Creating an online dating app that manages to get traction is probably one of the biggest challenges you will face. It’s highly unlikely that your dating app will dethrone Tinder, but it doesn’t have to. You can build a successful dating app that caters to a particular niche, location, or type of audience.
However, there are several critical stages to go through before the development phase of your dating app, including market research, user behavior analysis, and understanding exactly what kind of competition you are up against.
To help inform you on how to prepare a dating app project, this guide will give you all the information you need. We'll start with an overview of dating apps currently on the market, and then we'll dig into some considerations before you decide to build your own. We'll outline the important features, project lifecycle, and costs associated with developing your own dating app.
Top Three Dating Apps
As online dating has grown in popularity in the last decade, there are hundreds of dating apps on the market. To name a few, here are the most well-known dating apps widely used today along with their valuations:
1. Tinder: $40 billion
By far, the most popular one is Tinder, and it’s not even close to getting dethroned anytime soon. What made it so popular is Tinder made it simple to use, gamified dating using the swipe feature, and gave users more control.
2. Bumble: $14 billion
Coming in second is Bumble, which learned from women’s feedback from using Tinder, some of whom have gotten overwhelmed by incoming messages. Bumble gives women more control over their experience by allowing them to initiate conversations first.
3. Badoo: $10 billion
Badoo actually started out as a game, social search, and quiz app within Facebook long before Tinder and Bumble came into existence. However, after Facebook threatened them with an audit, Badoo spun off into a standalone app similar to Tinder.
Dating apps come in all shapes and forms, with differing formats, features, and user experiences. Some apps like Tinder go for a broad audience, and others go for niche audiences. For example, Tastebuds is a dating app for music lovers.
Some types of apps are mainly web-based such as Match, eHarmony, and OkCupid. People seeking serious relationships naturally gravitate to web-based sites because they’d sit on a desktop computer or laptop and screen through profiles before initiating a conversation with a potential match.
Other types of apps are mobile-based and use the swipe feature catering to a broader audience. Yet other apps include in-app games to “spice things up” for people who want to try something new in hopes of finding the love of their lives.
Dating App Trends
When we talk about trends in dating app usage, the biggest elephant in the room is that we’re coming out of a global pandemic and lockdowns (hopefully!). So what’s happening on the ground and what are the up-and-coming generations doing?
Not knowing what life was like before the Internet, the younger generations are increasingly intertwining technology and social media into their dating lives. “A lot of people nowadays are more familiar with communicating through technology than face to face so it can remove some barriers,” explained Jason Funk, a student at BYU.
Based on user feedback, dating apps that perform best are simple and easy to use. However, some users “have become dissatisfied with ‘mindless’ swiping features, and due to widespread lockdowns and social distancing, people developed different expectations and greater needs from dating apps,” said Tiahn Wetzler, Editorial Manager at Adjust. These trends have pushed Tinder and Bumble to create more integrated user experiences including social events and meeting new people, not just dating.
Attributes of a Successful Dating App
Because users are changing the way they approach dating for a more integrated experience, dating app development must be informed by closely listening to user feedback towards the most popular dating apps. There may be gaps between what these dating apps deliver and what users expect, and these gaps provide opportunities for new dating apps to fulfill what users need from dating apps in the future.
Here are the most important attributes that every dating app developer must consider at the start of their project:
1. User Needs and Challenges
As mentioned above, user needs are changing and the Gen Z may not approach dating the same way as previous generations had. For example, dinner and drink dates may have been the default before, but there has been a recent rise in picnic dates and even “creative” dates, such as visiting a bookstore, going roller skating, or taking up mini golf.
Video chat usage is also on a sharp rise. “Nearly half (48%) of Gen Z users said they plan to have more video chats and conversations with matches before agreeing to meet them IRL.” (Vice Media Group, 2021).
It’s important to remember that although the means may have changed, the end result that users are looking for has not. They still want to find a perfect match for either a long-term relationship or a casual one, and this has always been the case.
2. Market and Competitor Research
Before developing your dating app, it is important to research the market and your competitors in the current landscape. Users can be quite unforgiving to dating apps that are poorly thought out or lack the features they need.
By studying your competition, you can find an unfilled user need and build a dating app or feature to meet that particular need. Plus, you can take the best features out of the most popular apps and improve upon them to provide an even better user experience.
