“How much does it cost to build an app” As a mobile application development company, this is usually one of the first questions that many people ask. But there is no one simple answer because there are so many variables and factors to consider. So in this article, we will cover what decisions you need to make so you will get a good idea of what your mobile app development cost will be.
The app business is growing fast and is expected to exceed $565 billion by the year 2030. Google Play store hosts over 3.5 million apps compared to Apple App Store’s 2.2 million mobile apps. However, Apple had 62.88 percent of global revenue in 2021, significantly greater than Android, this is due partly to its more affluent demographic but it goes deeper than that. Although Apple apps make more directly from app sales. Android has a much large global distribution, especially in the developing world, so it is a better platform for free apps that generate revenue from advertising like Facebook.
So what decisions do you need to make when getting started with building an app? And how do those decisions affect the cost?
Features and requirements
A significant influence on mobile app development cost is complexity. At the low end, you may need to simply replicate your website in the form of an app to deliver information and provide a few other simple functions. This kind of app could be built in 400 to 600 hours. Whereas more advanced apps could fall in the 600 to 1000 hours of development time. Or at the high end of app development, you may be designing a new game that has unique graphics and functionality that would be well over 1000 hours of development time.
In simple terms, if it has most likely been done before then the cost will be significantly lower than something that has to be built from scratch. Also, many open-source SDKs can be used as building blocks for creating complex functionality in an app without starting from square one.
When adding in-app payments it is more time-consuming than just developing the payment functionality. This kind of application requires added security measures and in the case of IOS apps, Apple now requires an easy unsubscribe feature to be built into the app along with the ability to delete all of the subscriber’s data so they can’t be contacted again. Failing to include this functionality will mean that the app will not be approved for the app store, or if it somehow gets through, it could be removed at any time for breaching Apple’s terms of service.
Outsourced or in-house
One of the biggest decisions you will need to make is the type of development team that will build the app. The questions to consider are:
Do you know how to build an app development team and what to expect from them?
For small projects, you may only need 1 or 2 developers but for larger projects, you may need a separate UI/UX designer, 1 or more developers for each platform (Android and IOS), a backend engineer for server development, testers, and a manager to coordinate the team. Even if you can justify the full team for the initial build, will you still need them all ongoing? If not, how long should their contract be? Also consider when you will need them, for example, the UI/UX designer is primarily needed at the start of the project, then they will be much less in demand as the project progresses, but they still need to be available at some points. Then testers, at what point in the build will you need to start testing and when will you no longer need them? These are just some of the decisions that you will need to be making if you are planning on doing it in-house.
Then you will need to pay for all of the expenses of an office to put them in including computer equipment and networking.
Of course, you could employ them remotely, but that will require that you put people and systems in place to ensure that everyone is working efficiently every day and that can be challenging. You will also need to ensure that every member of staff has stable internet and working computer equipment in multiple remote locations.
Of course, it is not all downside or large companies would not ever employ their own development teams. When considered at scale there is an advantage to owning the team that built your application so that long term you can benefit from that deep knowledge of your complex application. But you will need to be prepared to cover ever-increasing salaries as your employees gain experience, or they could move on anyway.
With an outsourced team many of these problems are solved because the teams are already in place and are accustomed to working together, they already have management structures and are more likely to be single-skill employees, so rather than trying to do everything they will be focused on one task all day which is much more efficient. Think just coding with resources all around them to provide the research they need, graphics, and testers. These kinds of focused resources can be very much more efficient than someone that has to stop coding to edit an image in photoshop, then stop again to test the work they have done.
Also with an outsourced mobile application development company, you will only be paying for the developers you need at any given time. For example, once the UI/UX designer has done the initial design, they may only be needed occasionally during the main app build cycle and not at all during testing, but then they may have a day’s work to do in the future when you want to add a new feature or integration.
At least with an outsourced custom app development company, you know that the development team comes with an office, reliable equipment, stable internet and power, and a management team that will ensure that everyone is at work and operating to maximum efficiency.
Native, cross-platform, hybrid, or web apps
It is relatively rare these days for a business to decide to exclude all Apple users or all Android users from installing their apps. It does happen, perhaps an example might be an app for farmers in the developing world, which most likely would not need to develop for Apple as well. But in most cases, we should be looking to include both markets, so this then begs the question do we build a native app for Apple and a separate one for Android, or go down the route of hybrid which will work on both? It’s worth keeping in mind that the development team’s skills and structure will be completely different depending on which you chose, so it will be a big problem if you hire developers and then change your mind.
