The Cost of App Development
Are you an entrepreneur leading a startup with a new business idea? Or a CEO looking to increase enterprise productivity with a mobile app idea? In either case, a top concern is the cost of app development.
Mobile apps are integral to everyday life. We can monitor health data, track finances, and show the weather by tapping a few buttons. Behind the scenes, though, the complexity of the code varies. Mobile app development costs reflect that.
In the sections that follow, we explain:
- Factors that influence the cost of developing a mobile application. Functionality and app features are the heavy influencers on application development costs. Other factors include the development platforms, the user interface, and server requirements.
- App development cost breakdown. App development costs begin at around $25,000 for a simple standalone app. Development costs increase to over $1 million for a complex app with numerous integrations and new features. We’ll break down the average costs by app type.
- Tips to protect your app development budget. Downloading a new app might set you back a few bucks. But this seemingly cheap accessibility can mask hidden costs. We want to bring those to light so you can develop your app on time and within budget.
Factors That Influence the Cost To Develop a Mobile Application
What determines the ballpark cost of building an app? Before digging into app development cost ranges, let’s review these factors.
App Features & Complexity
It makes sense that the more basic the app is, the lower the cost. Expenses start rising with additional functionality and app features that lengthen the app development process.
Logins, push notifications, payment processing, and rating functions all raise costs. Even though apps may use some similar features, the cost can vary based on the app’s complexity. A complex feature set:
- Requires additional upfront work to understand user experience needs.
- Increases complexity in UX design.
- Takes additional time to code during the development process.
- Requires additional quality assurance tests.
Simply put, more platforms mean higher mobile app development costs. Even with cross-platform development tools, Apple and Google apps will have unique requirements that require specialized development. Selecting an iOS app, an Android app, or a cross-platform app is a decision you shouldn’t base on cost alone. However, the cost will vary based on platform type.
Android and iOS app development tools are more similar than ever. Still, Android apps are generally more expensive to create than iOS apps are for iPhones. If you opt for Android, an increase in app development cost of 20% to 25% isn’t out of the question. This increase is primarily due to ongoing changes in operating system versions and device form factors.
A consumer app built for the general public must stand on its own more than an enterprise app. Consumer apps require users to download and use them without much guidance. They need extra care to develop an intuitive and polished user interface during app design.
Internally oriented apps should also be high quality and easy to use. Still, in contrast to consumer apps, there are opportunities to help train and guide users directly. Apps that require fewer onboarding features have lower related development costs. They’re also less expensive because they have a less complicated UX design.
Standalone apps either require no backend server or can function without network connectivity. However, when a backend server is involved, you must consider its configuration, ongoing hosting, and maintenance. Providing data to apps requires its own set of coding using APIs. The ability to exchange data with the server requires additional software development work.
App Development Cost Breakdown
Our framework for estimating app development prices is based on the type of app. Standalone, basic apps are in the bottom cost bracket of mobile application development. Social media and ecommerce apps usually hit the middle of the average cost range. The most expensive apps pair with physical objects or enable control and interactions with remote objects.
Cost To Develop an App With Zero or Limited Network Connectivity
Standalone, simple apps do not access a server, require no authentication to work, and have a limited need for a network connection. This category includes apps with basic features like clocks, calculators, and weather apps.
- Typical Cost Range per Platform: $25,000 to $50,000
Cost To Develop an App With User Authentication
Most apps today require user authentication. This category includes apps that help with more complex tasks like managing a household, tracking fitness data, monitoring stock portfolios, or curating a wine list. User authentication implies user profiles or accounts. It means there will be a need for data storage to store and protect personal data and the ability to sync across devices or interact with data in other ways. Average costs rise because of these features.
- Typical Cost Range per Platform: $50,000 to $250,000
Cost To Develop a Social Networking or Ecommerce App
Many apps include social features. At a minimum, social networking apps offer basic functionality. Features include user authentication, friend networks, and messaging. Social networking apps also interact with other users’ data, for example, through likes and comments. Apps in this category are prevalent. Many are heavily used—Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and TikTok, to name a few.
Ecommerce apps have social features, too. For example, the app may enable you to like or share a favored product. Ecommerce apps also require payment gateways and the ability to access a product database. For some of these functions, developers can use off-the-shelf platforms. The more customization each function requires, the more design, development time, and thus costs incurred. As a result, there’s quite a bit of cost variability.
- Typical Cost Range per Platform: $75,000 to $800,000
Cost To Develop an App That Connects to a Smart Device
Smart apps are considered part of a technology category called the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s a fancy name to convey the idea that the app communicates with objects in the real world. Objects include everything from garage door openers to thermostats to wheelchairs.
This category has the highest upper-end cost. However, these apps don’t necessarily have complex features. They may just need low-level interaction with firmware that controls the hardware. Those that are more feature-laden can drive costs up significantly.
- Typical Cost Range per Platform: $50,000 to $1,000,000
Tips To Protect Your App Development Budget
Hidden costs can impact your app development budget. To protect your app development project from scope creep, consider these questions:
Do you need a cross-platform app?
