10 min read
A Guide on How Much it Costs to Make an App
After indulging in some daydreams of your mobile app receiving widespread acclaim and raking in millions (or billions!), you may find yourself quickly wondering…“How much does it cost to make a mobile app?”.
Building a mobile app could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000.
It could be less and it could be more. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
The price tag on building a high-quality app can vary greatly because it depends on so many factors, like complexity (e.g. are you trying to leverage new tech like AR/VR?), features, the platform you’re using, who you’re hiring (e.g. offshore vs creative agency), and so on—but we’ll get into this more later.
In this guide, I’m going to review the costs you can expect to face when building a mobile app, where you can cut costs, and where you shouldn’t.
5 Key Factors that Determine App Development Costs
Just to give you an idea of today’s going hourly rate, check out this chart by Statista that highlights the median costs per hour of developing a mobile app by region and by platform.
So let’s get right to it. What are the biggest factors that determine how much a mobile app will cost to make?
#1 Functionality and features
The complexity of an app is probably the biggest factor that will affect costs simply because implementation takes time. And time is money.
Remember, when you’re developing an app, every new feature or bit of functionality you add will require not just hundreds of lines of code, but also testing to make sure it plays nicely with the rest of your app and isn’t buggy.
And, of course, new features will also need to be designed, prototyped, and incorporated into your user research strategy.
Let’s take a look at two mobile apps, one simple and one complex:
Basic app example: a beauty salon app
Let’s say you run a beauty salon and want to develop an app where users can check out your services, prices, contact information, and book appointments.
It should look clean, and nothing too snazzy in terms of design.
There’s not much to an app like this. It just requires some basic programming that even a novice app developer can create.
An app like this would cost only a few thousand dollars, possibly even less if you find cheap talent.
Complex app example: a ridesharing app, like Uber
Ridesharing apps are feature-rich and take a lot of time to develop.
Here is a quick look at some of the features an app like this would have:
- Multiple device/platform support
- Geo-location and GPS hardware integration
- Payment service integration
- Backend management
- MVP features, like logging in, profile, booking, ride tracking
- Push notifications
- Top-tier UX/UI design
Factoring in the hours to implement an app like this could cost anywhere between $50,000-150,000, but again, the exact price can really vary and depends on the other factors included in this list.
#2 Freelancers vs Agency
Take a minute to go back to the chart at the beginning of this article. Take a good look at what the hourly rate is for U.S. developers vs developers in other countries, like India.
Plenty of successful companies will take advantage of the global market to keep development costs down because when you look at the raw costs, hiring a freelancer will almost always be cheaper.
Agencies are pricier because there’s much more overhead for them, like paying for office space, having a marketing team, a creative team, HR staff, and everything else.
Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each:
Pros of hiring a freelancer:
- More affordable hourly rates
- More flexible
Cons of hiring a freelancer:
- Skills are usually not as broad as what you get with an agency
- No guarantee about productivity, support, and maintenance
- Takes time, money, and energy to recruit the right person
- Not as reliable as a reputable agency
Pros of hiring an agency:
- You get to work with a professional team of experts
- One-stop-shop for development, testing, and marketing
- High-quality work
- Support and maintenance post-launch
- Better working relationships
- More accountability
Cons of hiring an agency:
- Have to research reputable companies with the talent your project requires
- Takes more time to develop since your app is in more hands
- More expensive
If you’re building a robust, feature-rich mobile app, hiring a freelancer or offshore developer isn’t something I would recommend.
Hiring a reputable and experienced agency will ensure your project runs smoothly.
Agencies are great because they house not only developers, but testers, marketers, strategists, and project managers that know exactly what’s needed to get a mobile app to the finish line.
#3 App platform
Most big apps you see in the App Store work on multiple platforms and multiple devices.
Ensuring your app works on Android and iOS will give your app a much wider reach since more people can download and use is.
This also has a big impact on app development costs, however, because you’re developing and testing on multiple platforms.
It takes more time and will therefore increase your costs.
You also want to keep in mind the device type you want your app to work on. Will it only work on mobile, or do you also want tablet support?
#4 App Design
The design of the app includes things like animations and images, icons, color palettes, and more.
When you conduct user research and strategize about who your target audience is, you should build your app accordingly.
For example, if you’re building a prescription delivery services app, your target audience may be an older crowd or people with disabilities.
You would want the UX/UI of your app to be easy and intuitive.
Check out this screenshot of the drug delivery app NowRx.
The design is simple and straightforward. The colors are minimalist and the icons are easy to understand.
