While in theory it may seem easy to create a simple app for your phone to accommodate your big idea, that is far from the truth. Along with being highly complex to build, the cost of a custom mobile application ranges from $5,000-$300,000. We understand that these numbers are intimidating to some, so we put together this guide to help you digest the prices associated with the mobile app development process.
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Before we jump right into the nitty-gritty details of what every broken down figure looks like, we first need to understand the various application types.
First, we will examine a “simple” application. Simple applications are capable of basic functions and do not store data like other applications. An example of a simple application would be a calculator or a timer. Depending on the complexity of the functionality, these applications usually take about 2-4 weeks to create and can cost anywhere from $10,000-$80,000. While that may seem like a high price tag for such rudimentary functionality, the labor that goes into building its operations is no joke.
Application Programming Interfaces and Database Applications
As far as complexity and price tags go, next in line are database applications or application programming interfaces (API). Many of these applications require some sort of registration or sign in, which consequently requires the synchronization and storing of user data. This increased complexity and functionality extends the duration of the application build. Ranging from 2-3 months and $10,000 to potentially $150,000, database applications offer more to the user, as well as the product owner.
Multi-Featured or Enterprise Applications
Climbing up the price latter brings us to multi-featured or enterprise applications. These applications offer various features and amenities which ultimately tailor to the user’s needs. This kind of operational intelligence takes quite the effort on behalf of the developer(s). Additional features all have varying costs that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars rather quickly, and the amount of intention put into the production of a mobile app is demonstrated in the cost as well. Taking up to half a year and anywhere from $50,000-$250,000 to complete, multi-featured applications are for those with conviction (and funding).
Lastly, the application type that is most universally familiar are gaming apps. Gaming applications require not only the building of the application, but also the creation of storyboards and plotlines as well. On top of that, various mechanics and features must be in place to ensure a high quality user experience. By being the most intense to develop from both a creative and software perspective, it is no surprise that these applications can cost anywhere from $5,000-$300,000 to create. The timeline and duration of development for gaming applications fluctuates with the overall complexity of the game itself.
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Now that we have a grasp on the different types of applications, examining the different types of development is the next step. The type of development process utilized by your developers will greatly impact the duration, cost, flow, and overall experience of creating a mobile application. When it comes to platform development, there are two types—native development and hybrid (cross-platform) development.
Native development is developing an application for a specific platform, such as iOS or Android. This development process is typically faster and more reliable as it is formulated on the platform itself. It also generates a better user experience and permits access to phone features, hardware, and software. Applications built natively are also easier to discover in their respective application stores which can be a great advantage for those trying to get users in their app right away. Overall, native development allows users to quickly learn the functions of the application and provides a better experience. However, native development is often more expensive than hybrid development.
Hybrid development is building an application to have cross-platform functionality, meaning it works well on various mobile operating systems. These hybrid applications are built by combining web and native technologies. While they can be problematic to design and don’t typically have access to phone features, they do provide relief to the pocket book. In addition to being more cost effective, hybrid applications typically get to market faster and are able access various hardwares/softwares. Most notably, they provide convenient portability by being built within one code base for multiple platforms.
While it is great to understand how applications are developed and the differences between them, knowing who you want to build your application is just as important. When it comes to developers there are four main avenues; outsourced development, freelance development, technical co-founder development, and development shops or companies (like us). Breaking down development options by average cost and associated risk is a great way to gauge your best fit.
Outsourcing your development, typically overseas, is the lowest cost you will find when it comes to building your mobile application. However, you are also taking on a great deal of risk with the lack of transparency and communication that is often otherwise provided by regional developers. A majority of the most successful applications we know of today are not built this way, but if your main objective is to get your application to market for the lowest cost possible, outsourcing may be your best option.
Freelance developers cost a bit more than outsourcing as they are native to your country of origin. These developers are good for getting a proof of concept and getting out the door. The risk associated with freelance developers is the rate at which work can be completed. While established companies can have multiple individuals––or an entire team––working on your application, a freelance developer has only him/herself as a resource. However, this can slow the rate at which your mobile app can make it to market. If you are looking for a good bang for your buck and have no pressure to get your product out there, a freelance developer may be a great resource for you. You can find freelance developers on various platforms such as upwork.com and read reviews to find the perfect fit.
If you are looking for more than just a developer, but a business partner as well, a technical co-founder is the perfect match for you. Similar to outsourcing and freelance work, you don’t get a full support team. However, these developers are not only going to build your application, but they will also personally invest themselves in your product, subsequently becoming your business partner. When it comes to cost, technical co-founders are paid in equity which decreases the risks involved. Due to their personal need for your product to succeed, a sense of security can be derived.