Another aspect of market research is to help you determine whether to target a broad audience or cater to a particular segment of the population, such as LGBT, pet owners, foodies, and the list goes on.
3. Unique Value Proposition or Differentiator
The bad news is that it’s incredibly difficult to create a dating app that gains enough traction for it to succeed. But here’s the good news — the beautiful complexity of the dating market is such that there’s no need to create the next Tinder in order to create a successful dating app.
Here are three questions you should ask before proceeding with your development plan:
What specific user behaviors will you consider using as metrics?
Will your dating app have a revolutionary user experience that creates sustainable network effects necessary for the app to succeed?
Will your dating app be exclusive to a specific user segment or location?
Considering these questions will help you zero in on the right features, right metrics, and right audience for your dating app.
4. Monetization Strategies
Not only do you want to have a unique core value proposition and meet the needs of your user base, but you also need your dating app to make money to ensure your dating app remains profitable for years to come.
You can also try creative strategies such as offerwalls that contain ways users can earn free credits or rewards for completing tasks. Keep in mind that you can use many strategies at the same time as long as your users are engaging with each other and that your app is fully functional.
Key Features of a Dating App
To make a dating app that gets traction, you will need to include features that not only spark engagement between users but also keep them hooked on the platform. Here are a few important ones to include in your app.
Every dating app has user profiles, but that doesn’t mean they have to follow the same cookie-cutter format as all the other apps. You can get creative by integrating rich media into your user-profiles and even introducing a gamification layer that reinforces user behavior with perceived benefits.
That’s not to say we should gamify human relationships — we definitely shouldn’t. We do, however, want to make user profiles stand out and invite the initial ice-breaking conversation, as well as provide rewards in a strategic way to retain users. The core idea behind the gamification of the app is to build a system that incentivizes users, so they feel a sense of accomplishment for engaging in the main actions.
For a dating app to work, there needs to be a matching algorithm that matches one user with another based on anything from their app usage activity metrics to their interests and preferences. Mashable provides a decent overview of how matching algorithms work, including some common ones:
Location-based matching using GPS technology
Mathematical-based matching is based on user answers to questions about interests, preferences, and even political views.
Behavior-based matching algorithm logs data on how the user interacts with the app
Machine learning algorithms “learn” what a user is looking for based on successful or failed matches, improving the algorithm’s accuracy and match quality.
Chat and Messaging
One might say that chat messaging is the “engine” of any dating app. Although it is a fundamental requirement, there’s the challenge of keeping users on the platform rather than exchanging numbers and taking their conversation off-platform. This is where full-featured chat and in-app messaging come into play. To supplement SMS texting, video calling and voice notes can also be incorporated into your dating app.
Voice and Video Calling
The increase in video calling is one of the many trends that indicate users want to feel comfortable and connected before meeting each other. Facial cues, tone of voice, and other non-verbal forms of communication enrich their conversation, allowing users to connect at a higher level than text or SMS alone.
Don’t forget to integrate push notification functionality into your app so you can bring users back when a match sends them a message. Bumble does this as shown below:
Your app users get notified about important events where either someone took interest in their profile, or their profile matched with the other, or if someone sent them a message.
To fully appreciate the scale of time, money, and resources it takes to make a dating app, let’s review what happens with dating app development from beginning to end, and after the app has been released to the user base.
1. Market Analysis
As mentioned earlier in this guide, it’s important to allocate enough time and resources to careful planning and market research on competitor apps in order to develop a dating app that users want.
2. Project Management
An app development project has many moving parts and multiple stakeholders, so there is a definite need for a project manager to spearhead the entire effort and guide the development process in the right direction as originally envisioned.
Creating a dating app is not just writing lines of code, it also involves design that helps build intuitive user interfaces to create the best possible user experience. Therefore, the app project budget funds not only need to be allocated to developers but also designers.
Being the “meat” of the project, the development will obviously take up a significant portion of the time and resources of the entire project lifecycle. There are different approaches to development — among the popular ones today are agile development, sprint cycles, and such.
5. Quality Assurance
Although there’s no such thing as a bug-free app, a lot of attention and effort needs to be expended to ensure that the app is secure, can stand up to most cyberattacks, and works as intended without compromising personal information. The app should also only consume the necessary resources to perform and scale well without wasting memory, bandwidth, and server resources.