Unless your app is extremely simple, if you plan to make it available on multiple platforms, we still encourage you to build each native app sequentially—one platform after the other.
Apps go through several iterations before they offer the desired user experience. And trying to manage learnings from those iterations across two platforms is cumbersome.
Instead, you can apply feedback and refinements from the first platform to speed development on the next—saving time and money. This approach enables you to efficiently apply learnings from your customers.
How will you market and maintain your app?
App development costs reflect just that—creating the app. Once built, ongoing app maintenance costs and enhancements and optimization are almost always required.
You’ll also need to market your app to your target audience on Google Play or the App Store and respond to user feedback. We encourage you to learn about mobile app marketing and user retention before you begin the development stage if you’re unfamiliar with these concepts.
What do you need from your developer?
An individual or small developer shop can do stellar coding work. However, outsourcing your project to a larger app development company may offer additional services you need to succeed. These development services range from UX design and specialized Java or other programming language skills to mobile app strategy, project management, and marketing expertise. A higher price tag might be more than worth it to gain assistance from an experienced app development team in areas critical to market success.
What is your developer’s pricing strategy?
A freelancer’s cost structure differs from that of a large mobile app development company. Common pricing structures include:
- Hourly Rates: With hourly pricing, the development agency charges a rate for each hour worked. The developer tracks the number of hours spent on your project. They estimate how many hours they believe the project will take in a proposal or statement of work. But they charge for every hour worked, whether that total time is below or above the approximation, in the final cost.
- Fixed Cost: In a fixed-price project, the developer will provide you with the project’s total cost and (hopefully) stick with that number. When work above and beyond the original scope is necessary, the developer should tell you how much extra work will cost before moving ahead.
Some software development companies have created price-my-app cost calculators that offer a projected total cost. In our experience, estimating app development costs is a layered process. We can project the app development cost more accurately by speaking with you.
Are any guarantees offered?
You want to be able to plan your time and budget for the project’s length. Ensure the app development company provides a written app development cost estimate to agree on the expectations. It happens more often than you think—you’re midstream in the mobile app development process, and the project stalls. For that reason, we offer a specific guarantee: finish line, every time, and every project.
Concluding Thoughts: The Cost To Develop Your App
App development costs are a significant investment. But that investment is usually worth it. Millions of people use their mobile devices daily. There’s enormous potential for mobile app monetization (whether you’re using a freemium or app purchase model). In the case of enterprise apps, business productivity provides ROI.
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If you’re looking to build a custom application, there are many different questions to ask an iOS app development company. Still, one of the most common questions we receive about the development process is whether we recommend building both iOS and Android versions of an app simultaneously or just one at a time. And if app development for each platform occurs at different times, should iOS development or Android development come first? We touch on this question in Chapter 3 of our book InspiringApps: A Business Perspective on Building Mobile Apps, but we will provide more insight on this debated topic here. Should we develop iOS & Android at the same time? When feasible in mobile app development, we recommend picking a single platform to start with rather than developing for both simultaneously. You may not have that luxury if you’re developing an app to release to consumers who all need to have the mobile app at the same time—perhaps in conjunction with a film or other product release. If it’s possible, though, we think one at a time in the development process is better because it will enable you to learn from your customers on the first platform. Unless a mobile app is extremely simple, it will go through several iterations before it offers the desired experience. Trying to manage learnings across both iOS devices and Android devices is cumbersome. Instead, the feedback and refinements from the first platform can be leveraged to speed mobile app development on the second platform, saving both time and money in producing across mobile devices. What factors should we consider in picking an OS? When advising customers whether to focus on Android development or iOS app development first, we consider these factors to help guide the decision. Industry & Demographics You may find an industry bias for operating systems (OS) that affects your project. For instance, we found iOS devices more prevalent in medical applications, while Android app development seems more prevalent in construction. If you don’t have industry insight, try checking your website’s analytics to determine user platforms. Trends might help decide what type of platform may be best suited. You can also use sites similar to Mixpanel to discover applications and software that would be more suited to that platform. If one platform is used far more than the other, you know a preference exists and should develop accordingly. Likewise, depending on the market you are serving, you may also find that age-related differences affect whether you should focus on iOS app development or Android app development first. Market Share For app developers who intend to produce mobile applications for the general public and do not know the OS preference of their target audience, these market considerations may provide some guidance: In the United States, the market share of both iOS and Android has stayed just about constant over the past year, hovering at or around 60% and 40%, respectively. In Europe, the UK, Asia, and many other countries, Android has had a higher market share than iOS. Android maintained its lead in global market share capturing around 70% in August of 2022. Android devices have captured most of the global market share for many years. Google provides free, open-source software that manufacturers can install on their smartphone devices. Because of the large number of Android users and the lower cost of Android devices to consumers, Android developers are at an