How to Build a Video Chat App?
Are you planning to launch a video chat app? The decision makes sense since the video ‘Platform as a Service’ (PaaS) market will grow to become a US $ 1.7 billion one. The ‘Compound Annual Growth Rate’ (CAGR) will be a phenomenal 130%! Over 100 large global enterprises will introduce video chat apps for customer interactions, before 2018 ends. Read more about these statistics in this ONE TOUCH VIDEO CHAT industry stats page.
The good news is that you have technologies that can help you to make a mark in this industry. In this article, I will explain how to build a video chat app. I will first explain the features such an app should have.
Desired video chat app features
A good video chat app needs to have a few key features so that it can compete in this growing market. Consider including the following features:
- The app should offer high-quality voice and video calls all over the world.
- Data breaches are increasingly common, and they cause plenty of concerns. The app should have robust privacy features.
- The app should enable users to share their pictures on their personal photostream.
- Sufficient localization is needed hence, the app should be available in prominent languages.
- Users should be able to invite people in their contact book into the video chat.
- The app should allow a reasonable number of people to be invited to a group chat.
- Android and iOS are two platforms hence, the app should at least support these two.
- Users should be able to view others’ stories.
- The app needs to allow application sharing.
- Above all, the app should have an easy ‘user interface’ (UI).
Read more about important video chat app features in this Quora thread titled “Which is the best video call app?”. Let’s now review a few popular video chat apps so that you can get some great design ideas for your business.
Examples of top video chat apps
Most of the top video chat apps need no introduction, so, here we go:
- Facebook Messenger: Facebook has a high user-count, besides, many of those users already have their messenger app. This goes a long way towards its’ popularity, however, it’s also very easy to use. There are Android and iOS versions, besides people can use it via web browsers. Group chats are possible, too.
- FaceTime: This is Apples’ proprietary video chat app. It’s available on iPhone and MacOS only, however, that doesn’t reduce its’ popularity. The UI is simple, and users can start a video call with anyone on their contact list.
- Google Duo: Google intends this to become the default video calling apps for Android phones. It has an iOS version too. Google Duo is simple, for e.g., as soon as users open the app, it starts the camera. There are other user-friendly features, e.g., “one-tap calling”.
- WhatsApp: While billions use WhatsApp for a chat, it also has powerful video calling features. With so many users accessing it daily, it’s naturally a default video calling option for many. Group video calling is also an option now.
Read more about top video calling apps in “These are the best video chat apps to help you stay in touch”. I will now describe how to develop a video chat app.
Video chat app development project
This is a full-fledged software development project however, I will show you ‘software development kits’ (SDKs) to use. This can make the development a bit simpler since you don’t need to code from scratch. I will also describe ‘Communication Platform as a Service’ (CPaaS) options. This can save you time, since you don’t need to worry about infrastructure, middleware, runtime environment, etc. This approach I describe will enable faster ‘Time-to-Market’, whereas hand-coding everything will take longer.
A team to build video chat app features that your users will love
Your team should consist of the following:
- 1 business analyst.
- 2 UX/UI designers: Assuming you are building your app for both Android and iOS, you need to find UX designers that know both platforms. Also, remember that mobile navigation design is important since it determines how well your users will engage with your app. Read more about the importance of mobile menu design in “Mobile Navigation Menu Examples”.
- 2 Android and 2 iOS developers: They will need to work with SDKs and APIs that I will describe a little later in this article.
- 2 testers.
- 1 project manager. You need to onboard a PM with adequate knowledge of modern project management methodologies. Check our guide “Top 7 Project Management Methodologies in 2018”.
The project management approach
I recommend that you build a ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) first and test the market with it. Subsequently, you go through an iterative development process to incorporate more features into your app.
I am recommending an ‘Agile’ project management approach. A mobile app is a ‘System of Engagement’ (SoE). ‘Agile’ methodology is highly suitable for SoE development since SoEs undergo frequent enhancement. Just remember how often mobile apps in your smartphone receive updates, and you know what I mean. Please consult our guide “How to Build an Agile Development Team?”.
I also recommend that you use the ‘Scrum’ technique, which is an important technique within the larger body of ‘Agile’ methodology. In this technique, team members from different functional backgrounds work in a closely-knit small team, with rapid ‘Sprints’ to deliver product features. Check out our guide “How to Build a Scrum Development Team?”.
Executing a video chat app development project
Your PM needs to lead the team through the following key activities:
- Build a ‘Product Backlog’: This is the prioritized list of features for your app.
- ‘Sprint’ planning: The team needs to prioritize features from the product backlog and plan them into various ‘Sprints’.
- Daily stand-up meeting: These are short and focused status meetings where all team members actively participate. This is needed to resolve project issues and keep the project on track. The team will use one of the SDKs and video PaaS options I will describe shortly.
- ‘Sprint’ review meeting: At the end of the ‘Sprint’, the team demonstrates the work completed. The objective of this meeting is to get feedback from project stakeholders.
- ‘Sprint’ retrospective meeting: This is held after the ‘Sprint’ with the objective of learning lessons from the ‘Sprint’.
I suggest that you use suitable tools like Trello or Asana to manage the project. Check out our guide “The 10 Best Agile Project Management Tools in 2018”.
