How Much Does It Cost To Build An App Like Uber?

Find out what goes into making an app like Uber and the costs involved. You'll learn about the rider and driver app features and the costs to make it.

Uber provides a ridesharing model for drivers and passengers to participate in a two-sided marketplace using mobile apps. How much would it take to build a similar app?

Mobile app developers continue to rake in billions of dollars in app store revenue in 2020, especially on iOS and Android. Companies like Uber and Airbnb use mobile apps as crucial channels in driving revenue in their marketplace business model, with their apps driving both sides to onboard customers.

The traditional approach to gain traction in a new market used to be time and talent-intensive in onboarding customers. But improvements in user experience, technology, and rising internet speeds have made onboarding millions of users frictionless for technology-first players like Uber.

Uber provides a ridesharing model for drivers and passengers to participate in a two-sided marketplace using mobile apps. In simple terms, this model allows passengers to book a cab on demand, while drivers choose to take up rides voluntarily based on their availability. Uber then takes a cut of every passenger ride completed, while the driver gets to keep the rest, while having control over their schedule. It is no surprise that any mobility company trying to emulate such an Uber-like marketplace would make mobile apps the core pillar of their business model.

Your Mobile App Development Options for an Uber-like App

If you are a startup looking to build a taxi app or an app for on-demand ridesharing in similar complexity to Uber or Lyft, chances are you are overwhelmed with the technology options available today. Here is a quick primer of the choices available to make a mobile app:

1. No-code app platforms

The recent no-code movement has allowed many startups to gauge swift market fitment by building apps with little or no coding experience required. Low-code or no-code platforms like Adalo and Outsystems have enabled making apps as easy as making slide decks. These platforms are great for validating an initial hypothesis and gaining initial traction for a business idea.

2. Cross-platform and hybrid apps

No-code platforms might be great at validating ideas. But as you add features, the complexity of maintaining the app increases in proportion. Fortunately, several mobile development frameworks like Flutter(Dart) allow coding once in a single language and launch on multiple platforms like iOS and Android.

A considerable number of apps worldwide use cross-platform apps to deploy to the app stores. Such apps do not require mission-critical performance and robust access to mobile OS-level APIs or device-level features like GPS and camera. News-reading apps and light e-commerce apps make a great use case for cross-platform apps.

3. Native apps

If your feature set is dependent on critical APIs, hardware features like GPS, and needs to use OS functionality, then no-code and cross-platform apps might not cut it. In such scenarios, it is best to invest in native mobile platforms, or apps built specifically for Android and iOS. Companies requiring resource-intensive apps often resort to investing in mobile teams with deep expertise in native languages like Swift for iOS, and Java/Kotlin for Android apps.

Uber is a resource-intensive app with a complex feature set, which necessitates choosing native mobile platforms to do the job. Understanding the key features of Uber's apps for drivers and passengers is necessary to understand why native app development is the best option to move forward.

Initial Features to Make an App Like Uber

Let’s define what it would take to build the first version of the product for an Uber-like experience for passengers and drivers. The following table captures the basic feature set you would need to launch a two-sided marketplace for mobility services:

Basic Feature Set for Uber Driver App

  • Driver registration and profile
  • Accept or decline booking requests
  • Routing and directions (Google Maps integration)
  • Payments interface for accepting payments
  • Notifications for passenger requests and payments

Basic Feature Set for Uber Passenger App

  • Passenger registration and profile
  • Book requests for a cab
  • Tracking and navigation (Google Maps integration)
  • Payments interface for making payments
  • Notifications for driver assignments and payments

The Development Team Required to Make an App Like Uber

As the famous saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. It takes an equivalent effort to make a great app as well. As you have seen in the earlier section, there are many options for creating apps. But to build a compelling and engaging mobile app used by millions of users is a whole different story. Companies that use apps as their primary revenue channel invest a lot of time and effort in building cross-functional teams that can design and develop an app. Let us look at the different skills and disciplines we need to develop a top-grossing app like Uber.

1. Product Manager

A product manager's role is critical in ensuring that you are building the right product and feature set for your customers. They research, define, prioritize, and lead the effort to develop and launch the app by collaborating with all stakeholders and team members. They are also responsible for detailing out the feature specifications of the app in the form of product requirement documents (PRD).

2. UX Designers and Visual Designers

User Experience(UX) and Visual Designers are responsible for making the app intuitive, easy to use, and compelling to complete required tasks and activities. They are also responsible for consistent navigation, layout, and adherence to platform guidelines like Apple's Human Interface Guidelines and Android's Material Design guidelines.

3. iOS and Android developers

iOS and Android developers write code using the Swift language for iOS or the Java and Kotlin languages for Android development environments. They also use native OS-level functionality for leveraging device hardware like a camera or GPS.