On the other hand, if you’re building an app for the younger and more tech-savvy Gen Z or Millennial crowd, there’s more leeway to get creative with your designs.
User experience and user interface are crucial to the success of an app. Even incorporating a “simple” design takes a lot of time and energy to think through, so don’t underestimate the costs.
#5 Integration Points
Adding integration points and APIs are going to add more hours to your project.
When trying to think about costs relating to integration points, ask yourself the following:
- Will your app be integrating with 3rd party systems or other complex backend systems?
- Does the content for your app already exist in other data structures, like APIs, or will new content need to be developed?
- Who will be controlling the content?
For our ride sharing app example, it would need to incorporate third-party integrations like GPS and eCommerce.
How You Can Cut Down on Development Costs
Now that you have a better understanding of the costs that go into development, here are some tips on how you can save money without compromising the quality of your app.
Keep your app lean
Any mobile app without interesting features or functionality won’t sustain long in the mobile app market, but with that said, sometimes less is more.
What do I mean by this?
One of the biggest mistakes developers and entrepreneurs can make is bloating their app with too many features with the common mindset of “The more, the merrier!”.
While it can be tempting to add lots of attractive features to your app to suit every user’s needs, don’t.
It’s in our human nature to feel overwhelmed when faced with too many choices, so keep your app lean and stick to features that are most important for your target audience.
It will bring more value to your app and save you money.
Knowing when to hire a freelancer/offshore
So I’ve already touched on the pros and cons of hiring a freelancer/offshore vs hiring an agency to build a mobile app.
While it seems like an agency is always the way to go, it’s actually not always necessary.
If you have a mobile app that’s relatively small in size and scope, like our beauty salon example, you could probably get away with hiring a freelancer or offshore developer to save money.
Just keep in mind the risks involved and ask yourself the following questions:
“Will my project be OK if the freelancer…”:
- decides to bail mid-project?
- needs a deadline extension?
- has a limited specialization?
Go with a smaller agency
If you don’t feel too confident in hiring a freelancer, you can also save money on your app project by opting for a small local agency.
Bigger agencies have larger staff and much more overhead, so their prices are going to be higher.
If your project isn’t too big, a small agency is a great way to cut costs on your mobile app project while also avoiding the pitfalls of hiring a freelancer.
Pick a platform
There are tons of successful mobile apps that are available on either iOS or Android, and not both, so don’t convince yourself that your app has to be universal if you’re working on a tight budget.
Choosing one platform to develop your app for (after conducting some thorough market research) can cut down costs.
When doing your research on your target audience, you’ll want to consider their age, gender, income level, location, and lifestyle. This will help you make the best decision.
For example, data shows that iOS users tend to be slightly younger, more affluent, and make more purchases in their app than Android users.
In this chart by Statista, you can see the mobile OS market share around the world.
My point is, understanding who your user is and what OS they’re using will help you make the best choice on which platform to develop your app for.
Invest in QA
If you’re looking to cut costs, don’t skimp on QA and testing. No matter the app size, you always need a professional who can test your app to make sure it’s bug-free before you launch it to production.
Having your developers fix issues during the development phase is cheaper and takes less time than trying to fix things when your app is already live or in its final version.
I know, I know, you want some hard numbers to work with when it comes to costs.
Here’s a rough estimate of the hours and cost for simple, moderate, and complex mobile apps.
|Complexity level||Specs||Time in hours||Cost at $100|
|Simple||No APIs, no back-end, basic UI/UX, simple features like calendar, email subscription, bookings etc||400||$40,000|
|Moderate||Custom UI/UX features, back-end, API integrations, tablet support||500 – 800||$80,000|
|Complex||Complicated back-end, multiple device support, 3rd-party integrations, top tier design, real time features||800 – 1500||$150,000|
Again, how much your app is projected to cost depends on all of the things I’ve already mentioned, like who you hire and what features your app will have.
If you hire a freelancer to build your beauty salon app that has a simple design and minimal features, you could probably get it built for much less than the price listed in the chart above.
Take that same simple beauty salon app idea to a large and reputable agency, add some nice custom design elements and a few more extra features, and your price can easily double.
Building a high-quality mobile app can be a costly endeavor, so it’s important to understand all of the moving parts and how everything adds up.
Our Simple Starter package can help.
This involves technical documentation on your app idea complete with wireframe sketches and target user research.
Once you have a good idea of the price points I mentioned in my list, like what features and functionalities you plan on implementing, what platform you’ll be developing for, and so on, you’ll have a much greater understanding of the hours involved and how much your mobile app is projected to cost.
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