How to Build a Video Chat App: Types, Cost, & Must-Have Features
Text-based chat paved the way for improved human interactions where users can instantly exchange messages from anywhere in the world. But, words can only say so much—video chatting has taken this new way of communicating to another level.
Recent advancements in real-time audio and video chat technology have enabled apps to incorporate these elements to become the most convenient connection methods.
In this article, we'll take a 1,000 ft view of the video chat app market and its most popular apps, cover must-have features and the underlying tech you’ll need to create them, and outline your integration options and their advantages.
Overview of the Video Chat Market
As we mentioned, the pandemic was a boon to the video chat app market—and as demand rose, its worth did, too. The industry was evaluated at $4.21B in 2020 and expanded to a whopping $6.28B by the start of 2022. Popular video conference apps like Zoom experienced record-shattering growth of 317% in one year, with other niche apps, like Discord, breaking records of their own in terms of funding.
Despite the turn in the economy, the video-based communication market continues to grow. While there is more competition in the space than ever before, there are plenty of ways to make your app stand out from the crowd. To find your edge, it’s helpful to know what’s possible. The section below will cover the types of apps that incorporate video calling and some successful examples.
What are the Main Types of Video Chat Apps?
Thousands of video chat apps are available for users to enjoy, but not all are suited for every type of communication. Some are geared toward professional encounters, while others are designed for gamers. To find the niche best fits your target audience and function, explore the three major types of video chat applications below.
Video conferencing apps host and conduct remote meetings and conferences. Screensharing, recording, and user management are hallmark features of these existing apps. They function as an extension of the remote workplace, so they are typically used on laptops and desktops more than mobile devices.
Zoom is one of the most, if not the most popular, video conferencing apps—it boasts 300 million daily active users (DAU). Notable features of Zoom include easy manipulation of the audio and visual settings, video recordings, a limited selection of emoji reactions, and sidebar chat.
Hopin is a video conferencing application that specializes in supporting large virtual events for up to 100,000 participants. Hopin’s video chat features include audience polls, quizzes, and Q&A sessions during live virtual events to keep attendees engaged. Users can also store and edit recorded video footage and gain deeper insight with the platform's built-in analytics.
Google Meet is part of the Google Workspace and enables teams to stay securely connected with enterprise-grade video conferencing for desktop and mobile experiences. Users can join meetings directly from a Calendar event, an email invite, or Gmail—even without wifi or data.
Facetime is a proprietary video calling app developed by Apple and is installed by default on all Apple devices, from desktop to mobile. Users can initiate video calls the same way they’d dial a contacts number, as opposed to a video conferencing app that requires an email or calendar invitation.
Facebook Messenger is a messenger native to the social media platform Facebook. Just as Facetime connects users with their phone contacts, FB Messenger connects users with their friends over text-based and video chat. Messenger includes features like filters, masks, and stickers to enhance the video calling experience.
WhatsApp is extremely popular amongst international users who want to stay in touch with friends and family overseas. While it is primarily a text-based messaging app with features like presence indicators and push notifications, it does include video calling capabilities. It is limited to only four participants per video call but maintains a high-quality audio and video stream despite the distant locations its users might be in.
Discord is a gaming application that allows users to create discussion channels, stream live games, and arrange video calls between two or more users and functions similarly to Zoom. Since Discord is free and can run on most operating systems used today, this makes it a versatile and easy-to-use video conferencing solution for users of any level.
Bunch is a group video chat app for games that requires access to the user’s mobile contact list and lets them invite friends via iMessage, Bunch Code (a scannable QR code), Facebook, and other social media apps. You can't play the games yourself—first, you have to "start a party" (invite friends), and the multiplayer game starts when at least one of them accepts.
Snapchat is a multimedia chat app users can send messages, pictures, or videos, called "Snaps," to friends that vanish after they've been viewed. Companies and media publications also use it to circulate content, like short articles and promotional videos, which make it the perfect place for users to keep up with news and the latest from their favorite brands.
Top 6 Video Chat Use Cases
Many industries rely on video chat apps to support their day-to-day operations and customers and accommodate remote workers. Let’s take a look at six of the most popular use cases.
Virtual marketplaces and eCommerce sites bridge the gap between buyers and sellers and increase sales with video. Especially when contemplating a luxury or other high-value purchases, video can provide a realistic look at the items for sale, so neither party is disappointed or surprised when the transaction is complete.
