Have an app idea? With the average American spending more than four hours per day on their mobile device, there are compelling reasons to expand your brand’s reach and make a mobile app. A mobile app reaches across all parts of your business, forms a key piece of your marketing and brand strategy, offers superior engagement than other digital products, and satisfies your customers’ needs for a mobile app on the go.
The benefits of building a mobile app are apparent, but how much does it cost to develop an app and what does the development process look like?
In the article below, we’ll provide a walkthrough for estimating the cost of app development. We’ll start high-level with the basics–what are the key variables that go into developing an app, such as app features, maintenance costs, quality assurance, and what do your users need–before diving into the specifics of the data.
Calculating Key Inputs For Mobile App Development Cost
The cost of app development relies on a wide variety of factors but, at its simplest, app cost can be understood as the product of two key variables: project complexity and app developer rates.
1. Calculating Project Complexity For Mobile Apps
Project complexity depends on a number of factors:
- Kind of app you aim to build (social networking, gaming, lifestyle, etc.)
- Type of app you want to create: simple app, mid-tier or a complex app
- Maintenance costs
- Platforms you wish the app to run on ( iOS, Android, cross-platform, native, hybrid app)
- App design (custom or template, user interface, and user experience)
- Features (basic features, login, media, utility, admin, or some other development area)
- The number of estimated users
When thinking about app complexity and systems, there’s a single figure we’re trying to determine: An estimate for the total number of hours needed to build the mobile app.
2. Calculating Average Hourly Rates For Mobile Apps
Hourly rates and the average costs for mobile apps depend on several factors, including:
- Type of hire (in-house or external, freelance developers, or an app development agency
- Skill level of your developer or designer
- Front-end and back-end development
- Hourly, part-time, or full-time work
- Hiring platforms and freelancer websites (Different platforms and systems will charge different premiums based on the level of talent screening and customer support they offer)
- Logistical information and location of the development team
Mobile app developers and app development companies will often make quotes on an hourly basis, although some may be able to provide an estimate for the cost of the project in its entirety.
App Development Cost Breakdown
The below section provides detail on all of the pieces of the development process that may influence the app cost, including mobile app platforms, the mobile app designs, app security, and more.
Each of these elements will affect the total cost of your app.
1. Choose Your Mobile App Platform
iOS apps are built for all Apple smartphones and mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad. A pure iOS app is considered a "native app" as it creates the best experience for users and can use a variety of APIs, but will only be supported by the iOS platform. iOS has roughly 23% of the world's smartphone systems (compared to ~74% for Android), although you must be cognizant of how your target audience divides along platform lines (i.e. perhaps your target users skew heavily towards iOS rather than Android).
Want to appear in the app store? Expect to spend roughly 160 - 190 hours setting up the environment for an iOS app, for a cost of $10,000 - $15,000.
Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the world, with just more than 50 percent of the market. However, what makes Android different than iOS apps is the number of phones that use Android. Native apps for Android are built for the operating system developed by Google for smartphones and can be found in the Google Play app store. Based on the Linux kernel, these apps are primarily made for touchscreen tablets and smartphones.
Expect to spend roughly 160 - 190 hours setting up the environment for an Android app, for a cost of $10,000 - $15,000.
Expect to spend roughly 190 - 230 hours of development time setting up the environment for a web app, at a cost of $15,000 - $18,500.
Hybrid app (Android + iOS)
2. Choose Your Mobile App Design
App Design Template
The app development process with template designs will take between 20 - 40 hours of development time for $1,200 - $2,400.
Custom App Design
Professional App Design
A high-quality app development agency or top mobile app freelancer will take significantly more time (and thus cost more money) compared to the type of junior app developer you might hire for custom mobile app design. Remember, these companies are employed to build the most popular apps in the world, and their cost breakdown will be much higher than others. But they are worth every penny. The most complex projects will need experts in both UX and UI design. Professional design teams can take anywhere from 2 to 4 times longer than a custom designer.
The app development process with a professional app development company or a high-quality freelance app development team will take 160+ hours, for a total cost of more than $9,600. The app development cost could be way higher, depending on the app complexity. The extra hours are needed as the feedback process between project manager, designer, and client requires more cycles. These cycles are necessary to get the design (and seamless integration of features) perfectly right.
3. Choose The Security Level For Your Mobile App
Basic App Security Measures
Advanced Security Protection
4. Choose Your Mobile App Database
Cloud databases are convenient in that you eliminate physical infrastructure, which results in significant cost savings.
5. Choose Your Mobile App Features
3 Other Contributing Factors For Mobile App Development Costs
Your app development timeline and the desired skill level of your development team will be influenced by a myriad of factors. Three of the biggest ones are the current state of your project, the desired level of user experience, fidelity , and your own experience in app development.
Current Project Status
You may have a vague idea of what you want to build, or a solid idea but you need help thinking through specific features. Perhaps you have the specification for every feature of the app ready, but are open to things changing during the development process. Or maybe you’re absolutely sure of what you want and expect nothing to change during the development process. No matter what stage of development you’re at, finding a developer or development team with strong communication skills is essential.
Level of Fidelity
Generally, an average level of testing is sufficient for the majority of mobile applications. If your application requires fidelity of life or death (e.g. health application) choose top quality. Think of these along the levels of MVP level, Medium quality, or Top quality.
Your App Development Experience
Your own experience in developing apps is particularly relevant to one key question–how are you planning to manage your project? If you have extensive experience in app development then you can serve as your own PM but, if not, having a project manager on your team is mandatory. This person could be someone in-house or someone you hire externally as you would a developer or designer, and will be the main point of contact for any questions related to strategy, the current project status, and how the project is tracking on budget.
- Calculating Key Inputs For Mobile App Development Cost
- Calculating Project Complexity For Mobile Apps
- Calculating Average Hourly Rates For Mobile Apps
- App Development Cost Breakdown
- Choose Your Mobile App Platform
- Choose Your Mobile App Design
- Choose The Security Level For Your Mobile App
- Choose Your Mobile App Database
- Choose Your Mobile App Features
- Other Contributing Factors For Mobile App Development Costs
- Where Can I Hire App Developers?