Online communication is the new normal and in the post-pandemic time, when remote work prevails over business operations, chat apps aren’t exclusively for personal use. Businesses increasingly turn to this type of software to manage the workloads across distributed teams. If you haven’t implemented a messaging app for your business yet, the time is now.
In this article, we list the indispensable features that must be included in a modern chat app. We also outline the trending features that could give your tool a competitive edge. But, before we dive straight into the lists, let’s take a look at some marketing statistics and the most popular messenger apps that set the direction for chat app development in this day and age.
Types of messaging apps
We can differentiate between messaging apps for commercial use and enterprise use, although some platforms (WhatsApp, for instance) will offer business and private variants. The purpose of the app will also largely determine the features it will require.
Enterprise apps will typically need functionalities such as HD video conferencing or group communication channels. These won’t be critical for private users who generally prefer to stick to text messages rather than calls.
According to Statista, WhatsApp is the most frequently downloaded chat app globally, with just under 45 mln downloads per month (Jan 2022 data), followed by Snapchat, Telegram and Facebook Messenger.
When it comes to enterprise messaging apps, the most commonly used solutions include:
Must-have chat app features
When building your own messaging app from scratch, there are a number of features you should include right at the MVP stage to make sure you build a usable software that meets the demands of modern audiences.
Here’s the full list of features to include, regardless of the type of application you’re building.
Obviously, users must first register to use the software. Not-so-obviously, this very first encounter is your chance to provide a seamless onboarding experience. Bear in mind that without it, users may abandon the tool altogether.
Ideally, you should allow users to authenticate their accounts via their phone number, email address or social media accounts (be it Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter). If, for whatever reason, you cannot guarantee more than one authentication method, pick the one that would be most convenient for your target audience.
Some of the most popular messaging apps, e.g. WhatsApp, require users to register with a phone number and authenticate with a code they receive via text message. This is a quick and effective registration method, but limits users to a single, specific device.
People typically use chat apps to stay in touch with their friends – in these cases, the more contacts they have in the app, the more often they will be using it. The same applies to messaging apps used for work purposes. For that reason, it’s important to make integrating contacts as convenient as possible – they should be imported from the contacts book automatically.
Modern messaging software shows users which of their contacts use the app and allows them to send invites to those who don’t use it just yet. It should also enable users to browse available users through their phone numbers or email addresses.
Users need to be able to see the messages they receive immediately, or as soon as they go online. With that, users would also like to know who is currently online, or when was the last time they were present online.
A modern chat app will also indicate when a person on the other end is typing and display message statuses – whether they have been delivered, read, edited and, most importantly, if the message failed to deliver.
A messaging software that doesn’t support group chatting will not be useful for modern audiences. When building a messaging app, do consider the needs of your user base – they may need public or private group messaging, chatting in sub-groups or dedicated channels. Some applications even allow leaving private replies to messages posted in public groups.
Users expect to have their conversation history stored on their devices with the ability to easily browse through chat history in search for links, files or details from the message exchanges with their friends, family or coworkers.
On the other hand, users of a chat app may also require more privacy. This is something you can offer them via the disappearing messages feature – see below for more details.
Security and privacy should be given special attention in case of every digital tool and this also applies to messenger app development, be it desktop, web or mobile. Data is extremely attractive to fraudsters, so you will have to implement robust and advanced mechanisms to protect personal data from theft (including identity theft) and hacking attacks.
Implement end-to-end encryption for this purpose, in which case the recipients will be provided with keys for deciphering the messages they receive. This method is popular for ensuring that no third parties have access to the content (including the messenger app provider). This is implemented by WhatsApp or Telegram – the latter regularly changes the cryptographic key in order to prevent hacking of other messages, should one of them actually be intercepted and decrypted.
Voice and video calls
Indeed – chat apps are increasingly replacing traditional voice calls, especially in the international context. Most-used chat apps allow you to make calls for free via an internet connection, regardless of the location of the conversation participants.
Your chat application should support not just the voice calls, but video calls as well – and that should also be allowed within groups. That last feature will require an additional investment in terms of time and money, but users expect to have the ability to communicate in these ways, so include it right at the MVP stage if that’s your target audience.
The ability to record a voice message instead of typing or calling someone directly is a convenient option in cases when somebody has a longer message to share or when the person you are calling is currently unavailable. This feature is similar to the traditional voicemail feature offered by network companies. Here, users should also be able to see when a message has been delivered and read, just like with typical text messages and files.
Contemporary audiences share photos, GIFs, videos and stickers on a daily basis. Users also expect to have the ability to easily share documents via messenger apps.
When building your new tool, consider the data formats that should be made available to users at the MVP stage. You can also opt to allow file sharing from Dropbox, Google Drive, or similar platforms. Instagram and Facebook Messenger services, for instance, allow users to take photos or videos directly with the app, in addition to the option of sharing media stored on the users’ phones.