6. App Launch
The big day comes when you have a finished product ready to be released to your eager user base who can’t wait to meet the match of their dreams using your dating app. This can be the most exciting and nerve-wracking part of the entire process. If you planned ahead by preparing the launch by following the requirements from iOS App Store or Android’s Google Play along with your team’s marketing campaign, your dating app launch should go smoothly.
7. Post-launch Maintenance
Once launched to your user base, your work isn’t yet done. At this point, you move into the post-launch maintenance phase of your project lifecycle. Based on user feedback, you will always be fixing bugs, enhancing existing features, adding new features, and finding ways to further monetize your app. Rather than a static product, your dating app becomes a living and breathing organism that is constantly evolving along with your user base.
How to Create a Dating App that People will Love
This section covers the important aspects of dating app development including the frameworks, process, prerequisites, tools, design, privacy, and security.
Introduction to Dating App Development
After researching the market and user behavior on other apps, the process of developing a dating app includes careful planning and a variety of user interface considerations such as:
Understanding user expectations
Defining the most desired features, including gamification
Ensuring data protection and security
Choosing your technology stack and system architecture
Creating secure user authentication
Developing your matching algorithm
Designing an engaging user experience with an intuitive user interface
Adding text, voice, and video chat
Finally, you want to develop a deployment plan including testing, debugging, post-rollout updates, and maintenance.
Design and Architecture of Dating Apps
Dating app development needs user personas, user flows, wireframes, prototypes, and UI design.
Creating user personas is a critical step in planning and creating your own dating app. You may choose to design and make your dating app for a niche user segment such as dog lovers, the 50+ crowd, etc. rather than going broad as Tinder does.
Wireframing and prototyping your dating app helps you visualize how a user navigates through setting up their profile, finding a match, and communicating with their match.
Dating App Architecture
For building a dating app MVP, you’ll at least need social sign-in, security and privacy controls, geolocation, user profiles, profile settings, a chat or messaging system with push notifications, and some kind of matching algorithm including the ones discussed in the features section above.
That’s a lot of pieces to put together, and you’ll need the system architecture to do it. To create a viable dating app, your system architecture will need at least the following components:
Getting all these pieces working together may sound complicated, but CometChat has a ready-made chat platform for dating apps that makes it easy to integrate text, voice, and video chat.
Interface and User Experience of a Dating App
The interface of a dating app should be intuitive and easy to use. Most users today are tech-savvy and thus less forgiving towards confusing user interfaces. So it’s best to keep the UI as simple as possible with the following pointers:
User Data Protection and Security
With the huge amount of users’ data and private information, security should be top-notch. Also, the messages that users send should be securely encrypted.
It’s safe to say that one of the most indispensable steps for a dating app security checklist is implementing strong authentication and authorization mechanisms.
Considering privacy, session management, identity management, and device security, a strong authentication process is imperative. Enforcing multi-factor authentication, rather than just relying on usernames and passwords alone is a must.
We strongly recommend technologies such as the OAuth 2.0 authorization framework or the OpenID Connect protocol considering the most current versions.
Secure Communication between Servers
Online dating apps incessantly communicate with other systems such as back-end servers, cloud-based services, chat servers, GPS, etc. For securing these communications, Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol, and a process to validate security certificates are implemented.
In addition, all APIs that the dating app uses should be secured. iOS includes App Transport Security, a feature that forces apps to use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure when connecting to back-end services.
Ensuring Reliable Performance and Scalability
Dating app developers need to think about and plan for scalability even before they start the application and infrastructure design processes. Even if your audience is a niche one, there’s always a chance that your app might take off and experience a sudden influx of users.
To support even a fraction of these sheer usage numbers without any performance degradation, your dating app needs to have clean code, elegant design, and scalable cloud infrastructure that grows with the size of your user base.
Here are a few scaling techniques used by Tinder:
Low latency to help users load profiles faster and maintain a seamless user experience.
Elastic search for faster responses to text-based user search. Rather than searching the text directly, it searches an index.
In some cases, it requires switching to a different infrastructure or backend entirely. Coffee Meets Bagel also ran into scalability issues as they grew, and they used Redis for their backend infrastructure and virtual private cloud to boost performance and reliability through caching, real-time data streaming, and user analytics.