With a custom app development company, this is a decision that will be made during the initial research and discovery phase, and they will generally have both types of developers available so will have the flexibility to provide the staff resources that are needed to fulfill any project. But there are some generalizations that we can make here. The more complex the app, the more likely it will need to be native. Particularly if you want to take advantage of specific features in the operating system of IOS and Android or if you want to access particularly in the phone like GPS or accelerometer. So a simple app will generally be fine if it is built on cross-platform or hybrid, where larger more complex applications will probably need to be native.
Android native app development is done on Java or Kotlin or a combination of them both. The Google developer account is cheap to get started at only $25 a year, and it comes with useful resources like Firebase for push notifications.
Apple native app development is done these days on Swift or the older Objective C. An apple developer account costs $99 a year and there are some more stringent T’s & C’s that need to be adhered to before you will be able to publish an app and keep it on the store.
These are based on a single codebase that runs on both Android and IOS current languages in the forefront are React Native (owned by Facebook/Metta) and Flutter (owned by Google) They can be a cost-efficient way to develop and maintain your app project but they have some limitations that make them unsuitable for some complex apps.
Web app platform
Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are the lowest-cost type of app but are only suitable for certain situations. They deliver content directly from the server just like a website, so they have no functionality at all if they are not connected to the internet and they can sometimes be slow on a mobile network connection. They are not capable of the advanced functionality that you would expect in a native or cross-platform app. But they can be an effective way to deliver information and put your website on the desktop of your customer’s mobile phones. Unlike native or cross-platform apps that are installed via a Chrome browser on Android or Safari on IOS, they are not delivered via the app store. But they can be installed on a computer as well.
Hybrid app platform
It will not be possible to arrive at a mobile app development price yet, not until we have considered and decided on several other factors that we will discuss next. If you are already confused then the best way to proceed is to speak with an expert.
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Location of development
Unless you need to have your development team in your office, you will next need to consider where in the world your mobile application development company will be located, and this will determine for the most part what their hourly rate will be. Countries like the United States, Western Europe countries, Australia and Canada will be more expensive per hour than India, Asia, and Eastern Europe but there are other advantages such as time zone, language, and cultural similarities, and if you outsource in your own country it is much easier to go there if it ever becomes necessary.
The hourly rate is generally quoted in a range with the low figure representing junior developers and the high figure being senior developers (over 5 years of experience). You may use a mix of both on your project because it is a waste to pay a senior developer to do bulk menial tasks and equally some advanced functionality may require a senior developer to get it done. Some example prices for app developers in 2023 are shown below:
|$50-250 / hr
|$80-200 / hr
|$60-150 / hr
|India / Asia
|$20-80 / hr
|$20-120 / hr
|$35-170 / hr
It is worth noting that low experience and low skill developers are slower so get less done per hour and they tend to generate more errors that need to be identified by testers and gone back on to fix. So hiring an entirely low-end team is a false economy. It can easily end up costing more and provide less predictable outcomes. Generally, we find that a mix is required along with experienced managers who can monitor the less experienced developers while they crunch through bulk work, while the most experienced team members code the advanced and unique functionality.
When ascertaining a mobile app development price and the ongoing cost of operation, it is important to keep in mind the cost of backend infrastructure. This could include data storage, data delivery, processing, backups, and security. These days this is normally delivered via public cloud infrastructures such as AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Asure. These are the leading suppliers of cloud infrastructure in the world, although there are many other smaller providers. Complex apps may need many virtual servers to function, and they will need to be scaled up in size and number as the number of app users increases. It is often possible to get small free-tier servers and free credits to use during the development phase of the app but there will come a point where each instance (virtual server) may cost from $30-$150 a month.
App build Phases
Now we will move on to the various phases of app design, build, and operation, with their associated costs.
Discovery, research, and planning
The first thing to think about when planning an app build is to consider who the target market is, it is surprising how this is not considered properly in many cases until much later even though it has a significant effect on the platforms that are selected and therefore what programming language is used and therefore what kind of development team is needed. Target market research can be started by the app owner although a mobile application development company will generally include this in this first phase to ensure all of the correct decisions are made down the line.
Then the whole design, build, test, and commissioning process will be planned out in this phase. A professional custom app development company will be able to give you accurate time frames to expect each phase to be completed so you can see that you are making the correct progress at each stage. If a development company is not prepared to give you an accurate forecast of how long each phase will take, they may be worth walking away from. It is common for some unscrupulous mobile app development companies to take a monthly fee and do the minimum work possible to keep the money coming in for as long as they can. By the time you realize that your app will never be completed, it may have cost you many tens of thousands of dollars.