2. Online Dating
Some online matchmaking sites leverage dating APIs to encourage users to form a connection more quickly. Video chat gives them a sense of who the person on the other end of the app truly is, instead of a text message. It can be a safer, more effective way for people to test the waters before committing to an in-person date.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the popularization of virtual doctor’s visits that is still trending today. Telemedicine apps that feature video chat or conferencing require specific compliance standards, such as HIPAA, to maintain the same level of confidentiality as a traditional appointment.
The gaming industry has expanded its audience over the past few years, meaning there is more content than ever for gamers to share and enjoy. Live game streaming is a great way for new title releases to gain recognition and increase sales, adding video chat to certain games and apps has further enabled grassroots marketing and a sense of connection between users that results in more loyal and engaged gamers.
Banking, Robo-investing, and other FinTech apps have started incorporating video chat into their user experience. These video chat apps are required to meet PCI DSS compliance standards. Money is a sensitive issue for many people, and oftentimes there is not a lot of education out there for users to lean on to ensure they’re making the most of every hard-earned dollar. The ability to speak face to face with your portfolio manager, a customer support agent, or a lender creates trust and leads to higher customer retention.
Virtual classrooms and remote education programs also took off due to the pandemic. Video streaming and social learning management systems create a more collaborative and dynamic learning environment for students to participate in, while allowing them to connect with their peers and teachers on a personal level to combat feelings of isolation.
What to Consider When Developing Your Video Chat App
An intuitive UI design is critical to providing a world-class video chat experience for users to enjoy. Your multi-user app will probably include a text-based chat feature for users to exchange messages asynchronously when they cannot make a video call. For that reason, we will cover the essential features of an app that supports text-based and video chat.
Key Chat Features to Consider
- User & Contact Management: Users can manage their profiles and display information like their phone number and avatar. All modern video calling apps have a contacts management feature that allows users to add, search and delete contacts.
- Online Presence Indicator: Also known as the status feature, this indicator notifies users whether or not their contacts are online and can prevent users from wasting time calling people that are not active.
- Text Chat: Users can save time by texting instead of calling their contacts for simple questions or status updates; it also allows them to keep in touch without having to dedicate time to a video call.
- Content Moderation: Establish blocklists, banning protocols, and implement other automated moderation features to help keep users safe and your chat clean.
- Emojis & Stickers: This feature adds personalization to those using your app and creates their own story behind the user experience.
Key Video Features to Consider
- Group Calls: Group call functionality is perfect for business conferences, large meetings, or events. Ensure that your platform can support a high volume of users and messages while maintaining a high-quality stream, plus features like muting, recording, and the ability to turn cameras off.
- Screen Sharing: Enabling users to share their screens creates a huge collaborative advantage during calls or presentations, increases communication effectiveness, and enhances the consumer experience.
- Push Notifications: This simple addition will notify users about new messages in the chat and missed calls, keep them informed about new updates, and make their experience more enjoyable. With these, users can check for new messages or missed calls by simply sliding the notification bar on a locked screen.
- Custom Masks & Filters: A socially-focused application for users to talk to friends and family, the use of masks or effects can make the audio-video calling more fun. This can make your custom video app stand out from the competition, which is always important from the business point of view.
- Virtual Noise Cancellation: Since remote work has become a new normal, virtual noise cancellation is necessary for your video chat app development. With the help of deep learning algorithms, engineers can separate a user's voice from the background and suppress the background sounds with white noise.
Hardware & Software Components
To deliver a superior user interface, you must first establish a solid infrastructure and hardware components to support the backend functionality of your video calling app. Whether you opt for cloud infrastructure-as-a-service or on-premises using self-hosted endpoint infrastructure, you will need to consider the following components:
- Infrastructure: The engine that controls all the cloud software services is called infrastructure. This includes CPU cores, motherboards, and graphics processing units (GPUs), and the amount of each depends on the workload of the apps. Therefore, the backend infrastructure must be robust to support bandwidth-heavy apps like video calling.
- Data Storage: Examples of storage include hard drives in server bays, solid state drives (SSD), persistent storage, and such. If a cloud system supports your app, data storage drives in server bays provision on-demand bandwidth for it.
- Application Layer: This is the backend part in charge of what a person sees through the front-end UI. It processes requests, commands, and requirements that come from users and returns outputs to them.
- Video Protocols: The rules and methods used to break video files into small pieces so they can be delivered to viewers. Popular protocols include HTTP Streaming, Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), WebRTC, Secure-Reliable Transport (SRT), and Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP).
