Insights

The Common Features of Chat Apps

4 min read Saif Chowdhury on Jan 11, 2023
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Developing a chat app? In this blog, we take a look at some of the must have chat app features.

According to Statista, there are over 6 billion active users of smartphones, which is over 80% of the world's population. Why are these numbers significant you ask? Well, because that means there are at least 6 billion people using some form of a chat application on a daily basis.

What this actually translates to is that there are high app user expectations for usability, delight, and functionality for chat applications.

Below, we dive a little deeper into a breakdown of the app development design, usability, and most importantly the key features of modern day chat apps.

Understanding the chat app space

Chat apps are essential in helping bridge human connection. Without experiences like WhatsApp, Discord, Snapchat, Telegram, Slack, WeChat and the many other online chat apps out there, we would have less flow of information from person to person.

If you think about it, chat is the foundation of how humans transfer knowledge. Focusing on the problems that are being solved for on these major social networks and platforms can help us become better designers and technologists. If we can improve the user experience by focusing on what people find complex within online chat experiences, we can better understand what their basic needs are for knowledge transfer—and then in turn improve other real-time experiences because we understand our users' mental models. 

Breaking down chat app experiences

What makes or breaks different chat experiences? Since there is a huge spectrum of app users with varying backgrounds and levels of familiarity with technology, it’s important to keep certain things at the forefront of our minds.

Ask yourself this: 

  • Is the experience usable?

  • Are these features that the users need?

  • How much work are we making our users do to learn how to use our product?

Reinventing the wheel is a problem that we all face as designers, developers, and builders. We should always try to understand how we can leverage established patterns to make an experience prototypical for our users. The result of prototypicality? Not making the users have to think! Ultimately, creating an experience that’s more intuitive because of already formed mental models.  

How can we create these types of experiences? Start by breaking down different chat experiences on the web and on mobile devices. Then, figure out which patterns work based on reviewing a few of the most popular messaging apps.

Common messaging apps used today

Discord

Discord, a social platform initially used to provide voice chat for gamers, has grown to become a meeting place for communities. Their core features include text for 1-1 chats, voice and video chat. Discord additionally allows users to create channels, threads, search servers, send files, react to messages, and host events all syncing to their platform.

Slack

Slack provides a secure way for teams and organizations to communicate. Through instant messaging, online/offline push notifications, and voice functionality users can collaborate in one central place. As a way to further connect users, they give individuals the ability to start threads, react to a message using emojis or custom “Slackmoji” stickers, send files such as GIFs, hook up third-party integrations like Microsoft, and create huddles (which are similar to a standard phone call) for improved project management.

Messenger App

It’s more than likely that you’ve used this application at one point or another. The widely-popular Messenger app was originally known as Facebook Messenger, but has since evolved into a stand alone app that also functions as the client for text messaging on Android.

Their messaging app offers common chat app features such as real-time messaging, group chats, file sharing, message reactions, the ability to search conversations, and play games.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a messaging and video calling app used globally by over 2 billion users. While in-app, users can message privately with end-to-end encryption, create group chats, express themselves with emojis or stickers, and make voice calls from around the world.

Telegram

Telegram is primarily used for simple and fast instant messaging that is secure. Users often choose Telegram due to security, as messages in Telegram are encrypted and safe from hackers. They provide chat, voice and video capabilities as well as many of the common features listed above including chat history in conversations, file sharing, and emojis.

Chat app features comparison

Based on our research, we compiled this feature comparison chart to see what the competitive landscape looks like at a glance. As you can see, these popular messaging apps mostly have feature parity, meaning they all more or less have the same key features.

Chat App Feature Comparison Chart

Some mobile apps have extra bells and whistles, which is why the target audience for these apps are slightly different. However, what does end up changing from app to app are themes, the general UI layout, and how certain actions are carried out. This is where the value of prototypicality comes in. A familiar design pattern allows users to seamlessly communicate in your chat app without having to learn how to interact with an application. They can simply enter the app and begin chatting online. With most chat apps having feature parity, these common features start to become a part of the users mental models and they almost expect them as a part of their user journey.

One example of a feature that ended up maintaining a similar design pattern across these different chat apps is message reactions (emojis). Message reactions are a way for users to show sentiment on new messages or specific messages. This pattern became popular in messaging apps after the rise of adding reactions on social media platforms. Now, almost all chat apps include message reactions in some shape or form.

Most used chat features  

Including these popular online chat features creates a certain level of intuitiveness for users. If you’re looking to get started with these common features so you can attract and retain app users for the long-term, you’ve come to the right place.

PubNub’s Chat Components provide message reactions and other popular features for developers to reduce build time so they don’t have to start from scratch. To dive right in with our ready-made Chat Components and APIs, check out our iOS and Android app tutorials or sign up for a free account to start building these must-have chat features.

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