How much does mobile app development cost & how to stay on budget
“How much does mobile app development cost?” is the question everyone always wants answered, but it’s a tough one because the truth is, it depends. A number of factors come into play, such as the features and complexity of your app and the type of mobile app you choose to build. Costs that arise beyond initial deployment also need to be considered.
For these reasons, mobile app development costs run a wide gamut, ranging from as low as $25,000 for a very basic application on one platform, to breaking the six-figure mark for complex apps that require a great deal of technical development and support.
In order to make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to move forward with your mobile application, we have created a handy checklist of the typical costs involved in mobile application development, from both a pre- and post-release perspective.
Depending on the complexity and use cases for your specific application, some of these costs may not pertain to you, but you can use this list as a guide. We also provide some tips from our years of experience for building apps on a budget, so you can avoid racking up unnecessary costs.
Mobile app development costs: Line items to factor in
Type of app
There are more types of apps in the marketplace than we have time to dive into here, but the category in which your app falls will impact the total cost—the reason being that the kind of app you build usually requires specific elements and features. An e-commerce app, for example, needs to allow users to enter payment information.
While actual costs vary depending on your specific requirements, here is a ballpark of the cost associated with some of the most common types of mobile applications:
- e-commerce app—These apps, such as Amazon, need to be able to accept payment methods so users can purchase goods or services. Costs typically run from $35,000 – $170,000.
- Social networking app—This type of app (think Facebook) needs chat and sharing features and the ability to upload content. It may also involve facial recognition technology to “tag” friends in photos and videos. Costs often run anywhere from $22,000 – $115,000 depending on complexity.
- Marketplace app—Apps in this category need to pull data from various sources and analyze it to return valuable results to the user. They can become quite complex depending on the size and scope of the project. An example is TripAdvisor. Costs usually start around $115,000 and go up from there.
Features drive cost, which means you can influence the bottom line by including or removing features from your application. Of course, as features become more advanced, the price tag goes up.
Simple features range from inviting people to subscribe or a calendar option, while more advanced items would include payment options, animation, and real-time updates. Other examples of possible features to include are login, chat, push notifications, offline capabilities, in-app purchase capabilities, web services, sharing capabilities, and search functionality.
Each feature adds to the cost and complexity of your application. If you decide you do need login functionality, then you will need to add the necessary authentication process that goes along with this. There are services you can use to do this—from Microsoft, Google, and others—but it does make the app more complex (and costly). This is just one example of how a specific feature can drive up the cost of your app, but it is important to understand the effect that each feature has on the total price.
Having a clear vision of must-have features versus nice-to-have ones can help keep your total cost in check.
Mobile app complexity involves a number of factors. Does your app require data or services from other systems that you don’t control? If your app is in the real estate space, for example, you may want to bring in property data or multiple listings data. Maybe you want weather or traffic information. All of these integrations are cost drivers because you need to identify the data sources, and understand how to share data and functions with those sources, and then, after integrating, test thoroughly until you are sure you have a working integration.
Will the app access various smartphone features, such as GPS, Bluetooth, or the device camera? These types of hardware components add to the difficulty of development, which means more time, more skill, and, of course, more money.
A complex User Interface (UI) also requires more skill and money. This is where it pays to take the time during design to carefully plan out the UX and UI design, so you do not waste money on unneeded or even unwanted features and functionality.
A mobile application that requires a backend server will add to your cost. How do you know if your app falls into this category? Mobile apps that serve a larger purpose beyond a basic function on your phone will usually require backend work.
An app that provides a calculator on your phone, for example, will not require backend work. But today it is rare to consider a mobile app that doesn’t in some way connect to some other system to perform its function. Maybe you need customer data or a product catalog from your “back office.” This adds complexity, because now you are not just building a mobile app, but the infrastructure needed to connect that app to the rest of your business.
Here’s an example to illustrate this point. An app that helps you measure a room for carpet may be simple to build. But if you want that app to let each user see what carpets are available, how much they cost per yard, and how much it will cost to carpet their room, then that requires access to your product catalog. If you want them to be able to place an order for that carpet, then you need integration with your order management system.
In-house versus outside experts
Do you have the necessary resources in-house to build your mobile application or do you need to look externally? If you have the team to do this, are they available? More importantly, is it really the right team?
An internal team is more than just programmers. At the bare minimum, you need people knowledgeable in development, UX and UI design, quality assurance, and application security. If you decide to build your own internal team, do you have a plan for what they will be doing when this project is completed?
Another important component to consider is if you have the ability to test your app properly, both for functionality and security. If you deploy an insecure application or one that is riddled with bugs, you will also have to contend with recovering your reputation. It is always better to get it right the first time.
Outside expertise is the best route if you don’t have the breadth of skills and experience across your team. Even if the apparent cost is higher than trying to make it work with your internal resources, you might find yourself saving money and time by not having to learn the ropes and deal with the inevitable mistakes made along the way.
Time to build
A very simple app can often be up and running in as little as 3 months, while a more complex mobile app can require more than double this in development time. Naturally, time means money, so the longer the development timeline, the costlier it is.
Android vs. iOS or both
The decision to build for one platform or both will naturally impact cost. In most cases, the decision is to support both platforms so you can reach more customers, but there are cases where this does not make sense.