- Hosting Performance: Streaming video can take a toll on the bandwidth of your app and cause other features, like text-based chat, to slow down. Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) Streaming adjusts video quality based on network conditions to improve video streaming over HTTP networks. This process makes playback as smooth as possible for viewers regardless of their device, location, or Internet speed.
- Video-Audio Integration Layer: Communication over video takes place over Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP). VOIP uses the internet to send and receive calls. A video calling API sends commands via VOIP to the other device, and then they are sent back to you so you can see and hear what is happening on the other end.
- Tech Stack: Your video application will need to utilize several tech stack features to fulfill the needs of programming languages, frameworks, databases, and cloud platforms. We’ve listed some of the most common choices for mobile apps for each category below:
How to Add Video to Your App in 5 Steps
1. Research Your Target Audience, Industry, and Competitors
Taking the time to research your user’s needs will be well spent and result in an app that precisely meets their needs rather than bloating it with unnecessary features. For example, suppose the user base for your social video calling app is made up of people ages 16 to 25. In that case, you should prioritize stickers, filters, and custom emojis over screen sharing, virtual noise cancellation, and other features geared toward business conferencing apps. Your research should also include information on competing apps in your space; this can help your development team decide which features to build to make your multi-user app stand out from the crowd.
2. Determine a Development Direction
Before estimating how much your app will cost, you must determine your development direction. This will heavily influence a few major factors in your calculations like timeline, 3rd party integrations, and maintenance. To answer the age-old build vs. buy question, get clear with your team on what will matter most to your customers and what will make the engineering experience as smooth and manageable as possible.
3. Calculate Estimated Total Costs
Whether you prefer to build your video call solution from scratch or would like to lighten your development load by integrating a video chat API or SDK, the overall cost of your app will ultimately come down to your prioritized feature set. Suppose you want to keep the rest of your app very basic and focus your efforts on the video calling functionality. In that case, you might be able to save some upfront costs—but you’ll assume the financial responsibility of iteration and maintenance. Once you’ve determined your must-have list of features, you can identify the number of developers you can hire, the infrastructure you need to purchase, and estimate the cost and risk of future product roadmap decisions.
4. Understand the Underlying Tech
Keep in mind that not every video or text-based chat SDK or API will be compatible with the structure of your existing app. That is why you and your engineers must deeply understand your app’s underlying infrastructure and bandwidth required to transmit a high-quality video stream in real-time. Fortunately, many open-source projects and 3rd party vendors allow you to take a risk-free assessment of whether they are right for your application.
5. Imagine Your App’s Design
The fifth, final, and most creative step of integrating video within your app is to visualize how you want your app to look, feel, and operate. User experience matters most—and while your app’s existing UI might be engaging, chances are it will probably need to be adjusted after introducing video calling features. Your team should be aware of this and prepare to redesign some areas of the app to integrate all the planned video calling features seamlessly.
Building an In-House Solution vs. Using a 3rd Party Video API
While increased ownership and control over your app development process might seem appealing initially, developing a video chat solution in-house might have many difficulties. Review the top three challenges below before officially committing to taking them on.
Operational Complexity & High Capital Requirements
Creating a custom video solution requires complex infrastructure with enough server capacity and bandwidth to scale alongside your user base—and as you can imagine, this does not come cheap. Not only is there an upfront cost associated with this operation complexity, but maintaining and improving these systems will cost even more time, money, and development resources if handled entirely in-house.
Since the video chat app development space is becoming more saturated by the day, one way to get ahead of the competition is to simply launch before them. You forfeit a speedy launch by choosing to build a solution as complex as video in-house. Your development process will require multiple iterations before ever reaching the testing and debugging stages. The process from the start to the fully functional market launch may take months or even years. So it’s important to ask yourself, can your app afford that?
Personally identifiable information is often exchanged over text-based and video chat apps. Your app must have the security of its users at top of mind and proactively defend them from data breaches to build a sense of trust and safety. If your app targets compliance-minded industries like finance, healthcare, and education, your team is responsible for educating themselves on the security protocols and guidelines your customers require and ensuring your app complies. The most common are SOC II, GDPR, and HIPAA.
Advantages of Integrating a Ready-Made Video API
Given these challenges, building a video chat app from scratch may be out of reach for many companies. Therefore, many developers are setting their sights on video chat APIs & SDKs that can be easily added to Android and iOS apps. But do the benefits of these APIs outweigh the loss of control and customization, and how do you know if this is the right option for your app?
More Cost Effective
In many cases, integrating a video chat API is much cheaper than making your app from scratch. Since you’ll save on design, development, and infrastructure hosting, using an SDK or API will allow you to invest more into improving your app’s functionality and performance.
