Ever since we started taking our Dribbble presence seriously, we’ve been receiving a lot of messages from our potential clients of all shades with a predominant topic being the cost of design and development of mobile apps. Like any app development company, we have “How much does it cost to make an app” as one of our top 5 frequently asked questions. And we’d gladly put out a number… if we had one laid out. The problem of app development costs is in the complexity of the process and a lot of variables that come into play once the project starts.
Although there is such a thing as the typical or average cost of app development, without a sufficient amount of detail, it’s impossible to estimate an app cost, just as it’s not easy to say how much a car costs without knowing its characteristics. On paper, it might look all cut and dried, but when reality hits you on the head, you get wobbly. That’s why it’s important for our team, our clients, and all potential app startup owners to have a strong mindset about the cost of app development and see how exactly it works.
The reality of app production
Often, customers broadly outline the functionality of an app and immediately ask to estimate its price. Unfortunately, a broad outline is not enough to give any definite answer to the question of how much does it cost to develop an app — it’s impossible to do this without a more detailed description of the project. Any figures provided by app cost calculators available online are often misleading because they indicate a lower limit to avoid scaring away potential customers. The real cost of the expected functionality can be much higher.
When a client comes with a fully-formed business idea, user personas, some real research, and data, we can tailor a more detailed estimate, flex it, and ultimately roll out a plan. Other times, we have to start working in conditions of insufficient information. It is a more complicated process but it is absolutely possible. And we can’t stress this enough:
We never bail on projects regardless of how vague they are at the start.
There is an art of giving a ballpark app development estimate and it is based entirely on history and psychology. Over time, you generate a massive experience in the technical aspect of production so you can recognize patterns of a to-be-product. Along with that, you get to learn what type of client you are working for and what they usually expect from you. Is it a tech-savvy business exec? Or perhaps a dreamer with a purpose to make the world a better place? Is it a person investing their life savings into an application? In any case, we are not allowed to fail any of them.
Estimating the cost of creating an app is a teachable skill but it can only be passed from experienced PMs to newbies if based on the right principles of care and respect. That means treating their business goals as the main value and protecting it, sometimes from the client themselves.
We start by pointing out the main concept of an app – a solid foundation to build upon. It’s important to figure it out as soon as possible, as precisely as possible, and stick to it in the later stages to avoid straying off the course. Here’s what we rely on:
- Interview. Nothing beats a real face-to-face conversation.
- Brief. Where you lay out key points in no uncertain terms.
- UX knowledge. Design is not decoration. Its performance can be measured.
Here’s what we come up with after putting those three to work:
- Product space and placement
- Design direction
To an impatient client, this might seem a waste of time but before we can figure out these aspects affecting the app development costs, there might only be (heavily) approximate numbers. This stage takes time, sometimes half as long as the production itself but this is a fruitful and safe way to do it.
Another case is a client knowing exactly what they need: the number of screens, features, even fonts used. Usually, these clients come from a failed previous project or a project with history which presents a whole new challenge worthy of a standalone article.
What affects mobile app development costs
The main factors that determine the mobile application development costs are the region where the development team or its individual members reside and the development time.
We offer 2 pricing models: fixed-price and hourly, but since the fixed-price one is suitable only when a client has a very precise idea about the app and maybe some of its accompanying materials, in the majority of cases we apply the hourly model which is more flexible.
App development cost per hour differs depending on the team’s geographical location. According to the GoodFirms app development cost and time survey, you can be charged up to $150 per hour by an agency based in the USA down to $20 by one in India. We offer a rate of $40 per hour which is somewhere in the middle and makes us a good outsourcing option.
Another major factor affecting the costs of an app — time — rests on the complexity of an app depending on several factors like:
- Feature robustness
- Availability of multidisciplinary team members
- Application platform
- Third-party integrations.
Concerning the custom app development cost, a lot depends on what this “customness” really means, i.e. what your app’s characteristics include starting from the basic one — its category. For example, speaking about simple app development costs, a basic calendar app will require much less time and money to be made than a complex fitness app, let alone a social network app.
Clients often see the success of their application as their ability to satisfy as many users as possible. Because of that, they tend to dissipate the core value of the app by adding extra functionality. This means extra time and extra costs. This is where the careful pointing out of the main concept of an app plays its part, as we mentioned earlier. Depending on the budget, it makes sense to either stick to the MVP or invest in the quality of the core features.
