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How much does it cost to build an app?

A very common question nowadays is – how much does it cost to build an app?  There’s so many different variables, the price for a mobile app could range from $ 5,000 to $ 500,000. However, the price range will typically be somewhere between $ 100,000 and $ 300,000, with the entire development process taking 12-20 weeks. It’s obviously a huge investment, both in time and money. So, in order to optimize your financial resources, the five key factors to consider when determining the appropriate mobile app development budget are:

Priorities. Be honest with yourself and your priorities. You can pick any two attributes of your project, but not all of them. Finding a development company quickly and with low budget is a red flag warning. You get what you pay for. Assuming you want a quality app,  you must choose between a larger budget with a shorter development timeline or a smaller budget with a longer timeline. A preferred development timeframe is 12 weeks. Total timeline will be longer because you also need time for design and product strategy. If you want to decrease the price, assume an additional 6-12 weeks to your development timeline.

In-house vs Offshore. How much does it cost to build an app? Inside or outside resources can make up a big factor. You hire developers because they know how to do the task. The way they will build a competency in programming software is to have resources in-house. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy sounding, but that is often not the case. Ask who the specific team members would be on the project. Ask to see what past apps they have worked on. Offshore development is significantly cheaper, but hiring in-house engineers will help a lot during the design phase. It saves time and money by bringing technical knowledge into the product planning. Some companies say all their resources are inside, when in reality they have design resources locally but development offshore. This is a good way for developers to charge high rates. A mixed approach can work where competent in-house teams can work on the project while using third party resources for more crucial tasks.

Choose the method. Waterfall development and Agile development are the two most prominent methods to app development. They are hugely different. Waterfall development depends on having a clear documentation process up-front. With agile development there’s hardly any documentation before starting development. Again, the answer to “how much does it cost to build an app?” question is a hybrid approach. Some documentation up-front, but details and certain aspects are to be figured out by the team during development. With waterfall development, there’s little flexibility. Though you know exactly what you’re getting and how much it will cost. Waterfall development can be difficult, since it’s difficult to know every single detail from the beginning, especially for complex projects. The timeline here will be longer. Generally, the industry is moving toward Agile. The lack of initial structure can often make the project more expensive than initially planned. But it allows for adjustment of the product and accounting for feedback and changes. With agile development it is more likely to reach your launch date and get to the market faster.

Fixed fee or  time and materials? In a waterfall structure, you could set up a fixed fee for the work. It is inevitable that you are going to want to change something. In an agile or iterative structure, you can be billed for the amount of work performed. The developer will provide you an estimate of the rates. If billed hourly, check to see if time tracking software is present, and if you’ll have access to review it. A fixed fee structure may seem to limit your risk. But be cautious. Fixed price can be deceiving when you account for the total cost.

To be safe, assume your developer will go over budget. That is often the case in the industry.

App development process

Except “how much does it cost to build an app?” question one must understand the whole development process. The app development process can be broken out into four major parts – idea, layout and planning, design, and going live.

1. The idea: this is the genesis of where the app will be going and one step after “I want an app.” Looking the app store, there are dozens of different directions you can go. The more complicated it is, the more it’s going to cost. But also a higher chance at getting a return on investment. Games are complicated, but can go viral easily. Simple apps don’t do much, but they are cheap and easy to build. The first step of the process if to find your spot of budget and marketing.

2. Functionality layout: not enough to paint the broad picture for a developer. He/she is not going to deliver what you want. You need to invest a lot of time to go through the details, or find someone who can transmit ideas correctly to a programmer. This will pay off in the end. It involves going through every single screen and understanding how all parts of the app interact with each other. You will be amazed how many steps and scenarios are possible. The amount of functionality will also effect the cost of your app.

3. Design: apps usually require a team of people to complete. The designer can be graphics, print, web, or whatever. The design comes in once the programming and functionality have been defined. The designer gets a full list of what needs to be created. Design can make or break an app, as practice shows. A great icon is needed, as well as splash screens, tab icons, etc.

4. Going live: once you have the app your developer can help you get the app in the store (iTunes for example). This requires setting up an iTunes account and filling out all the information necessary for the app – icons, descriptions, pricing, etc. Most of this is pretty intuitive one you get the files loaded, and a lot of it can be done by your technical team. The setup is also a one time thing. Once you have the app up in the store, you can monitor all the analytics. There are different ways to make revenue with apps, including advertisements inside the app and ability to purchase additional information by the app. You can also monitor the account in the way to maximize your traffic and revenue.

There are various kinds of apps to develop. This goes beyond the categories of food, lifestyle, sports, etc. But speaking in broad terms, the basic app types one can create are:

  • Basic table functionality. As hierarchy: opening screen with topics and you click one and you now have a set of new lists. The easiest to build and design. A good option for businesses who need a simple app that displays basic information.
  • Database custom functionality. For cases when you have a load of content that you want to utilize. Like having hundreds of items to organize and display. This can be done beyond the basic table format to make the app really work. Development on this gets more complex.
  • Games. Largest range of complexity, starting with something as simple all the way up to a 3D physics. Scoring points, incorporating the user experience, hooking into game center and so on is possible.
  • Enhancement of the device hardware. It means you take certain functions of the phone (alarm, camera, flash) and make it better.
  • Fully dynamic apps. As database driven apps, these apps are the kind that rely on external sources of information.
  • Custom utilities.  Apps geared towards allowing the user to input content in a specific way (Pages, Adobe Ideas, Numbers).
  • Anything else. Surely there are some apps out there that are completely unique and not fit in the list above.

The type of app you want to develop may change. Based on how much content you have and how much control you want to have. Important to realize too that you can get apps done quickly and cheaply if you know what type of app you want. Going into the process without being open to another option could cost much. Continuing costs after development should be considered also in a topic of “how much does it cost to build an app?”. It is a mistake to think of app development as a one-time cost. Creating the app may just be the beginning of a long journey. Analysts surveys show that the average amount spent on a typical mobile app turned out to be 35% of the total cost. It is estimated that maintenance cost for a medium-sized enterprise project is in the range of $5,000 to $11,000 per month. Even the lowest estimate for a small project is at $3,000 per month, and a larger project ranges as high as $25,000 per month. According to the survey of development professionals, over 80% reported updating their apps at least twice a year. Frequent updating can be a major cost factor.

So, how much does it cost to build an app? Like any software, mobile applications differ in terms of development cost. Some of the mobile app development companies surveyed on the cost indicate the medium cost range is between $ 40,000 and $ 170,000. But it could go up to $500,000 and higher. The best way to find out where your app will be is to obtain price quotes from several development companies.

Total cost range. Calculations are based on two common hourly rates in the US: $100/hour and $150/hour. Depending on development model and the tool to develop the app, hourly rates vary.

The calculated average cost at $100/hour for iPhone app development is $25,000 to $115,000. The average cost at a higher rate of $150/hour is $38,000 to $170,000.

The maximum cost figures at $100/hour and $150/hour, are $ 485,000 and $727,000 respectively. Important to note that these figures do not include the ongoing maintenance costs and updates. These ranges only display the initial development costs for a single platform.