As your app evolves, you may want to consider adding filters, which have solid monetization potential (we leave the controversial question of ethics aside…).
Chat app users must be notified when a new message arrives while they aren’t currently using the app. As with most apps, enable users to customize their notifications – they may want to know when a recipient has read their message or when a specific contact is online.
You may also find it useful for direct communication with app users, e.g. about important updates, when a payment plan is about to be renewed, etc.
Nice-to-have chat app features for a competitive edge
Chat apps continue to evolve as providers keep on finding new ways that allow people to stay connected in increasingly creative ways. Take a look at the below list of trending features that could give you a competitive advantage when combined with the must-have chat features.
Instead of replying to a message instantly, users may sometimes want to choose a more suitable date and time of delivery. This feature may be particularly useful in business contexts, when users may not want to disturb their colleagues during their absence, or send messages at specific times as reminders.
Self-destructing messages (aka disappearing messages)
This chat feature allows users to send messages that will disappear after a specific time period (Signal, for instance, allows users to specify that time window). These messages will not be stored in chat history, allowing to add even more privacy to what is being discussed.
Users can also send self-destructing photos and videos, which usually disappear once they are viewed by the recipient, or use this feature to auto-delete messages (including any media sent) after one week or one month. In the case of those users who send and receive a lot of media and files, this can help to optimize device memory consumption.
Dedicated channels allow users to communicate with larger audiences, especially when there is a need to converse on specific topics. It’s good to allow new members to view the entire chat history once they join.
Users should also have an option to set private channels in addition to public ones, that shouldn’t be visible upon search. Private channels will be dedicated to closed communities and joining should be made possible only via an invitation from the channel admin.
HD video conferencing
Since remote work will be staying with us for longer than previously anticipated, it’s no wonder that HD video conferencing is growing in popularity. It’s the go-to tool for ensuring effective communication among distributed teams. Making this one of the core features of your chat app can attract the attention of business customers, as long as you are able to ensure the appcalls can support dozens of viewers in a stable fashion.
In addition to communication, a modern chat solution needs to support team productivity as well. For that, try incorporating such collaboration tools as shared team calendars, polls, to-do lists, support tickets, interactive reports, and see how your chat app becomes the solution of choice for remote workforce.
Artificial Intelligence can greatly help users simplify many tasks. Repetitive tasks like scheduling a meeting, pulling up-to-date contact information, and more can be handled by AI-powered chatbots, streamlining workflows and freeing up time for other tasks at hand. For instance, Telegram offers its own bot platform that provides users with the ability to read the latest news from all over the world, manage finances, and do a lot more.
If your chat app is more on the entertainment side, think about adding highly engaging AR functionality. This can include AR layers, filters, and 3D objects for users to experiment with. Tele by Spatial, for instance, taps into iPhone’s AR capabilities to transform a chat into a virtual meeting, blending real faces with avatar bodies.
A cloud-sync feature is the best way to ensure messages, chat histories, files, and media are stored and easily accessible to users anywhere and anytime. Adding a cloud sync feature to your chat app will keep this data up-to-date. Users will also be able to recover their data in case they lose their device. However, bear in mind that cloud synchronization will require implementing extra security measures.
Speech to text conversion
This feature will ensure your application is accessible to those who are finding it hard to type. With a speech-to-text converter, users will be able to simply say what they want to communicate and have the message sent to a recipient in a written form. Sometimes this feature will also make it more convenient to use the app, e.g. if somebody wants to pass a message when they are on the go, or when they are occupied and cannot use both hands to type.
Chat apps increasingly allow users to share live location with their contacts, which is useful for finding your friends or family outside home or in crowded spaces. Businesses can use this feature for contextual marketing, oriented at selling products or services in a specific environment.
This feature allows users to create a group of selected contacts and then send the same message to them without showing who else received the message – it will be displayed just as a standard, private message. This feature is becoming more popular with news agencies, but can also be of great use to marketers for sending promotional messages.
The dark mode isn’t just for aesthetic purposes. It actually helps reduce battery consumption and helps users maintain digital hygiene. The dark mode cuts the exposure to blue light which can disrupt a healthy sleeping routine. This feature is becoming an important app component, as users become more aware of the negative effects of smartphone usage while still continuing to use them at night.
Developing a chat app from scratch
I’ve given you quite a list of must-have and nice-to-have features for your chat app development project, haven’t I? Of course, you don’t need to implement all of these features. Some of them may not be particularly useful for your business case, so examine the purpose and target group of your app thoroughly. You may find that the particular niche you are targeting may not benefit from all of our recommended features. If, however, you want to compete with giants like WhatsApp or Slack, be prepared for developing a feature-rich tool.
If you don’t know where to start, begin by finding an experienced chat app development company that will lead this process for you. RST Software has developed a number of communication tools, also for Trans.eu, one of the leading logistics companies in Europe and Asia, so we will be happy to apply our expertise to assist you. If you’d like to find out how we can help you, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll take it from there.