Every app should have a well-defined category and a set of compulsory features. According to Statista, these are the most popular app categories in the App Store:
Availability of multidisciplinary team members
The more versatile the team, the lesser chances of employing freelancers. Apart from the consistent quality of the product, this can significantly reduce app development costs. For example, an illustrator on the team can work together with a designer and a writer to come up with better metaphors and convey the app’s idea and value as a product more accurately. At Shakuro app development company, we’ve been enriching our team with experts of various talents and came to see the benefits of this approach a long time ago.
What you’ll also have to decide before starting out for the app development process is what platform to choose and whether to choose native at all or reap the benefits of hybrid app development. The app does not have to rely on the platform it works on. Rather, the experience the apps bring has to work on all platforms. As for the question of what’s less — Android or iOS app development costs — then in our experience, the cost is almost the same, although technically iOS development can prove more expensive taking into account the additional costs of higher prices for equipment and Apple Developer program. However, in our experience, the cost of an iOS application usually does not exceed more than 5% of the price for developing an app for the Android market. But there are technological exceptions when the difference in app costs can be more significant.
Some agencies declare that an application for Android takes 20-30% longer to develop and is at least a third more expensive than for iOS, because it needs to be tested on more devices. As a result, more bugs are found and more edits have to be made.
App developers usually make use of third-party API integrations. APIs allow applications to only work as a middleware between cloud-based back ends and front-end features delivered via those APIs. There is no need to reinvent functionality which has become an integral part of other apps that people are accustomed to using. The list of popular APIs used in mobile apps includes Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter.
We can use services like payment engines, location trackers, and other proprietary features. All of them are paid and can be integrated at every stage, however, to lower the cost of the MVP, it makes sense to focus on the custom core features of the app and update it further on. It’s important to be “faithful” to the main function of your app and deliver what you’ve promised to your customers.
Mobile app development process
To see how each stage affects the formation of app development costs, let’s use a generic mobile application for a reference.
The idea of an app takes one sentence to formulate. The rest is the modality and context.
We would start with a high-level client’s goals assessment, take a look at what’s already out there on the app stores, starting from the app’s theme, what’s wrong with those, and what’s good. It’s also important to receive as much client’s feedback on the competition to figure out which features we need first. After all, it’s the client who’s done the research and it would be a shame to waste all the data. Unfortunately, there is no form to fill for this type of information, it’s an interview gold that’s why it’s so important for us to assign a project manager who can sparkle the process.
Another thing that affects the costs is the complexity of an app.
“Simple” applications are those that:
- Contain about 5 screens
- Do not exchange data with any of your and other people’s databases (they themselves do not update the lists of free tables, remaining tickets)
- Do not collect analytics of user actions, and if they have a personal account, then with registration only by email
Simple applications are, as a rule, either business cards with information about the company or programs created for one simple process like placing an order without choosing an item and adding it to the cart.
An application on one platform can be made faster and cheaper, but few customers agree to be limited to it. For those who want to save money, there is a solution in the form of cross-platform development, but there are many pitfalls such as limited functionality, visualization, and performance, however, for some, this is not a critical point.
The “golden mean”
Medium complexity projects are that which span multiple processes. Most online stores and booking systems can be considered a “golden mean”. Usually, such apps include about 10 screens, a personal account function, authorization through social networks, and are integrated with a server or website, often with payment systems. The functionality of feedback, grading, and rating building can also be built-in. These types of apps are the most common.
These apps can support real-time synchronization within multiple devices, all kinds of interactive functions including video streaming, integration with any databases, animation, work with downloaded content (e.g., maps) offline, and everything else that a client’s heart desires.
This type of research gives us an understanding of what we need for an MVP, gives us a strategy to follow, and allows us to pass it on to the first tangible stage of production which is UX design that starts with a wireframe, followed by a prototype.
Each application screen is a feature or a part of one. Each button is a question answered. Every piece of text is a user problem being solved. Now multiply that by the number of scenarios and you’ll have the body of design work.
For example, imagine that the design addresses a sensitive topic like money in a way that invokes trust and makes sure people know what we are talking about. How is our advice any good? We have the data to prove it. How does the app know my pain? The app doesn’t but the people behind it do and we designed this for ourselves included and here’s why. Design respectfully demonstrates care but also expertise backed by some sort of objective truth.