Quick Implementation and Minimal Maintenance
Thanks to the widespread availability of SDKs, it is much easier and faster to integrate video conferencing into any app and website. Even better, various 3rd party vendors assist your team by offering tutorials, live support, and feedback. With so much time saved, your developers can focus on other aspects of the final product.
As previously mentioned, security is extremely important when developing your video calling solution. Although this can be overwhelming even for the most seasoned developers, video conferencing APIs and SDKs already have built-in security protocols and end-to-end encryption (E2EE). E2EE provides a method for securing messages between two individuals (or chatbots) so that only those two users can read the message. The message is encrypted before it leaves a user's device and can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. Implementing a ready-made video solution allows you to utilize the built-in security features.
Easy to Iterate
You’re never really stuck with one provider. If your needs change or you’ve outgrown the quality of your current chat service over time, it’s much easier and quicker to revamp your app, even if it means switching API providers.
Video Chat App Monetization Strategies
If you hope to attract investors to your app, you’ll need to demonstrate a profitable revenue model for them. There are many ways to monetize your app and generate income to maintain and improve its user experience.
Video, pop-up, and stationary ads are perfectly suited for video streaming apps because they can be easily added into their interface without detracting too much from the overall user experience. Skippable commercials can play before a call begins, and static images can be neatly displayed as a closable banner at the top, bottom, or side of the video calling screen. Advertisers would pay you directly to gain a spot on your platform and access your user base, and you might even earn a small commission on any action your users take with them.
While many video calling apps are free, some offer slightly upgraded plans from their basic offerings to users who wish to access more or better features. These plans are typically associated with business conferencing apps that limit the number of users or minutes a call can last. Organizations that require more participants and longer meetings can purchase a slightly upgraded version of the app for a small fee that renews on a regular cadence.
Charging a small fee per upgraded feature rather than encouraging users to upgrade their plans can be a lucrative monetization strategy. Creating an a la carte menu with special stickers, emojis, face and background filters, and access to exclusive content can be an effective, non-commital way for users to enhance their experience while supporting your app.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can I create a video chat app on a small budget?
Building a video chat application is still possible if you have a small budget and limited resources. You’ll need to reduce the number of features you’d like to include, find an affordable video chat API or a free development plan, and budget out the rest of your resources (team member salaries, maintenance costs, iteration time, and money).
2. How to make a video chat app using Android?
Most video streaming technologies are compatible with iOS and Android operating systems. However, for Android specifically, you'll have to use Kotlin or Java and apply tools for in-app payments provided by Google Play. If you choose to import contacts to your app, you will need to integrate Google Contacts API. If you would like an idea of the process you can review our Live Stream Video Chat on Android tutorial.
3. What technology is used to build video chat apps?
The technology stack for a video chat app can vary based on the unique needs of its users and its target industry’s compliance requirements. However, if you decide to build a video chat app from scratch, you can expect to include at least the following technologies :
- Data protection and encryptions (AES-256 and HMAC-SHA256 protocols, HIPAA protocol for telehealth solutions, GDPR, etc.)
- Video protocols (WebRTC, VidRTC, Twilio, FFMPEG, GStreamer, Janus, Pion, etc.)
4. How do I make a video chat app for iOS?
The majority of video chat app APIs, SDKs, and other development tools are designed to be cross-platform compatible. But, certain technologies differ; for example, Swift is used for iOS instead of Kotlin or Java, which are used with Android operating systems. If you would like and idea of the process you can review our How to Livestream Events with iOS tutorial.
5. How do you start building a video chatting app from scratch?
Building a video chat app from scratch can either start with a creative idea or as a constructive solution to a problem. This will then drive your development process and determine your feature sets, as different types of video calling apps will require unique plans and functionalities. Once you have a clear vision for your app, you can start to budget out your resources and consider ways to monetize it to gain additional revenue that you can spend on maintenance, upgrades, advertising, and advancements. The most important part of the process is establishing your tech stack and deciding which video streaming protocol, like WebRTC, you would like to use.
The growing adoption of video streaming apps doesn’t seem to be slowing, thanks to an ever-increasing demand for more reliable and dynamic communication. As a result, many companies focused on video calling, conferencing, and social app development.
If you are interested in joining the video conferencing market or want to start small by integrating our chat widgets or go all-in with one of our SDKs, we have you covered. Why reinvent the wheel when we’ve already done the legwork—add video streaming capabilities into your app in just a few minutes. Get in touch with our team or just jump right into it and start building your video chat app for free.
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