SDKs and CPaaS options for video chat app development
Now, I will describe a few SDKs and CPaaS options. You need to choose the appropriate ones for your project. Some of these SDKs are built in a way that you can develop cross-platform video chat apps using the WebRTC APIs.
WebRTC is an open-source project to provide browsers and mobile apps with ‘Real-Time Communications’ (RTC) capabilities via APIs. WebRTC is free, however, there has been significant optimization done to its’ components to meet the stated objective. Visit the WebRTC website for more details. WebRTC supports both Android and iOS.
Option #1: Tokbox CPaaS and SDK
Tokbox is a popular CPaaS provider, besides, it’s now also part of the ‘Nexmo – the Vonage API platform’. They provide SDKs to build a video chat app, additionally, since it’s a CPaaS you don’t need to buy a separate cloud hosting for your app.
Their SDKs are called ‘OpenTok’, besides, they offer both client-side and server-side SDKs. The client-side WebRTC SDKs cover iOS, Android, and Windows. Access their SDKs as follows:
Access their server-side SDKs here, however, there are more resources for you! The company provides excellent documentation for their SDKs and APIs. This includes basic functionalities, customization, and advanced features. Find their extensive documentation in the “OpenTok Developer Guides”.
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Tokbox provides different pricing plans, and the higher you go, the more features are unlocked for you. For e.g., encrypted recording, AES-256-bit encryption, HIPAA compliance, and several such features available in the higher-priced plans, or for a monthly add-on. Visit their pricing page for more details.
Option #2: Vidyo CPaaS and SDK
Vidyo is another company providing CPaaS and SDKs to create a video chat on Android, besides it’s possible to develop own video chat on iOS using their platform. Their APIs are easy to use, additionally, they recently released an improved version.
The company claims that you can create a feature-rich fully functional video chat app MVP in just one ‘Sprint’. The SDKs and APIs support all major mobile platforms. Their SDK for mobile video chat has the following features:
- Multi-party audio and video conferencing;
- Group chat;
- Application sharing;
- Mobile-optimized Codecs, so that mobile users get optimal performance;
- Their error-resilience technology to prevent video packet-loss, and deliver a high-quality communication;
- Their SDK is built in a way that the app will adjust to CPU availability and resolution.
Your application will use the VidyoClient SDK. This will allow the app to pass a token, hence the app can access the Vidyo.io cloud service. The SDK shares the same set of APIs irrespective of platforms hence, the development team has a shorter learning curve. The company has comprehensive documentation for their SDKs and API, and you can access them in their ‘Developer Center’.
Vidyo has a simple pricing table. The base plan includes a decent level participant minutes per month, however, there is a ‘Pay as you go’ option for participant minutes over that limit. The standard features such as group video chat, screen sharing, text chat, etc. are all included in the base pricing plan. It also includes the mobile and desktop SDKs. There is standard support included in the base plan, besides, enhanced support is available at additional cost. Visit their pricing page to get more details.
Option #3: Twilio CPaaS and SDK
Twilio is very famous for their SMS, contact center solution, and WhatsApp APIs, however, they are also a notable player in the video chat space. Their video chat SDK is built on the WebRTC technology, besides the company provides the cloud infrastructure.
The video SDK supports all key features, e.g.:
- Users can have a one-to-one video call, additionally, they can also have a multi-party call. Up to 50 participants are allowed in a group room.
- The app has recording features.
- Users can share their screen.
- The app allows real-time data streaming among chat-room participants, with helpful features like on-screen annotation.
- Twilio has a presence in 9 regions in the world, resulting in low-latency video chat.
- The SDK supports both Android and iOS.
- Client-side SDKs will let your developers create the kind of UI you want.
- Custom capturing features allow you to do more than you could do with simple screen sharing.
- The SDK works well with popular build tools like Maven, npm, and Bundler, hence, your developers will find it easy to use.
Read more about their features here. Twilio provides extensive documentation about their SDKs and APIs. You can access them on their ‘Programmable Video’ page. You can view their pricing information on their ‘Programmable Video Pricing’ page.
Option #4: Wowza GoCoder SDK and Wowza Streaming Cloud
While Wowza offers their mobile live streaming SDK and their Cloud infrastructure, there is a difference. If you use the Wowza Streaming Cloud with their SDK, you are using a CPaaS. On the other hand, you can use their Wowza Streaming Engine, and build your app to run from your on-premises infrastructure. However, in this guide, my focus is on using SDKs and a CPaaS so that you don’t need to worry about infrastructure. Hence, I will focus on Wowza Streaming Cloud.
Wowza offers their GoCoder SDK for live video streaming apps. The SDK is free, however, it’s bundled with ‘Wowza Streaming Cloud’ and ‘Wowza Streaming Engine’. GoCoder SDK supports both Android and iOS. The SDK has excellence documentation, including detailed articles about how to build apps using it. Access their documentation here. You can view the ‘Wowza Streaming Cloud’ pricing information here.
The cost to make the best video chat app
So, how much does it cost to build a video chat app? CPaaS providers all clearly display their pricing information on their website, hence, you can easily compare them. However, this project requires a significant amount of custom coding, hence, your manpower cost forms an important component.
The man-hours for development will vary based on your requirements. On the other hand, your geography will influence the labor cost. Note that your local labor market might categorize some of the skills as niche hence, you may need higher lead time for hiring. If you don’t have the necessary skills in your team, consider getting professional help. Check our guide “How to Find The Best Software Development Company?”.