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How Much Does it Cost to Make an App?

Keith Shields September 30, 2020

When asking how much does it cost to build a mobile app, you’ll likely get the answer “it depends”. There are numerous variables that can impact app development cost, including features, what platform(s) or device(s) you are building for, and the level of ongoing maintenance that will be required. Trying to determine a budget for building an app can be frustrating. In this post, we walk you through the things you need to know to answer the question, “How much does it cost to make an app?” 

What Can Influence App Development Cost?

While developer rates can vary based on skill set and experience, five primary factors significantly influence the cost to build an app.

1. Mobile vs. Web App

One of the first decisions you will need to make is whether you want to build a mobile app or a web app. Mobile apps run on a specific operating system like Android or iOS. Web apps are responsive websites that launch in a computer browser or a mobile device browser. Web apps are cheaper to make. However, they don’t take advantage of device features like phone or GPS, and they require WIFI or cellular data access. 

Determining the tradeoff between cost and functionality will depend on the requirements of your app. For example, if you’re building an app that requires the use of a phone or tablet’s camera or requires downloads, you will want to consider a mobile app over a web app. If budget is a primary driver and you don’t need the device functionality, starting with a web app may make more sense.

2. Native vs. Hybrid Mobile App

If you decide you want to build a mobile app, you then have another decision: native or hybrid. It’s essential to do your research to make this choice. Are your target users more likely to reach for an Android or an iOS product? The answer may depend on the market(s) where you plan to sell your app. Do you need to consider building on both?

You also have the option to do a hybrid build, using one code set for both Android and iOS operating systems. While this option may seem a great compromise and is more efficient in terms of the development effort and ongoing maintenance, there are some sacrifices. You may experience lower performance and usability issues if the app makes use of device functionality. Depending on your app’s complexity, it may still require some coding for each operating system even with a hybrid approach. 

A native development approach, where you build an app specifically for an operating system, means a better user experience. But it does come at a slightly higher cost since you are doing a separate build for each operating system (although graphics and some code can be reused). 

3. Mobile App Functionality

The nature of the app you plan to build will also impact the resources it takes to make it. This includes both the type of app and the features and functionality it will require. The two are intertwined since the type of app will drive some of the features.

Type of App

There isn’t a standard list of app types, but you can categorize them by what they’re designed to do. For example, are you creating a social networking app or a gaming app? Or a data-driven app? Identifying the type of app will give you a better understanding of the level of complexity required to build it and the integrations it will require.

types of app

App Features

You’ll also want to take a look at the functionality needed to get an understanding of app cost. Will your app require download capability, access to device features? Is there a login function with security required? Is encryption necessary for payments? How about chat or push notifications? You’ll need to consider all of the functionality and the complexity to determine the cost. 

app features

4. Ongoing App Costs

In addition to the cost of developing the app, you should also consider ongoing costs for support. You’ll need to pay app hosting costs, and possibly vendor fees for integrations as well as app store fees and app maintenance costs. 

Another ongoing cost is the development of new features and improvements. If you’re building an MVP, you’ll want to iterate development to integrate customer feedback to improve the product. Chances are, you’ll have an estimated cost to build the app, and then ongoing app costs to develop later versions with additional functionality.

5. Hidden App Costs

You may think you’re done when you’ve outlined what the app will require for the first four factors. However, there is another to consider — hidden costs. Based on the desired functionality, what infrastructure is necessary to support it? What about encryption or integration with external tools through APIs? Is there a need for a database to store and retrieve data and files? All of these can be factors you may initially overlook when determining the cost of developing an app.

6. Who is Doing the Development

Costs will also range based on both the size of the development company and their expertise. You want to look for a developer with a proven track record who has demonstrated experience. Check out their portfolio and ask questions about their involvement with the work. Your developer should partner with you and make recommendations based on their past experience. A good developer will also understand business and be able to make recommendations that make good business sense.

Formula to Determine App Development Cost

At its most basic level, the cost to build an app is Hours of Developer Time x Hourly Rate. However, it’s not quite that simple. Experienced product designers will ensure you have a strong MVP plan that can be proven in the marketplace. And experienced developers will ensure that you don’t waste resources by having to go back and rebuild sloppy code. Once you’ve eliminated the risks associated with working with inexperienced partners, what can you expect to spend on different types of apps with different functionality?

Here are some ranges of what you might expect:

Average Cost to Build an App

App TypeCostTimelineExamples
Basic Utility App~$15,000~1-2 monthsCalculations, clocks, information stored locally on phone
App with External Database~$50,000~2-3 monthsInformation pulled from an outside source (or dynamic database) to be displayed in the app: stocks, weather, etc.
Social Network App~100,000 – $150,000~4-5 monthsFacebook, Instagram, LinkedIn
Marketplace App (Buyer/Seller Interactions) ~$125,000 – $175,000~5-6 monthsAirBnB, Uber, eBay

Before Trying to Calculate App Development Cost 

Because of all the factors that go into determining app development cost and the technical nature of them, we recommend taking a different approach to creating a budget. You’ll get a clearer picture of costs when you speak with the team you’ll be partnering with — whether this team is internal to your company or an outsourced company like ours. First, identify who you have confidence partnering with, then work with them to construct a budget. This approach has several benefits, including ensuring you have a strong MVP concept and haven’t forgotten an essential piece of development needed. 

This meeting should be a two-way conversation, as you want your developer to share recommendations that will impact your app’s success based on their expertise.

Scope Should Align with Defined Needs

The developer should include a scope of work with your estimate, which includes all features and functionality for your app. Review this with a fine-toothed comb to make sure it includes everything you expect and all that you need. In addition to the design and development work, this scope of work should include any research that will be done, testing efforts, and third-party integration, if applicable. Also, take a look to see what is covered for post-launch maintenance and support as this can be a significant effort if you are expected to do it.

Review Cost Estimate

The estimate shared with you should include all of the costs associated with the scope of work. Ideally, the estimate should break out the work by feature so you can evaluate for prioritization should you need to make adjustments. If the developer will use a third-party product or service, they should detail as well.

How much does it cost to build an app? The unfortunate answer is: it depends. But arming yourself with the knowledge of what can cause the largest variances in cost will serve you well. And when you know what to expect in an estimate and what to look out for, you can make a better decision about who you want to partner with to build it.

In our SolutionLab workshop, we help you identify the functionality you need for a successful MVP and give you a roadmap that will keep you on track during development. Want to learn more? Get in touch and we’ll schedule a call.

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