The time frame for the planning phase is normally 1-2 weeks for small to medium-sized apps in the $5,000-$15,000 price range. For simple apps that don’t have any unique features, this stage can be much less still. The time taken for this scoping and planning stage may be in the region of 40-80 hours on average, and as much as 160-200 hours for highly customized large apps. If your mobile app development company wants to skip this stage it may indicate a problem with them, unless the app is a simple one that they may have built many times before.
It is easy to be tempted into saving money by skipping this stage but it would be a false economy because the cost of making the wrong decisions at the start could be catastrophic for the project, for example selecting the wrong build type of programming language could render the app not fit for purpose and maybe requiring a complete rebuild to fix the problems.
This phase should be done by a specialist UI/UX designer if the app has a significant feature set. In this phase. The UI/UX designer will have the prototyping, wireframing, user flows, and mockup skills to ensure the app is easy to learn and use. the UI represents the design of the way the ‘user interface’ looks and the UX is the ‘user experience’ which is how the user will move around the app and how everything will function. This is extremely important for the app to be successful because poorly designed functionality in an app will quickly frustrate users and they may never learn to benefit from all of the app features if they are hard to find and use.
The cost of this phase can vary a lot depending on how many screens the app has and what functionality the app includes. It can take 20-50 hours to wireframe design between 5-10 screens and up to 100 hours for 11-20 screens. Visual design elements like icons and images could take 20 hours for a small number, going up to 200 hours for complex designs. The architecture and screen layout design takes 25-200 hours. So the design phase can take anywhere between 150-300 hours which would equate to a cost from $5000-$15,000.
This is where the developers actually start coding your app and it is the main part of the build.
For complex apps, it is highly recommended that you start with an MPV (minimum viable product) This is a cut-down version of the final build, without the bells and whistles. It is the quickest way to get a functioning app with core features that can then be built on. Crucially it may answer many questions about the viability of the project and will enable you to get customer feedback before getting into the weeds of every feature.
The development stage can take from $5000-$15,000 and can take around 150-200 hours. As the app size and complexity increase, these numbers can go up significantly. This is not just because of the increased hours but also the need for more experienced developers to handle unique and complex functionality. So it is not uncommon for the design and build phase of a simple app to take 150-250 hours, with complex apps taking upward of 400 hours.
Testing and deployment
It may surprise you that app testing is a professional position, and this can involve running through long lists of uses and processes on the app but also using it in ways that it was never intended, to break the functionality, because you can bet your customers are going to do that. You may also need a testing script written that can load test the app and your back-end servers with hundreds or thousands of operations. Testing in this way may not be needed on simple apps but if you decide to run a beta testing phase it could take 100-400 hours and cost $5000-$25,000.
Continued support and maintenance
It should not be overlooked that apps need to be regularly updated to keep them listed on the app stores. Every time Apple and Google update their operating systems you may need to update your app so that your codebase is using the latest version. If you don’t update your app it may be removed from the store until you do, and it is also possible that OS updates will break the functionality of your app, either of these could spell disaster for your business. So if you don’t intend to continually update your app then you probably won’t want to employ in-house developers just to do annual updates, so this is where using a development company can be an advantage because they can tell you when you need to start preparing your app update before the OS update is released and you only need to pay them for this work and not the rest of the year. This maintenance work could cost about 20% of the development cost per year or around $5,000-$10,000 per year.
Summary of mobile app development cost
So most mobile app development prices in 2023 are likely to be in the $5,000-$50,000 for a simple app.
Medium complex apps could cost $50,000-$120,000.
And with unique and complex apps that could exceed $300,000, this kind of project could include AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), machine learning, and AI.
How we can help
It is clear from this analysis that there is no single answer to the question of how much mobile app development costs, in fact, there are nearly as many answers as there are apps. And it is also clear that many potential pitfalls can occur if you are not experienced in the industry. So for most companies, the best solution is to engage a trusted partner to plan and build an app for them.
At Blue Whale Apps we are a custom app development company that has built every type of app over the years, from the smilest apps to the most complex, for small businesses to large corporates and from nonprofits to government projects. This experience means that we already have most problems solved. We can build a team that is perfect for your project, scaling up for fast delivery and then scaling back for low-cost ongoing maintenance.
If you would like to discuss your project with one of our experts, please book a free consultation.