Don’t forget illustrations either. They are more than just decoration when done right. They navigate the mood of the product, explain things subconsciously, and do wonders to the way people see and perceive it. That’s a territory you can’t neglect.
Same with animations. A lot of technical limitations can be disguised by transitions and meaningful animation. To do that, the design has to have enough time to come up with valuable solutions.
The sound design gives a user an understanding of how an application processes their actions and distinguishes the product from others.
Design is the stage where we bring out the soul of the app, the reason for people to have it on their phones.
If some features pop up after the fact, they can sometimes require architecture adjustments that can double the time estimated for design. The design stage is where the application takes shape and it’s important to pass it on to the developer as a solid piece. Design is a business-oriented stage as well. But only if the business aims at bringing real value.
Overall, the design stage from ideation to deliverables takes about 120-160 hours or 20 days but can also vary. We have a more detailed description of mobile app design costs, be sure to check it out too.
As the design becomes more and more familiar with the features of the application in their entirety, it can be moved into the production stage. Depending on the methodology selected for the project, we organize the implementation sprints. At this stage of app development, a client must not feel like we are doing art or decoration, or prototyping. This is where they get to ‘touch’ their apps for the first time and it’s got to make a lasting impression.
Depending on the depth of design research done during the pre-production, mobile developers can accurately estimate the app development cost and time. For instance, a financial assistant app might be rather complicated in terms of production and might take a couple of weeks to implement, same as when creating a healthcare-related application. Building an app costs less when there are fewer considerations to take care of.
The process does not have to be linear though. Once the visual language is defined and clear, app developers can start putting the design into code while the design work is still in progress on some screens. With that said, we take the designer-developer interaction seriously. That means designers do the groundwork by providing all the icons, buttons, shapes, fonts, and all the tiny little things developers put to work through code.
The development phase is a fascinating stage of production. We get to work with multiple technologies for native, cross-platform, or hybrid mobile application development. The end product is defined by the quality of code and the ability of an application to perform on various devices with minimal limitations.
The production is followed by testing and deployment. To get the application to the store, it has to meet the store requirements, have a proper onboarding, UX copy, descriptions, and a media campaign to support the launch.
A solid mobile development agency is not just technicians. It is responsible for the way the app is accepted by the public.
To do that, we need to have a voice and trust backed by real data and experience. In our work, we rely on a variety of tools that help us automate the process. For example, we use standardized version control, unified task management, different staging environment test devices, and visual tools to communicate without detaching from the product. Figma allows the design to be created, iterated, discussed, and prepared for implementation without exporting them into other software.
Overall, the development stage with coding, testing, and deployment takes 160-200 hours or 25 days.
Core features of a mobile app
Depending on the app’s theme, the list of its main features may include:
- Navigation and menus
- Clear UX copy and interface text
- Personalization and smart notifications
- Built-in analytics
- Sensitive feedback tracking and timely updates
At Shakuro app development agency, we provide the services of full-cycle app development. It means that in short, our mobile application development process looks like this:
- Analytics and requirements gathering
- Technical support (if needed).
In the beginning, we make an estimate in accordance with your requirements and a description of the idea. Next, we determine the approximate number of hours needed to develop the application. Then we proceed to a detailed assessment, conduct analysis, build the business logic of the application, develop prototypes, and create detailed technical specifications, and only after that proceed to the development stage.
In this article, we tried to answer the questions of how much do apps cost, what constitutes the app development costs, why they can vary, and how we make an estimate. Let yourself see your app as an opportunity, regard every dollar as an investment. If you have an idea, reach us, and we’ll do our best to make this investment worthwhile. Not so long ago, we created a calculator that estimates the costs of web apps and websites. Try it out!
P.S. Don’t conceal your budget
Finally, the mobile app development costs do not depend on whether we know your real budget or not. Rather, your budget is the main reference point for us to help you get what you want and what your users need.
The value won’t come in cheaper if we don’t know how much you really have and want to pay. It will just be a cheaper value. At the same time, knowing the budget will help us leverage the features of your app that will bring you money. In the words of the great Mike Monteiro:
“I’ll tell you what you can get for that amount. Then we can talk about whether you actually need that much design or not. But most of all, what that number tells me is how to guide you toward the appropriate solution for you, and to stay away from solutions that are outside of your price range.”
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This article about mobile app development costs was originally published in June 2019 and was updated in December 2021 to make it more relevant and comprehensive.