For example, when Apple launches a new app, they will develop for iOS only. There are also cases when an Android-only mobile app is chosen. One of the main drivers in these cases is that Android devices are cheaper, and many organizations opt for Android when supplying devices to employees. If you’re building an enterprise mobile app that will only be used by your employees on the Android devices you supply, then naturally you only need to build for Android.
However, Android app development costs tend to be higher; it takes longer, as it is very device-specific. The costs of developing iOS apps are lower because development is very straightforward across the platform. Another key point to consider is that iOS apps tend to be more profitable, with the Apple Store bringing in almost twice as much revenue as the Google Play Store in 2018. This factor only applies to apps that are for-purchase or have in-app purchases, but if you fall into this category, it is something to consider.
You simply cannot release your mobile app out into the world without proper application security testing. Post-deployment is not the time discover bugs or vulnerabilities.
Our advice is to incorporate application security testing into the design and development process from day one. This way you make sure bugs and threats are discovered right away, and they can be addressed quickly before any additional work is done. This small investment in testing up front can save you a lot of money down the road.
Once you launch, the application still requires attention, and these items should be factored in as they are part of the lifetime cost of the app.
Maintenance and support
On average, it costs roughly 15-20 percent of the original development cost to maintain the software application.
Continued application security testing will be part of your ongoing maintenance, as bugs and vulnerabilities can surface at any time. You will certainly want to add new features and functionality to the application as you gather user feedback, and these updates will require development and testing time as well.
You will also need to keep up with various external support drivers, such as new versions of iOS and Android, and new phones. Some phones can create unique problems given their design. They may have a notch or other feature that negatively impacts the screen real estate of your app, so you will need to account for this if you want to support that device.
Another component that requires maintenance is third-party dependencies. If any libraries or frameworks you used to build your application change, you need to make sure these changes work with your application.
Don’t forget that even if your app is for internal use only, it will still need support and updates.
Depending on your mobile application, you may need to capture and analyze metrics to know if your app is successful. There are a number of monitoring tools on the market such as AppDynamics and New Relic APM, but they each come with a price tag.
AppDynamics, for example, starts at around $300 per month and increases from there based on the product version you select. Pricing for New Relic APM varies based on the size of your instance, the number of instances, and the total time running. Monthly costs can be as low as $10 per month to more than $200 per month (and those costs can triple if you don’t commit to an annual contract).
If your app stores any type of user data, be it email addresses or photos, this information has to be stored somewhere. There are costs associated with this. Even if you opt for cloud storage, expect the price to gradually increase over time as your application becomes more popular and demands for storage increase.
Marketing and promotion
Depending on the nature of your app, you may need to invest some money in marketing and promotion. How else will you get potential users to download the app? The situation is different for an app that will be used internally. In that case, employees may not have a choice.
Even then though, you will still want to spend a bit of time on internal marketing to increase user adoption. Additional tips are available to help you successfully launch your mobile app.
Depending on whether or not you used any third-party frameworks or libraries to build your application, you may have to pay ongoing licensing fees for the life of the mobile app. There may also be server fees depending on your end product.
And let’s not forget about app store fees. The Apple Store, Google Play Store, and other available options each come with their own set of costs.
To publish an app on the Apple Store, you need to become a member of Apple’s Developer Program, with an annual fee ranging from $99 – $299 per year. There is also a 15 percent fee on any transaction in the Apple Store.
It only costs $25 to open a developer account for the Google Play Store, but they charge a 30 percent transaction fee on each purchase.
Tips for developing apps on a budget
- First, figure out what you really want and need—The only way to avoid unnecessary costs is to start by clearly defining the purpose of the application. What is it intended to do, and who will use it? This process should begin with a customer journey map to make sure you are designing an application that adds true value to the end user.
- Start with an MVP—You may have heard the recommendation to start with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)—the most basic version of your application that functions. We see the value in this, but recommend taking this one step further. We have redefined MVP to stand for Minimum Valuable Product. This type of MVP not only functions but also provides value to the end user. This allows you to gather user feedback that actually helps you gauge interest in the app and gain more traction in the market from the start.
- Work with outside experts—One of the biggest money drains on an application development project is to rely on internal team members who do not possess the required knowledge and experience to build the application. It always costs a lot more to go back and fix mistakes. Accurately and realistically assess your team’s capabilities against the project requirements. Knowing when it is time to seek outside help will save you a lot of money and stress.
- Stick to the plan—There is no point in clearly defining your goals and making a customer journey map if you don’t follow them. Avoid adding unplanned features and functionality. This only disrupts the design and development process, causing delays and additional costs. Wait until the app is in the hands of users and gather feedback. Then you can wisely decide if that added feature is really worth it.
Going down the path of building a mobile application can be daunting if you’re not sure what the final price tag might be. Take the time to clearly define your requirements and use this guide to determine what items your app needs, so you can get a sense of the pre-release and total lifetime costs. Once you have a cost in mind, stay on track by working with skilled professionals and staying focused on the agreed-to design until you can gather user feedback to determine necessary changes. While surprises can and will pop up during many projects, this is still the best way to avoid sticker shock.