You have that million-dollar idea, or at least you think you do. You want to get to market with your app as soon as possible as Time to Market (TTM) is critical to being competitive in today’s fast-paced technological world. You have raised some money from friends and family and are in conversations with a couple of funders, but how will you know how much money you will need to make your idea a reality?
How much does app development really cost? What will the breakdown of your project look like? What must first be recognized is that there is not a fixed price for building an application. Apps can be created for as little as $2,000 or as much as $250,000. According to the Clutch Survey, 2017, the average minimum app development project is between $5,000 to $10,000, and additional research from GoodFirms shows that the average price of a simple app is between $40,000 to $60,000 while a medium complexity app cost is between $61,000 and $69,000. A complex app may cost from $70,000 to $100,000. You might say, well, that tells me very little. That is like saying that I can buy a pair of shoes for $10 or $5,000. Well, it is just like there are all kinds of differences between those two pairs of shoes, and it’s likely that the $10 pair won’t get you very far and that you probably don’t need the $5,000 pair. Let’s dive into the key factors that will impact your app development costs.
Just My Type
You need to determine first what type of app you are seeking to create. These include:
- Data-driven app
- Device app
- Functionality app
- Custom utility app
- Game app
Additionally, if you are seeking to create a mobile app, you will need to determine which category your app falls into. Some categories include:
- Food & Drink
- Photo & Video
- Health and fitness
- Social media
According to Statistica, as of August 2020, business apps were the second-most popular category in the Apple App Store with a share of 10.1 percent of all active apps. Games were the most popular iOS app category, accounting for a total of almost 22 percent of active apps.
Once the type and category of product to be built are identified, it is essential to maintain focus, as changing direction mid-project can drive up the length of the development timeline as well as costs.
Are you creating a web app? A mobile app for iOS or Android? Developing applications for different platforms requires different programming languages and different development tools. While there is little cost difference between developing apps from one platform to another, if you are hoping to support two or more platforms, expect to pay more.
An option is to create one hybrid app that works across multiple platforms; Android, iOS, and Windows. The significant advantage of the hybrid is the availability of web programmers over iOS and Android programmers. In addition, when mobile apps are written in their native languages (Objective-C and Swift for iOS; Java for Android), any change to the program’s behavior must be made in both sets of source code.
Your app will undoubtedly include images, text, videos, and other data that will need to be compressed and stored. Storage solutions can be minimal when your app has few users but vary widely from a few pennies to thousands of dollars a month as you begin to scale.
How your app is designed is what will set it apart from your competition. Take a look at Uber. It is so meticulously designed and easy to use. You can request a car and have it on its way in three clicks. You should strive to have a simple design with an intuitive interface that will have your app standing out from the crowd.
The most crucial factor that influences app development is the features it provides its users. A simple mobile app with just a few well-designed features could be all you and your users need. This is where you need to be sure that you don’t fall prey to feature creep by adding “just one more” really cool feature that could be incredibly destructive to your cash-lean startup. On the other hand, don’t scrimp on much-needed features upfront that can cause your app to have significant issues or “technical debt” further down the road. It is better to sacrifice a couple of weeks on a feature release now than having huge challenges with your product, or even no product at all in six months.
What key features will your app need, and how many hours of development time should you expect each to take depending on the complexity.
The more features you integrate, the longer it will take to develop, and the more you should expect your app to cost.
A Model Business
Assuming that the ultimate goal of developing your product is to ultimately build profits, you will need to determine what your business model is and how you will generate revenue. Will your app be offered for free, or are you charging upfront? Are you integrating in-app purchases? Enabling Apple Pay? Google Pay? Biometric integrations? These features will undoubtedly make the UX much more seamless, but each option you add will add to the implementation time and increase costs.
Once your prototype is ready, it will need to be tested to ensure it works as expected. The Agile model implements testing and debugging as a critical part of the process before the software is deployed. A survey conducted by The New Stack found that developers spend between 12–15% of their time testing code.
Your app is launched, and you breathe a sigh of relief. The hard work is done, right? Now to watch the money come in as you climb up the ranks in the Google Play or App Store, right? Not really. Keeping up with the maintenance of your app is critical to your ongoing success. According to The Mobile App Daily, you should expect to allocate 15–20% of the original app development cost each year to app maintenance. They also add the five key reasons why ongoing app maintenance is so critical.
1. Effective maintenance and updates minimizes uninstalls
2. Delivers better UX
3. Keeps you ahead of your competition
4. Ensures better financial security
5. Helps in creating a responsive and agile brand image
Who, What, Where
There is another critical factor in how much your app will cost; WHO develops it. While you have an idea of the development time for each of your app features, the hourly rate will vary widely based on who executes the work.
Many very talented freelancers can provide services at significant cost savings. However, you need to be wary of a potential lack of consistency that could leave you with a mediocre app or no product at all.
Working with offshore or nearshore developers can result in 50–80% hourly rate savings over developers in the US. The cost savings can be very attractive, for example:
- A simple app will cost $4,800 in India compared to $48,000 in the US.
- A complex one might cost $38,000 in India and $250,000 in the US.
But, working with offshore developers can present challenges such as:
- Time differences
- Language — cultural barriers
- Lack of collaboration in the development process
- Process discipline is not always optimal
- Your code can potentially be replicated or sold
Asking how much your app will cost to build is just like asking how much the pairs of shoes we mentioned earlier will cost; it depends. It depends on; what you want it to do, what platform or platforms it will be built on, what features it needs to have, how much data it will use, its design and UI, your business model, the amount of testing and maintenance it will require, and of course, finding the ever critical right partner who has the expertise to help you build it.