The surefire way to build a great product is to hire a development company. You have an entire team of individuals that work collaboratively to ensure every element of your application is seamless. Not to mention the quality assurance, subject matter expertise, and organized communication that excellent development companies possess. Another big benefit is being able to view their track record and see if they have succeeded in creating apps within similar industries as your product. This can give you the assurance that the other app development options cannot. When choosing to go with a development company, there is very low risk; you can see that your product really can come to life because they have already done something like it before. While all of that may seem too good to be true, the low risk development style is not cheap. Guaranteed quality does come with a high price tag, but the ease and stability of the process makes turning out your wallet worth it for some.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what other costs could possibly be associated with building your mobile application. While the short answer is a multitude of things, a better answer is design, branding, and marketing. Each of these increase cost, but they also increase the probability of your product succeeding.
When it comes to design development and making potentially costly decisions, there are various options to consider. The first is the most affordable option, user interface design or UI. UI provides the look and feel of your application and is usually around the 5,000 dollar mark. Moving up the food chain is user experience, or UX, design. UX design differs from visual design; it gives you control over how your users will interact with your product and allows you to intelligently study user behavior. UX design is more costly than UI design, starting at $10,000 and increasing depending on the total cost of the project.
Imagine pushing your application to market with no aesthetics, the absence of a logo, and little to no branding whatsoever. Who will download your application versus your competitors? The answer is no one. Almost 60% of applications don’t break even on their development costs due to poor branding and marketing. Branding is what drives the initial decision for a user to click download, and without it, you may not have anyone do so. It is also the easiest way to gain market share by setting yourself apart visually and functionally from the competition. Needless to say, branding is a crucial part in the development of a mobile app, and it must be considered when discussing the needed budget for an app. However, branding isn’t free and can cost anywhere from $2,000-$10,000+.
Almost 60% of applications don’t break even on their development costs due to poor branding and marketing.
One element of design that often gets put on the back-burner or even swept under the rug is voice. What is your tone and style of voice? And what feelings are you looking to provoke? A copywriter is often needed to conceptualize and clearly convey your message. They will ensure that your messaging is exciting, persuasive, compelling, and clearly states the benefits of your application or product. When you combine strong design with effective branding and compelling words, you have the best chance at evoking the desired emotions and actions from your users.
The process that your developer(s) utilize to build and price your application will directly correlate with your final costs. Understanding different development and application models will not only provide you a sense of security, but also help you make the decision of who you want building your application.
The most frequently used application models are Fixed Rate and Time & Materials. A Fixed Rate model provides an estimate based on the agreed upon concepts. This upfront estimate can only be accurate with a fixed scope, meaning the development team does not allow on-the-fly changes along the way. It’s always safe to assume that the costs will go at least 20% over budget. Time & Materials provides an estimate initially but charges on a weekly or monthly basis. The scope is determined while the development process is in place while giving greater flexibility to both the developer and the product owner.
There are also two most frequently used project process models, Waterfall and Agile. The Waterfall model provides a clear documentation process up-front and locks in a price and schedule with concrete deadlines. Similar to a Fixed Rate application model, this can decrease the flexibility and quality in some circumstances. However, it does provide a very specific list of expectations and costs. The Agile model provides little documentation up front but highly detailed processes in 1-2 week sprints. This process is much more flexible than the Waterfall method because it allows the project to evolve by having time for unexpected changes or new additions as they arise. However, it typically takes more time, thus causing products to get to market later. Most of the development industry, including us, uses the Agile methodology.
SO, WHAT DOES IT REALLY COST?
With such a lengthy laundry list of costs, it can be difficult to get a comprehensive understanding. Prioritizing learning the ways to decrease your costs along the way is often more effective than stressing about the final bill. A great place to start is defining your MVP for your mobile app and personally deciding what your minimum requirements are for you to feel satisfied.
Keep in mind that an MVP for an application like Instagram would cost anywhere from $100,000-$250,000. Even more daunting, an MVP for an application like Uber, with GPS and in-app purchases, is around $1,000,000. Choosing the right company and utilizing cross-platform development will both decrease your costs as well. Decreasing your complexity will decrease your costs too.
The golden rule is picking two of the following; good, fast, cheap. Pick your two, and keep them in mind throughout the development process.
So, what does it really cost to build a custom mobile application? According to Clutch, the top 12 developers state it ranges from $30,000-$700,000 with $171,450 being the medium cost. If you are looking at a 12-18 month project, expect at least a $250,000-$500,000 bill in the end. In short, building a custom mobile application varies greatly in cost. Remember that if you want to build a successful mobile app, it’s more than just building the app itself. It needs to be researched, planned, developed, designed, continually updated, branded, and marketed, which is a costly endeavor. However, when it’s done well, you can make your money back tenfold.
Wondering how long it really takes to build a mobile application, or simply have more questions about cost? Check out our other blogs here: