How much does it cost to make an app?

The market of mobile applications shows no sign of stopping and, naturally, more and more people are researching the issue of how much does it cost to make an app. While we all use apps for communication, games, lifestyle, business, food, sports – creating your own app is a matter of business for some of us.

The good news is – it isn’t really as expensive as most of us may think. Before reviewing it all in detail, let’s give a brief extract about the cost of app development and its main considerations.

How much does it cost to make an app?

There is no simple answer to this inquiry due to multiple factors at play. Different developer rates, project complexity and time it takes to build an app impact the cost of making a mobile application. The price to make an app depends on the following aspects:

  • type (mobile game, business, social networking, lifestyle. etc.)
  • platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc.)
  • design (basic, individual, custom)
  • number of pages
  • features & infrastructure

If we split mobile apps into 3 categories in regards to complexity (simple, moderate, complex), and take 2 kinds of hourly rates into account, this is how much app costs to make approximately:

Complexity Notes Time, hours Cost at $50 hourly rate Cost at $100 hourly rate
Simple No API integration, no back-end, standard UI components, simple features like email subscription, social login, calendar, etc. 400 20,000 40,000
Moderate Custom UI features, payment features, API integration, headsets and tablets adaptation, back-end server. 500-800 40,000 80,000
Complex Multi-language support, 3rd-party integrations, custom animations, complicated back-end, professional design, real-time features. 800-1500 75,000 150,000

Remember, the figures above serve only as an orientation to apprehend a potential cost of making a mobile app. Every app is different, it’s like inquiring about the price of a house or a car – you can not know the exact price without specifications. Plus, the estimation is based on minimum time and effort required to technically build an app. And of course, be ready to pay more to make your app great.

Now, a more practical tool to calculate the cost of your app lies next.

App cost calculator

Now, to give you the opportunity for more accurate app cost estimation, below you may find an interactive calculator tool. There you can indicate the specifications of your project or an app you have in mind, and send tdata to our app development experts. Our team will contact you shortly after with an exact price quote.

An average cost to make an app highly depends on what type of app you choose to develop.

  • Native apps

Large and heavy apps that aim at the best user experience, optimization and fast work. They may use various device’s APIs and process a wide range of features at the same time. Native apps will get as expensive as a number of platforms you want to support because more people will be involved in the app development process then. Native apps usually are business apps, entertainment apps, education apps.

  • Hybrid apps

Or cross-platform apps, that are best suited to reach a bigger audience from the start. Their development and maintenance costs less if a team is involved and a single code, that works for all platforms. Meantime cross-platform apps are less optimized, lack access to APIs and can’t provide the native user experience. They are suitable for small and medium communication apps, lifestyle apps or game apps.

  • Basic functionality apps

Are fast to develop and include very few or even no features at all. They are mostly developed for personal use and you probably won’t find anything like this in any app store. Usually, they are made to display a list of topics – by clicking on one of them a user can view info about it, or open a new list.

  • Database-driven apps

More complex apps with massive data to operate, stored directly in the device memory or on a web server. To work as desired, additional features like camera, internet connection or access to the gallery may be required. Examples of such native apps that use device memory to store data library are various mobile dictionaries or encyclopedias.

  • Apps that rely on the device firmware/hardware

These types of applications access a mobile device and aim at enhancing its functionality. It could be a camera, a flashlight, an alarm clock or any other function. For example, AlarmMon allows users to customize the alarm clock, while also adding extra functions, like a puzzle to solve to disarm the alarm.

  • Mobile games / Game apps

Games may be both simple and advanced, with 3D graphics and physics, global ratings, AR support, even social media integration. Obviously, a more complex game costs more, so it’s hard to tell exactly without estimate how much to make an app may cost. Gaming apps are the most popular category of application worldwide and usually the most profitable ones. Take Angry Birds that cost near $140,000 to develop and made $70 million in the first year.

Who can develop my app idea?

Basically, we have 2 options: mobile app development agencies and freelance developers. Let’s look into each of them. Hiring a professional agency surely seems to be a more expensive choice. But the reliability is much better, and a developer team would assist you to get the best app from your idea. Designers, programmers, project managers – all of them are skilled and used to work in the team with each other.

Hourly rates differ greatly around the globe, independent of the end product quality. So, if you have a good concept and clear strategy, there is no need to pay more, because high price doesn’t mean high quality.

Advantages of hiring an app agency:

  • All in one – good companies have full staff, everyone you need. No need to seek programmers, designers or testers separately.
  • See what you pay for – portfolio, project estimate and hourly rates, you know everything you get before paying.
  • Discipline and skill – companies ensure that employees do their work on time and do it well.

As a disadvantage one may state a higher cost, as for obvious reasons developer companies charge higher prices among other alternative options.

We offer best quality for optimal costs!

Now let’s review the cost of freelance app developers. Good freelancers still may build superior apps not worse than developer companies do. They would have the same quality though at lesser cost. So we may assign the biggest pro to freelance coders: the cheaper cost compared to software companies.

Cons of hiring freelancers:

  • Find them all – unlike agencies that provide full development team;
  • No project manager to control the process, so be ready to coordinate the team, deadlines and budget;
  • Communication issues between members of project;
  • Lack of skills.

Extra options for a D-I-Y approach

App templates or starter kits. If you have an idea similar to any popular app, there is a high chance to find the source code of it for $25-200 per license. Though, you still need designers to change how things look in the app, and programmers if you want to change how things work.

Online “app makers”. Constructing an app without any knowledge of programming sounds wonderful. To be honest, most apps of such kind are limited in options, tools and even types and genres. It may be buggy, badly optimized and lack features you’ve planned. Subscription costs to use such tools start from $10 per month or may cost $5,000 initially.

Partnership to create an app and split profits. Two words: too risky.

Quiz: How well do you know mobile apps?

To mix thing up a bit, we have prepared a little quiz to check your knowledge about mobile app development and see how ready you are to invest into an app. Answer ten little questions and then let’s get back to the issue of app development cost again.

Cost of developer team to create an app

Even a small application should be done by a team, not by one person, so it will provide a better user experience. It would be much faster and much more qualitative in the end, because everyone is engaged and responsible for their own part of the project. Surely, complex applications require more people to be involved in the development process.

A basic development team may include:

  • Project manager
  • Programmer
  • UI/UX designer
  • QA engineer

Extended development team:

  • 1 project manager
  • 2-4 app developers
  • 1 back-end developer
  • 1-2 UI/UX designers
  • 1 QA engineer
  • 1 system administrator

Duties and cost are represented in the table below.

Team member Duties Hourly cost
Project manager Prevents any miscommunication and misconduct within the team to avoid pitfalls and abide by deadlines. $20+
Developer Writes the code of an app, integrates it with the data source and fixes bugs. $30+
Back-end developer Ensures that the application, the database and the server communicate with each other in a right way and the whole app works correctly. $25+
Designer Works on how an app interface would be laid out and how it would be felt by users. Solves different optimization tasks. $15+
Tester Monitors each part of the app,  controls code and design quality, ensures the end-product meets all project requirements. $20+

Looking for an app development team?

How to make an app: stages and average timelines

When talking about the cost to build a mobile app, we cannot omit to explain the basics of app development. It all, of course, starts with someone’s brilliant idea and then goes through various stages until realized. You can find many tips online such as how to make an app in 10 steps, or 5 key stages of app development. And these stages/steps are the following:

  1. Idea & goals: Not just an Eureka moment with the great idea for an app, but also a real and detailed business strategy matters. Why do you think people will use your app? What does your app do, basically? What problem would an app help to solve? All should be clear.
  2. Research: including the overall market research, competitor research and especially user/customer research. There are two ways to identify your target audience: Who and How many. Then, identify your top competitors,  analyze their products, compare their strategies. Try to come up with something they are missing.
  3. Wire-frames & UX: First mock-ups of your app are created to understand the user flow and what the app should be doing. This is also called an information architecture – a scheme reflecting all possible user actions. A wireframe is a rough template which you can edit and correct at early stages. Helpful tools – Mockingbot, Axure, Sketchapp, etc.
  4. Back-end construction: or the app architecture, for which you should choose the platforms and the set of tools, technology stack, programming languages, services. How to make an app is the question that in most part assumes building a backend, an app structure. There are two main ways of developing a back-end: SaaS as the back-end – e.g. Firebase, AWS Mobile Hub, CloudKit, or a custom developed back-end. The latter is preferable in case you predict your mobile app to grow in new features and number of users. Adding more functions or customizing it would be easier with the own backend system.
  5. Visual design: produce several versions of design. Typically, a designer produces 3 screens, i.e. three versions of the application visual concept. All other screens further on are then based on the visual concept of your choice. The app’s color matters too. Most major apps are made in a blue-green range of colors (Skype, Twitter, WhatsApp, Shazam).
  6. Coding & bringing it all together. This is the most crucial stage when your developer team sits down and writes the code. Developers complete the tasks under a strict guidance of a project manager (software companies practice).
  7. Testing: Afterwards, quality assurance engineers test the app. Software testing plays a considerable role in mobile app development, improving and cleaning the final product. All the bugs should be squashed.
  8. Release: after all tweaks and improvements are done and dusted (and tested again) the final chapter in app development saga arrives. Check submission policies of the app store of your choice to minimize time and effort to comply.

For those interested in information on how to make a mobile app as a visual cheat-sheet, here it is.

How long does it take to make an app?

As you remember, the cost of making an app basically equals developer rates multiplied by time. Here are the average time limits required for various functions when making an app.

Planning stage

  • Research and discovery – size of the project, number of features and screens, tools and technologies, client-owned APIs, market research, etc. 8 to 40 hours on average, 200 hours maximum.
  • Scoping – documentation, legal agreements, project plan creation. 8 to 30 hours on average, 150 hours maximum.

Application design stage

  • Wireframes – about 5-10 app screens. 20 to 50 hours on average, 150 hours maximum.
  • Visual design – images, icons, layers, etc. 20 to 100 hours on average, 200 hours maximum.
  • User Experience (UX) design – the logic of screen layouts and architecture, OS/device standards. 10 to 25 hours on average, 200 hours maximum.

Features

  • Login – 70 hours max
  • Location data – 150 hours max
  • Payment integration – 200 hours max
  • Multi-device sync – 200 hours max

App infrastructure

  • Setup & basic controls – up to 50 hours
  • Data storage – up to 200 hours
  • 3rd party APIs integration – up to 120 hours
  • Access to enterprise data – up to 400 hours
  • Encryption – up to 100 hours
  • Scalability (a big number of users) – up to 800 hours

App administration

  • Analytical tools –  up to 80 hours
  • Web portal or CMS – up to 600 hours

Testing stage – 30 to 150 hours on average, 300 hours maximum. It usually takes about 20-30% of total hours required for app development.

Deployment stage – i.e. licensing, packaging, submitting to app stores. 50-100 hours on average.

If you don’t have technical experience to build an app, no problem – you can hire app developers. Read more about tips and cost of hiring a mobile app developer.

Now let’s get back to other cost-related aspects of app development.

The cost of app design

Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction – this is what we find in Wikipedia. A famous quote from Steve Jobs adds that design is not just what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works. In mobile app development design implies aspects like visual design, user interfaces and UX, logos, icons, branding, wireframes, etc.

App design is an integral part of the cost to make an app. What are the factors impacting it?

  • Designer
    If you want to hire a professional senior designer,  be ready to pay up to $150 per hour or even more. At the same time, a less experienced designer can take only $45/hour.
  • Geography
    The cost of designers for hire in different parts of the world varies: USA & Canada – $50-250 per hour, Australia – $50-$150, Western Europe &UK – $35-170, Eastern Europe – $25-150, Asia – $10-80.
  • Complexity
    Simple app design cost starts from $5,000 (examples Pomodoro Timer, Flashlight), medium complexity app design starts from $10,000 (e.g. Journey, WhatsApp), complex app design from $25,000 (e.g. Facebook, Evernote).
  • iOS or Android
    iPhone varies from only $3,000 to $10,000, while design for Android phones may cost about $4,000 to $12,500.

Chat Concept animation from ThinkMobiles

You can find great examples of apps designed by our team on Behance account or in Cases.

Cost by key mobile app features

According to Outsystems survey called State of application development 2017, about 80% of mobile apps take over 3 month to develop, and 40% require 6 months or more. How so, one might ask? Well, app development is an intricate process, and the cost to build an app is mainly dictated by set of features plus design. Let’s examine common app features in terms of time and cost.

Before that, we should also note that there’s no single price tag set as features are different for every app project, they have their own logic behind, may have various designs, etc. You’ll find more about that in features description below. We’ll use low ($25) and median ($50) hourly rates for estimations.

User login

It’s when app users have to register and log into an app to use it. Registration via email or phone, while signing in through social media accounts is the most popular option. Social sign in makes it easier to access an app, as well as automatically creates a user profile and collects all public data about a person. This is a standard practice in app development, and it takes around 20 hours. It translates into $500-1,000 cost.

Push notifications

It’s  must-have feature for 99% of today’s apps. These are real-time updates that keep users informed about any activities related to an app or service. The trick here is that there are several types of notifications: simple text, the ones with images or ones with action buttons. Also, app logic matters – when and to whom (for example, in chat apps) the notifications are delivered. The development timeline is between 20 and 200 hours. The cost may range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Navigation

The whole user flow through an application that should be envisioned and designed before the development. App navigation defines how users go from one screen to another, how they go back to the main menu, how they take actions, close the app and so on. Scrolling, swiping, action buttons, arrows, icons and more, mean that UI architecture is the basis for an app to be built on. This logic demands 10+ hours, which may cost $250-500.

Courtesy of Iaroslav Zhmak

Portrait / Landscape view

In relation to the previous feature, the interface concept is also a part of any application. This is basically the way a list of items in an app is presented to users, also referred to as the master/detail flow in Android community and the portrait/landscape orientation for Apple’s iOS. Depending on the design type, developers can set the view in about 20 hours time for approximately $500-1,000.

Courtesy of Sergey Valiukh

Media content

Though interactive features are assumed to appear by default, they are also a result of certain work. Some apps need images, videos,  some apps need audio files support. And of course, most of modern social networking and messaging apps need it all, plus editing capabilities, effects, filters, smileys, emoticons, etc.

From developer’s perspective there are certain tips herein. For instance, C++ is more suitable language than Java to implement media content into apps. Also, native development kits (NDK) are of great assistance. Overall, app engineers require at least 20 hours for this, so we may start from $1,000.

Geolocation

A feature that is crucial for taxi apps, dating apps, restaurant apps, business apps, traveling apps and many more. It is based on the phone’s GPS and real-time user permissions (required and optional). Regarding the cost, it depends on geolocation service accuracy and is usually divided into general area, medium range proximity and accurate location. Expect no less than 50 hours of development, thus $1,250-2,500 cost.

Google Maps integration

Along with geolocation, if your project assumes integrating Google Maps into your mobile app, developers will need 20 hours at minimum to do it. The other side is indeterminable as it all depends on ways to incorporate Maps with app logic, tasks it should execute, etc., so development could be really time-consuming. On the plus side, Google’s official services are at hand. The cost starts at $1,000.

Chat / Messaging

It’s an essential feature for many apps as well, though numerous variables are at play to be able to calculate the cost. To be specific, what kind of chat do we want? Is it direct person-to-person messaging or a group chat? Does it support file transfer? Does it save messaging and history or auto-delete them after certain time? Does it have offline mode? Does it have smileys/emojis in it? Does it send notifications (send, seen, uploaded, etc.)?

We can tell the exact cost with all technical specifications available, but expect no less than 80+ hours to develop a chat. The cost will start at $2,000-4,000.

Ads

Mobile advertising appears to people using an app, as a simple text, banner or full-screen pop-ups. Ads can be custom developed, though there are plenty of external services and networks (Google AdMob, InMobi, Tapjoy, Flurry and more), SDKs and APIs, assisting developers greatly. Thus, this feature should take around 20 to 50 hours, depending on the type. The cost range may be $1,000-2,500.

In-app purchases

Ads within apps obviously imply purchasing options right from the user’s smartphone. It could be various content or items up for purchasing – products or services, subscriptions, new/premium features, etc. Developing this feature should not be hard for a hired agency or a developer, and time to do it basically depends on the number of items and should be about 30 hours. The estimated cost is $750-1,500.

Payments integration

Of course, for users to be able to purchase something within an app a payment system should be installed too. There are plenty of system options to choose from – Android Pay, Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Stripe, PayPal, Intuit, Square, Braintree and many others. Developers can integrate most of them into an app directly through gateway APIs.

The scope of this task depends on several factors: how payments are processes, how and where the data is stored, how secure the transactions are, what level of PCI compliance (payment card industry) is provided, etc. Our own Android and iOS developers admit to us that they need about 50 hours or more to integrate one payment system. So if we take an average of 2 mobile payment methods, the cost of this feature would range from $2,500 to $5,000.

Synchronization between devices

In our age of high inter-connectivity and mobility access to information means win-or-lose matter. Especially for businesses which work across computers, smartphones, tablets or PDAs. Take retail apps as an example: when you update items or inventory on your central server you need all of app customers to see the exact updated data.

The cost of implementing synchronization feature into mobile apps is tied to: A) the amount of data, B) the kind of data structure. With help of special platforms/services, like Firebase for Android devices, developers require 50+ hours, the approximate cost is $1,250-2,500.

Courtesy of Chapps Digital Agency

Streaming

This feature is meant for apps like Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, Twitch, etc. Setting it up directly depends on several factors. First, the app logic and data processing. Is data sent to a server in real-time and transmitted from there, or via “record-and-send” option through a local file? Secondly, what video/audio file formats are supported? Also, what are the settings for users’ phones cameras and Internet connection. In the end, minimum 30 hours of development are needed, and this would cost at least $1,500.

Multi-language support

When an app requires to be presented in various languages for different regions, plain and simple. Two major aspects that impact this task and its cost are the scope of data and UI adjustments. The same versions of an app as the main one would require about 15 hours of developer’s time. In case interfaces have to be re-adjusted (e.g. for Arabic languages, RTL/LTR direction in CSS, etc.) there’s more work. So this feature is not that expensive, and costs about $350-750.

Courtesy of The TM Store

Offline mode

The beauty of many mobile apps is in offline capabilities. In messaging apps you can still see your chat history up to the latest messages before losing the connection. There are a few methods for offline data storage and access to the data in mobile apps – local caching, cookies, shared preferences, local storage, SQL databases. The main issue hitherto is determining groups of data and rules for them. Overall, developers need 40 or more hours, which costs $1,000-2,000.

Database

Going along with offline mode, in many cases, your app would probably require a database to store data locally on a device. Mobile app developers usually utilize a certain open-source solution to set up a database. SQLite, for example, is a compact embedded database/library that saves all the data in a single file on a device. The task depends on the data type, and takes about 30 hours, which, in turn, costs $750-1,500.

Phone sensors usage

Many apps rely on the phone’s capabilities. For example, a gyroscope is a sensor that measures the rate of rotation and provides 3 values: pitch, roll and azimuth. There are also:

  • Accelerometer, detecting the phone’s orientation
  • Digital compass, for orientation in relation to magnetic field
  • GPS, satellite accurate positioning
  • Barometer, to assist GPS to get altitude data
  • Light sensor, to adjust screen brightness automatically
  • Proximity sensor, to prevent touch commands by ear
  • Pedometer, calculating user’s steps
  • Fingerprint sensor

..and others depending on a mobile device. An average time to integrate app logic with sensors is 10 developer hours. So it doesn’t cost much ($250-500).

Doze / Standby mode optimizing

In doze mode, when a device is unplugged and stationary, conserving battery and CPU, apps may still access the network during maintenance periods. This could relate to Facebook/Twitter/Google notifications, chat messages, alarms, etc. To adjust how an app runs its jobs, syncs and networks, developers need over 50 hours, suggesting the range of $1,250-2,500 cost in the end.

Customization

It’s when a user can control and change the app’s outlook to his/her own liking. e.g. language change, switching from a list view to tiles, or to full-width screen cards, etc. The estimation for such tasks is 20-25 hours per screen, as a rule. If you need to create reusable elements to use in future, i.e. a custom SDK in developer terms, that requires over 35 hours of work. All in all, the minimum cost here starts at $1,500.

Search

Embedding custom search requests functionality can drive up user engagement significantly. Surely, Android and iOS smartphones have their own search, but you can enhance it or make it unique to your app. How you do it and how much it costs depends on the type of search requests, though at least 10 hours of development required. The cost starts from $250-500.

Data encryption

Security of private data cannot be understated and over-stressed in 2017 and beyond. Encrypting data to prevent unauthorized access is absolutely a must for any business mobile app. This means turning information into a code and only the sender and the receiver involved can decrypt it with so called “keys”.

WhatsApp, for example, sends every single message with its unique lock and key – this is known as end-to-end encryption. When implementing data encryption into a mobile app, the main aspect is data type, first. Do we need to encrypt a plain text, images, audio files, videos, etc.? The second issue is compatibility between devices, because we want an Android phone owner to decrypt data from iPhone owner, right? Expect no less than 20 hours of development, translating into $500-1,000 cost.

We could go on with the list of features, but it seems like enough information to digest already.

Surely, app functionality is not the sole thing while considering how much does it cost to make an app. App architecture, design/UX, unit tests, bug fixes, code refactoring, project management or other things are at play too.

App maintenance costs

Unfortunately, your expenses do not end with the application release. But why should you invest in app maintenance? The moment when you publish your app in the App Store and/or Google Play is not the happy end. It’s just the end of a chapter. Actually, it’s just the beginning. By the way, it isn’t the end when you get a few hundred thousand downloads either. You should target your DAU (daily active users). In other words, you want to make people download your app and keep using it as often as possible.

The average cost of maintaining an app is about 20% of the development cost per year

For example, if your app development costs $200,000, you can estimate that app maintenance will cost you around $40,000 per year. Additional features may drive up the cost of app maintenance, which may include:

  • powerful servers – $20-$60/month
  • push notifications – $10/month
  • payment gateways – up to $150/month (plus a fee on each transaction)
  • emergency maintenance – depends on the nature of emergency
  • third party APIs charges
  • bug fixing
  • app stores developer fee – $25 at Google Play, $99 at Apple App.

Conclusion

So, how much does it cost to build an app? It depends on many factors. Development charges, application size, complexity and newness of technologies are included. We hope our little research will help you find answers of your own. If not, we are always ready to help you estimate your app idea.

The biggest industry surveys suggest the cost range from $100,000 to $500,000 to develop an enterprise mobile app:

  • According to Clutch survey a median price to create an app is $171,450.
  • A Kinvey survey indicates a median cost of $270,000.
  • Various online cost calculators put a price tag between $200,000 and $350,000 for an app with dozens of features.
  • A typical cost range stated by app development companies is $100,000 – $500,000.

To summarize everything that impacts the cost of app development but in a more fun way, we recommend watching this video where Dan and Logan from Apps, Beers & Disruption talk through 11 key considerations for those who are curious about the price to create a mobile application.

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