Technology Stack for Dating Apps
To help you build a dating app with all of the aforementioned components, we created a table showing the technology stacks for both iOS and Android devices as well as cross-platform apps.
Optimizely, Elasticsearch, Google Analytics, Imgix, Graph API
Frameworks and Programming Languages
For maximum reach in the mobile app market, choosing a cross-platform framework like React Native maximizes the number of device types your app can support. Tinder is an example of a cross-platform mobile app built on the React Native framework. We’ve written a tutorial on how to build a dating app using React Native.
For best performance, however, it may be worth building your dating app from the ground up using popular frameworks such as Swift for iOS, or Java/Kotlin for Android with python for the backend.
APIs and SDKs for Building Your Own Dating App
Whether you decide to build a native or cross-platform dating app, you will likely be integrating component functionalities through APIs and microservices. Your microservice architecture will be made up of at least a few REST APIs listed in the table above and other popular dating app APIs. Finally, if you want to use cutting-edge machine learning and AI technologies in your dating app, you can check out Amazon ML, MonkeyLearn, Rapid API, and other machine learning APIs.
Latest Technologies in Dating App Development
Database and cloud storage can be used to store user data and preferences, in which geosharding can be used to reduce server load.
Machine learning and AI can also be used to create dynamic matching algorithms that make intelligent matches between users based on “learning” from their evolving preferences and previous matching activity.
Authentication combined with social integration can be used to verify user identities, prevent fake profile creation, and protect users from spam, harassment, and other types of harm. Social integration can also pull profile data and photos from users’ social media profiles into the dating app itself.
Payment integration is used for subscriptions, recurring payments, and other in-app purchases as part of your dating app monetization strategy.
Video and voice chat APIs can quickly be integrated with the app’s native messaging functionality to enhance in-app chat for users.
How to Build a Dating App like Tinder
To understand how the dating game changed over the past decade, we would look no further than Tinder. This dating app has a very simple user interface and all users need to do is swipe right if they like the photo they see and swipe left if not. If the other person also swiped right, a match results. It is this simplicity and understanding of human psychology that led to Tinder’s unprecedented success as a dating app.
So how did Tinder build this app and with what technology stack?
Follow design best practices with the right tools and frameworks
Load testing with realistic simulations
To create a dating app that performs well with good latency under high loads and data volume, developers can use microservices along with well-built APIs and generous cloud storage. When building video or live chat, developers need to ensure that enough bandwidth is available through their cloud platforms to support multiple video calls across the entire user base.
Building In-App Chat for your Dating App
This section talks about building in-app chat for your dating app, including deciding whether to build it from scratch, use chat and messaging APIs, and how to incorporate voice and video calling.
Building in-app chat for your dating app from scratch is a time-consuming process and requires lots of capital and the right infrastructure. Not only that, but it may also incur an opportunity cost where you could have used a chat API and diverted your attention to developing new features that other dating apps don’t already have.
Building chat from scratch can be a good option for companies who want to innovate in that area and have the resources to maintain the chat technology. However, CometChat’s SDK is fully customizable, allowing developers to innovate all kinds of chat apps much more quickly than building from scratch.
If you decide to use APIs, CometChat offers a full suite of APIs for in-app chat, messaging, voice, and video calling as described in further detail below.
Using Chat and Messaging APIs
In today’s online dating landscape, basic text chat is simply not enough. Users expect more features and want to see read receipts, voice messages, check whether their matches are online, and more. Fortunately, there are several ways to add rich features to 1-on-1 private chat.
You can choose from a wide range of features from CometChat’s extension marketplace like read receipts, typing indicators, file sharing, notifications, online presence indicators, etc. All of these extensions are pre-built and ready to use. You can also build your own private extensions as well as webhooks and bots if you choose the innovation path.
CometChat’s chat and messaging APIs provide the right building blocks in the programming language of your choice to get your app ready to go into production in mere hours instead of weeks or months. Depending on your development plan, framework, and preferences, we offer no-code chat widgets, pre-built UI kits. Plus, if you want to build a fully custom and bespoke chat experience, we provide open source Chat APIs & SDKs with built-in security and privacy compliance so you don’t have to build it all from scratch.
There are links to other guides for platforms for frameworks not listed above. Sign up to our developer platform to explore more.