advantage in many markets. Unquestionably, Android is the world’s most popular smartphone OS. However, Apple has a powerful brand, particularly in the US, where Apple's ecosystem, stable OS, and device durability enable iOS to keep large numbers of active and premium smartphone users. OS Adoption Rates & Upgrade Complexity Apple has a remarkable track record of getting iOS users to upgrade to current versions of its OS, whereas Android adoption is much slower: As of May this year, 89% of users are on the current iOS. As much as 60% of users keep older versions of Android on their phones. Apple handles the distribution of its iOS updates exclusively. Developing for and supporting a smaller number of OS versions on Apple devices leads to quicker builds, faster testing, and more straightforward support in the long run for iOS developers. Google only gives direct updates to its products, like the Pixel series. Other manufacturers like Samsung must first get the update from Google and optimize it for Android devices before they can send it to Android users. Some mobile carriers also go through updates before distribution, too. Android developers may have to deliver more app fixes as a result. Speed & Ease of Development & Publishing Speed and ease of development and publishing are not as cut and dry in terms of pros and cons. Android pros include: The Android platform enables a more flexible development environment. Because Windows, Mac OS, and Linux all support Java—which Android relies on—Android developers can build Android apps on various machines. Google Play allows developers to publish multiple versions of the same app (alpha and beta) to ensure developers can test the app live, fix bugs, and launch it to a broader audience. However, developing and maintaining apps is generally more time-consuming for Android than for iOS: Whereas iOS developers build for a limited type of device (iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch), Android accessibility to a wide range of devices means more devices to test and support. Google has become less lenient and more time-consuming towards apps that developers want to post on Google Play, narrowing the line between ease of publishing on Google Play vs. the App Store. And through TestFlight, Apple does support previewing versions of an app with up to a thousand beta testers before releasing it for wide distribution in the Apple App Store. Development Cost & Profit Opportunities Cost and profit will vary depending on the type and complexity of the app you’re developing; still, Android apps are generally more expensive to create than iOS apps are for iPhones. Overall, Android users tend to favor free apps and spend less on in-app purchases than iOS users, which can lead to higher sources of profit on iOS, not accounting for market differences. Should we develop for iOS or Android first? If you’ve considered all the above factors, and neither platform is the clear winner, we’d recommend starting with iOS for a US-focused app. Our reasons are speed to market, lower development cost, and revenue generation potential. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss your particular situation or have other questions on this topic. We’d love to hear from you.
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Boulder, CO—InspiringApps, a premier web and mobile app development company, is proud to be Certified™ by Great Place to Work® for the second year in a row. The prestigious award is based entirely on what current employees say about their experience as part of InspiringApps’ team. This year, 92% of employees said it’s a great place to work—35% higher than employees at a typical US-based company. InspiringApps recently celebrated its 15th birthday. Over the years, its leaders have rolled out various initiatives to boost employee engagement and retention. Listening to employee feedback is a big part of that. For example, team feedback as a result of last year’s Great Place to Work survey created IA Commits, pairing inspiring not-for-profit clients with developers who can use a hand-up early in their software career. “InspiringApps wouldn’t be what it is today without our amazing people,” said Brad Weber, CEO and President of InspiringApps. “InspiringApps is better because of the people who work here. We are all passionate about our craft and united in our goal to make a real difference in the world.” According to Great Place to Work research, job seekers are 4.5 times more likely to find a great boss at a Certified great workplace. Additionally, employees at Certified workplaces are 93% more likely to look forward to coming to work and are twice as likely to be paid fairly, earn a fair share of the company’s profits, and have a fair chance at promotion. “Great Place to Work Certification™ isn’t something that comes easily—it takes ongoing dedication to the employee experience,” said Sarah Lewis-Kulin, Vice President of Global Recognition at Great Place to Work. “It’s the only official recognition determined by employees’ real-time reports of their company culture. Earning this designation means that InspiringApps is one of the best companies to work for in the country.” About InspiringApps App development that makes an impact. InspiringApps builds digital products that help companies impact their employees, customers, and communities. Yes, we build web, mobile, and custom apps, but what we offer is something above and beyond that. What we offer is inspiration. Our award-winning work has included 200+ apps since the dawn of the iPhone. Our core values: integrity, respect, commitment, inclusivity, and empathy. Our guarantee: finish line, every time, for every project. About Great Place to Work® Certification™ Great Place to Work® Certification™ is the most definitive “employer-of-choice” recognition that companies aspire to achieve. It is the only recognition based entirely on what employees report about their workplace experience—specifically, how consistently they experience a high-trust workplace. Great Place to Work Certification is recognized worldwide by employees and employers alike and is the global benchmark for identifying and recognizing outstanding employee experience. Every year, more than 10,000 companies across 60 countries apply to get Great Place to Work-Certified. About Great Place to Work® Great Place to Work® is the global authority on workplace culture. Since 1992, they have surveyed more than 100 million employees worldwide and used those deep insights to define what makes a great workplace: trust. Their employee survey platform empowers leaders with the feedback, real-time reporting, and insights they need to make data-driven people decisions. Everything they do is driven by the mission to build a better world by helping every organization become a great place to work For All™. Learn more at greatplacetowork.com and on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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