Developing a Video Chat App
This blog is a revised version of an article first published in November 2019.
The last decade has witnessed a growing trend in video chat app development, particular among the business community. An ever-growing number of companies are integrating video calling functionality into their workplace communication platform as a way to connect remote employees, conduct business meetings with partners or vendors around the world, and to communicate with customers, such as providing customer service via video.
Real-time video chat is applicable to a wide variety of use cases including online commerce, dating and online communities, finance and banking, e-learning, and healthcare. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. Noticeably the healthcare industry has widely adopted HIPAA compliant video conferencing and global healthcare trends like telemedicine, telepharmacy, and teletherapy rely heavily on this feature in their communication solutions.
While there are many video calling apps already on the market there are clear advantages to building your own. In particular, you can custom build your app to suit your specific business requirements and use cases. Rather than building from scratch, which is expensive and involves longer development time, the widespread availability of third-party APIs and SDKs offers a cost and time efficient option. Integrating third party software still allows you to customize your app as you wish, but without the headache of devoting enormous amounts of resources and money.
If you choose to go down the custom-build route there are still other important considerations to keep in mind, including your feature list, design, and technology.
Below is a brief outline of the process of video chat app development and some of the key decisions you need to make along the way.
1. Key features of the video chat app
The first stage when building a video call app is to consider the key features you want to include based on business requirements. Some are basic features, which are essential. But there are also some advanced features that you might want to include to enhance your app appeal and create a richer user experience. Start off with a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which is a list of minimal features needed to ensure a viable product. Then you can slowly add features depending on budget, resources, and user preferences.
Basic features include:
- User registration & profile settings
- Search and add contacts
- User and message status
- Push notifications
- Peer-to-peer, multi-party, or video streaming
Give your users a convenient way of registering on the app to get started in the service. They can manually complete a sign-up form or register via a popular social network. Once in, they need to be able to create a user profile where they can display basic information such as their name, photo, and a brief description. The video chat app should also provide an interface for managing account details and settings.
This basic feature will allow your users to easily add and find people they need by searching a contact list on their mobile phone.
This feature provides a convenient way to know whether your companions are online and if they have read your message. Perhaps, the chat system failed to deliver the message and you should try one more time?
Push notifications allow you to always stay in touch with your user even if they are off-line. Users will benefit as well – thanks to pushes, they will never miss an important chat message or application update.
You will also need to consider what type of video chat you want to make available. Is your app designed for one-to-one chats, multi-party, or video streaming as this will impact the technology you employ and the cost.
Alongside the video calling functionality you might want to include the ability for users to chat. Messaging can enhance a video chat conversation, enabling users to share written information. Chat is also an attractive feature when there is poor internet connection or when video is not needed, communication can be continued by other means.
To enhance the capabilities of your video chat application, consider adding additional features that will allow your app to stand out from you competitors.
- End-to-end encryption – ensures the complete security of user information;
- Automatic backup – to avoid accidental loss of important information;
- Support for various data formats – text, video, audio, emoticons, pictures, photographs, stickers, etc.;
- Screen Sharing – the ability to share your screen with others on the call is particularly helpful if you wish to do demos or presentations;
- File-sharing – the ability to send media rich attachments including jpegs and pdfs.
2. UI/UX design
Once you have your features, you need to consider the design and workflow. A good application should have an attractive and intuitive user interface and user experience. Users shouldn’t need much time to understand how to perform the action they need. As for the video chat interface, it should have a clear and catching design without lots of buttons and icons.
3. Video Chat App Technical Stack
Of course one of the biggest considerations when engaged in video chat development is determining the best technology stack to build your app with. To some extent, what technology you choose will depend on which features you’re choosing and who you are building for.
To ensure the widest accessibility for your video chatting app you want to ensure it’s compatibility with both the iOS and android mobile platform, as well as the web. Choose a programming language that allows you to build a cross-platform application, such as React Native or Flutter frameworks, or build natively to have the tightest integration with the iOS, Android, and web platforms.
Backend development: WebRTC
Most video call applications are developed using WebRTC, which is an open-source project built and maintained by Google, Mozilla, Opera, and others. It allows you to build real-time communication software in your browser and is standardized at the W3C & IETF levels.
Your particular use case will determine how you configure this technology.
- Peer to Peer Connection (P2P)
- Media Server Connection
WebRTC enables peer-to-peer communication between individuals or small groups up to 4-5 users. Although signaling and a TURN server is used to initial a call, once a call is initiated there is a direct connection and a direct exchange of media (audio and video) and data between peers without the presence of a centralized server.
If you are planning to have large group multi-party calls or simulcast, and/or wish to be able to record sessions and save data, you will need to add a media server. In this approach all communication goes via a centralized conference media server, which is part of WebRTC SFU technology.
Video Chat API and SDK
To develop the chatting functionality, you can use one of many ready-made solutions offering SDKs and APIs. This will save you money, and the time and effort of your development team.
There are two ways to develop and run a video call application using WebRTC: On-premise and using a CPaaS provider (Communication-Platform-as-a-Service).
- CPaaS (Communication-Platform-as-a-Service)
To deploy any software using the on-premise model, you will need your own physical servers. They can be located in your organization or you can rent a server in any data center. On-premise solutions are the most secure way to store data. You also can access any information you need, whenever you need. But with this set-up you are responsible for the continuous integrity of the servers, their maintenance and security. If you choose to have a video conferencing set-up you need to buy or rent additional hardware to include the media server itself and to configure it.
Alternatively, a communication-platform-as-service provides you with its own infrastructure. Typically, it includes different software tools, APIs, sample code and other out-of-box solutions. It allows you to focus on app development without the hassle of setting up and maintaining your own infrastructure.
Using QuickBlox for Video App development
Once you have your feature list, UI/UX design, and ideas about your technical stack, consider using a third-party solution provider like QuickBlox.
QuickBlox provides a complete communication backend with instant messaging and group chat, peer to peer connection and multiparty video calling, file sharing and other functions accessible through SDKs and APIs. They have a rich experience supporting video calling solutions for a variety of industries including healthcare.
- They offer video conference solutions built with WebRTC suitable for iOS, Android and web platforms.
- They provide ready-to-use feature-rich SDKs and APIs to easily integrate into your application. Check out their blog on creating an app for video calls using Quickblox React Native SDK.
- They offer a range of flexible hosting options including on-premise, hosting within their own managed cloud, or the option to deploy software in a hosting cloud of your choosing, which QuickBlox can still manage and maintain.
- They understand the needs for secure communication and offer a variety of encryption and secure storage options and add-ons for your solution.
- They provide a premium level of support for enterprise plan customers including a SLA, as well as comprehensive documentation and code samples to get you started.
- All their solutions are GDPR compliant and they offer a Business Associate Agreement to ensure HIPAA compliant video calling and encryption for healthcare companies.
Adding a video chat feature to your application provides a powerful visual means for individuals to connect. No wonder then that this feature is becoming increasingly popular in the world of business, to improve efficiency, enhance communications, and produce a satisfying user experience. Live video chat can be integrated into an existing communication platform, or built as a separate standalone application specific to your business needs. If you are thinking of adding a video call feature to your platform or building a new video chat app, browse QuickBlox’s SDK and API documentation. This can make the development process simpler since you don’t need to code from scratch. For more details, feel free to contact us now!