Building Video and Voice Chat
To build upon the chat functionality discussed above, CometChat also provides in-built voice and video calling for your dating app. With these APIs and SDKs, you can quickly implement voice and video calling like Tinder or Bumble. If you’re using iOS, you get out-of-the-box support with CallKit and PushKit for an enhanced user experience.
For each framework, we provide instructions on how to add video calling and voice chat to your dating app:
Setup video and voice calling in iOS apps in Swift
Setup video and voice calling for Android apps in Java or Kotlin
Whichever platform or framework you choose, you can be assured that CometChat’s platform already provides all the tools you need to build a full-featured dating app with video and voice chat capabilities.
How Much Does it Cost to Develop a Dating App
There is no one answer here because there is a wide range of costs that go toward building a dating app, depending on many factors and how (and where) you hire your developers.
If you wanted to take away one bottom-line number, Formotus quotes an average of $140,000 to develop a mobile app over 6-12 months.
Ongoing app maintenance after the launch may also add up to about 15-20% of the original project cost per year. For example, if your dating app costs $100,000 to develop from design to launch, you may expect to spend $15,000 to $20,000 per year to maintain it post-launch.
We’ve listed five factors that affect how much it costs to develop your dating app and the ranges of costs for each development stage of the project.
Type of project
Who develops the app
Complexity of features and design
How much time is spent building from scratch vs. using pre-built resources
Number of platforms using native codebases vs. a single cross-platform codebase
App Development Stage
Simple app with basic features
Normal app with some design and complexity
Complex app with custom features and large backend
Development, testing and deployment
$20,000 - $40,000
$50,000 - $100,000
$75,000 - $250,000
$40,000 - $60,000
$110,000 - $160,000
$185,000 - $360,000
$10,000 per year
$25,000 per year
$40,000 per year
Estimates are our own based on multiple sources including but not limited to Formotus, BusinessOfApps, and others.
With an in-house team of developers and designers along, the total project cost can run around $150,000 or more. However, pre-built APIs and microservices discussed earlier in this guide may cut down on development costs by at least 50-70% compared to building your own.
These pre-built functionalities are common to many apps and thus eliminate the need to reinvent the wheel, saving time and resources while shortening the entire project lifecycle.
How we helped Build India’s First LGBTQ+ Dating App
As You Are (AYA) recently built a dating app for the LGBTQ+ community in India. Even though homosexuality was decriminalized in India in 2018, the LGBTQ+ community still faces unique challenges and social stigma. So the AYA founder, Sunali Aggarawal, wanted to build a product to ensure a stress- and insecurity-free dating experience for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
CometChat helped AYA build an android dating app with customized in-app chat to build a safe space for AYA users and protect them from adverse comments or actions. To do this, they needed in-app messaging with extra functionality that helps implement their own rules within the chat environment.
Running on a limited budget, they had a choice between Firebase and CometChat. However, Firebase costs are variable depending on traffic, while CometChat’s pricing is more transparent and predictable. Additionally, “CometChat offers a high-quality look and feel, smooth user experience, low latency, and advanced chat features that dating app users have come to expect nowadays, like sending emojis and images,” said Aggarawal.
AYA successfully launched their app bringing the LGBTQ+ community together in India, and with our platform, they are able to support more than 1 million concurrent users and 3,000 concurrent chats.
Amid their busy lives, dating apps offer people a convenient and time-efficient way to meet people in their search for a significant other.
The key to a successful dating app is to acknowledge that people are busy and don’t have much time. So they are hungry for features that help save their own time and quickly find whatever they’re looking for. They want and expect an intuitive, easy-to-use, and high-performance app.
The best part is that dating app developers don’t have to reinvent the wheel because there are lots of APIs and pre-built features such as CometChat readily available.
To get started with a proven SDK framework with reliable API integrations, sign in to the CometChat dashboard and start building chatfor your dating app in minutes.
About the Author
Nabeel Keblawi, a deaf entrepreneur, runs a Content Marketing and SEO agency that helps B2B SaaS companies grow organically in their industries around the world. His previous work experience involved software development, renewable energy, and cloud computing. In his personal life, Nabeel loves to go hiking with his family, and dust off his skis to hit the slopes given the chance. He is also an avid reader of fictional history.