaging feature can be used to send messages to an individual WhatsApp account, or to a group – of which you can add a maximum of 256 users to a single group. The technology behind WhatsApp’s instant messages is called XMPP (extensible messaging and presence protocol).

Developing these combined features for your app would cost at least $35,000.

VoIP and video chatting

WhatsApp users can also make phone and video calls through the app – by using voice over internet protocol technology. By using internet and cell data, users can talk and see each other anywhere around the world without paying for international charges.

Developing your VoIP features for your app would cost at least $35,000.

Geolocation

Using the “Live Location” feature, users can share their location in real time with contacts. They can control their privacy by manually turning this on and off, or by setting a share timeframe. If your app will be developed for Android, it’s best to use the Google Play location services API, and if your app is intended for iOS, Apple’s Core Location Framework.

Implementing a feature such as this will cost around $3,000.

Push notifications

Users will receive push notifications whenever they are sent a message while they are not currently engaged with the app. There are many different methods of implementing push notifications, whether through cloud integration, AWS, or may other platforms. Our favorite is Kumulos.

Other features

WhatsApp makes use of other features to round out its feature set: cloud integration so users can save messages, calendar sync so users can easily schedule meetings and appointments, multi-media file transfers so users can share content with each other, and in-app payments so users can send money to one another.

WhatsApp?

If you were to build from scratch an app that mirrors WhatsApps’ current functionality, your development time would range from 650-750 hours. This can change depending on many different factors, including the development team, the feature set, and the specific requirements for features such as security and latency. The time spent developing an app such as this is worth it however – and all 1.5 billion WhatsApp users agree.

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