For Uber-specific functionality, these developers will make use of location services, GPS, and mapping functionality on each platform as below:



4. Backend developers

Backend developers would write code in server-side programming languages and frameworks like Node.js or Java to develop specific services consumed by the mobile apps to make functional features. They would also provide authentication and security services to authenticate users on both apps safely and to process payment-related APIs securely. They would also work closely with the app development teams to configure notification services for both apps using services like Apple Push Notification Services (APNS) or Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) for Android-based devices.

5. Quality Assurance (QA) engineers

Quality Assurance engineers or QA engineers are responsible for verifying and validating the functionality, reliability, and performance of the APIs and the apps before we launch them into the App Stores. They also assist in stringent troubleshooting and testing off the apps in non-typical scenarios to confirm if the app can gracefully handle most scenarios in a live environment.

Time Estimates For Mobile App Development for an Uber-like App

We will now define the basic feature set for each app and validate if drivers and passengers respond well to these apps, before building more features. This approach is known as building a Minimum Viable Product or MVP. Below, we will examine the feature set in detail for both apps to scope out the approximate effort required to build an MVP app like Uber.

For simplicity, we are considering the design and development build effort only for iOS - we would expect a similar magnitude of effort to both passenger and driver apps for Android.

Note: These estimates are meant as a guideline and not an exact number to build out the app functionality. We have compiled these estimates so that you can make an informed decision on app development. We also understand there needs to be a provision in place to centralize all these features by your IT team. This will ensure pricing, routing, and billing options are monitored and managed correctly in the form of a consolidated console. This admin panel is not part of this estimate.

App Development Costs for an Uber-like Experience

Now you have a rough estimate of what skills you need to recruit for and the approximate timeline of what it takes to build an app. Let us look at the various considerations that affect app costs.

Freelance talent versus agency

Since we now know the various teams and skills we need to make the apps, we now have two choices. We could hire a set of mobile app developers from freelancing platforms like Toptal, Upwork, or Fiverr. Or we could hire a digital agency which combines all these skills under one managed umbrella. The table below should help you decide:

Local versus remote

The costs of how much it would take to build your apps would vary greatly depending on the location you choose to recruit your talent from. Development costs are the highest when you want local talent in the US, and the costs could go down as you consider Europe and further lower to Asia. Asian countries, particularly India, are regarded as popular outsourcing destinations for high-quality technical talent being available at an attractive price point. Eastern European countries, specifically Ukraine, have also come as a viable contender for outsourcing development activities for the price point offered. Many global companies have set up their development centers in this region in recent times.

Feature Costs to Create an App Like Uber

What we have discussed above is the minimum feature set required to build out the Uber app ecosystem. We have not talked about building an administration feature set required by your company IT team to manage both apps to onboard drivers and passengers.

The cost of building this feature set comes down to these three primary considerations.

According to Statista and Codementors, the median rate of app development on iOS worldwide is $70 per hour - so that will be the basis of our cost calculation. Depending on how and where you eventually hire your development team, the hourly rate could vary widely from $30 to 110 an hour. The pricing could go up much further, depending on the level (junior, mid-level, or senior design and engineering) of your sourcing talent.

Ballpark development costs for building this feature set on iOS for both Passenger and Driver apps would look like this:

For a full and personalized app development cost estimate, take our quiz.

App Development Costs: Other Important Factors

The time, money, and effort required to design and write code for an app is a fraction of the cost involved in getting the app to market. A large number of other factors play a significant role to successfully host, maintain, and distribute an app in a marketplace. Some of these factors are outlined below:

1. Hosting and Infrastructure

Code repositories for hosting the code and server infrastructure to run the app's APIs and services - typically hosted in cloud hosting platforms like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.

2. Hardware and Software

Hardware and software costs for designing visuals and writing code - for example, software like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, of Figma is used for creating visuals for the apps.

3. App Store expenses

Apple and Google charge an annual fee for hosting the app on their app store platforms.

4. App Maintenance

The app would require several updates for maintenance and security to fine-tune the functionality. The estimated cost to maintain the apps is typically 20-25% of the cost of development.

Last but not least, no product team can churn out a perfect app in the first iteration. Excellent design and efficient development happen in an agile development fashion. An initial app candidate is released into the market for feedback and is subsequently refined to reflect customer needs and preferences.

Building a successful billion dollar app like Uber is no easy feat. Companies like Uber and Airbnb had initially raised thousands of dollars to ensure their app provides the most compelling user experience to fulfill the needs of their customers. Since then, they have only increased their investment in subsequent funding rounds on their technology infrastructure. This proves that building such compelling apps requires substantial investment in talent and technology and an ample amount of patience over the years to build apps, which bring in billions of dollars in revenue.

We created this primer to help you understand the different aspects of creating an app ecosystem like Uber. We know the costs of building apps could vary greatly, depending on your use case.