How much does it cost to make an app?

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App stores came into existence a little over a decade ago. Today, there are almost 5 million apps available to download and nearly 70% of internet browsing is done on mobile devices. It’s official. Apps are integral to daily life in 2022.

As an app development agency that has been around as long as the app marketplace, we’ve been steadily developing custom apps for companies spanning the United States. Over this time, we have noted that early on in the app making process, clients usually ask, “How much does it cost to make an app?”

We have launched over 60 mobile apps for iOS and Android, and now, app development is second nature. Our rich, app-building background awarded us insight into the vast intricacies of app development and how to make successful apps, which we want to share with you

In this post, we will lay out:

    App development stages
    Key components to app success
    Mistakes to avoid in app development
    The cost to make an app
    App development costs for our past projects
    How to estimate app-creation cost
    What to do if you do not have enough budget

App Cost is Not One Size Fits All

To best understand app development costs, let’s think about the costs of building a house. Estimating home-building costs is impossible without key information. The “house” could be a 2 bedroom and 1 bathroom bungalow or a 10 bedroom, 5 bath mansion. Details are essential forming an appropriate cost estimate. You will need answers to things like desired square footage, architectural style, and materials to even ballpark an estimate. The cost of creating an app is the same.

The four stages of creating a successful app

Creating a successful app starts with a great idea, but it needs a little more than that to truly be a hit. If you want to create an app that will really make a splash, you will want to follow a systematic approach to app development. Below are the four crucial stages to the process.

Stage 1: Mobile Strategy

To begin your app-building journey, you need to create a solid mobile strategy. Going back to our home-building analogy, your mobile strategy is your blueprint. A mobile strategy starts with conceptualizing your app idea, and you achieve this by identifying your business needs. This may include disrupting an existing market, creating a new segment, or solving a new problem. The goal is to understand the company’s objectives and how the app will align with them. Conducting research will help you identify problems and determine if your business idea is a viable solution.

After that, you want to start setting goals. For the best result, you should plan short and long-term goals together. The more well-defined and measurable, the better. Technical goals are important, as well.

With your goals defined, then you want to choose your platform. Will you go with iOS or Android?
With your platform defined, your next focus is continuous delivery. Remember, the work isn’t over once an app launches. Apps need to evolve with consumer needs. There will always be a need to fix bugs, improve performance, and add new features.

Finally, your app needs to be secure. You should develop a security strategy and governance policy to safeguard customer and company data to ensure the long term success of your app.

Stage 2: App Development

With your mobile strategy ready, you can begin app development. We could write at length on this topic, and we have, but we’ll give you the key ideas here.
First and foremost, all successful apps share a few qualities, such as mindful design, keeping up-to-date on industry best practices, and concentrating on user experience.
Design
UX and UI are key to the app development process. UX design is necessary for user experience. This covers interactions between the app and the user. UI is for interface. Your work in UI focuses on the presentation of your mobile app. Early on in your app-building process, you need to be aware of and follow IOS and Android guidelines regarding UX & UI.
Wireframe
In this step, the goal is to rapidly plot out how the app will function, what date you’ll collect, and what the interface will generally look like. To do this, you create a wireframe. Wireframes are low-fidelity mockups that allow you to organize information quickly. They can be as simple as sketches on paper or created through wireframing software like Adobe XD, Invision App, Figma and Sketch.
High-Fidelity Mockup / Prototype
Once you’ve created a wireframe that you’re ready to build upon, you can start building a high-fidelity mockup. In this stage, style and design aesthetic are the focus. Most companies choose to create custom style guides, but pre-existing guides exist, as well. For reference, Google uses Material Design as their standard style guide. It is open source documentation that anyone can use to design their minimum viable product.
Development
With the prototype as the app’s backbone, you’re ready to start development. First, you want to choose a technology stack, define the technical architecture, and define development milestones. Mobile app development is divided into two parts. The mobile front-end focuses on delivering a seamless experience to the end user. This is the portion of the app the user interacts with. The back-end or server-side, supports functionality using databases and server-side objects. Throughout the app development process, you will want to test app performance. Quality assurance (QA) testing ensures a product that is stable, usable, and secure.
Deployment
The final step, deployment is where the rubber hits the road and the app is put onto the app marketplace. Apple App Store or Google Play Store have strict guidelines for publishing to their platforms, so be sure to understand and follow their wishes. Once your app is up, you want to focus on app analytics to measure app performance. With analytics, you can make informed, data-driven decisions to improve performance and customer satisfaction.

Stage 3: App Marketing

Your app launched, but for it to be successful, people need to know it exists. Here is where marketing begins. Remember, marketing isn’t optional, it’s essential.
Pre-Launch Strategy

Pre-launch is an important first step. Here, you will begin to build brand awareness and product visibility. Starting by developing a pre-launch strategy. This involves utilizing consumer and competitor research to plan out your messaging initiatives. Forming your strategy should be relatively easy because you have already collected this information when creating your mobile strategy. With a strategy outlined through research-based decisions, you can plan your messaging and where you will promote.

Build a Website

One quick marketing win is through building a website. It will be your home base to promote your app and share updates.
Acquisition Strategy

Once you’ve launched, an acquisition strategy will help you gain downloads. The focus is all about using messaging to get your target market to become actual users. The most important tools you can use will be paid advertising, social media, PR campaigns, and influencers.

Stage 4: App Maintenance

In the final step, you need to keep users happy. No matter how good the app is at lunch, there are always opportunities for improvement. Additionally, oftentimes trends change, so you want to keep up with the times. Stay alert to market demands, competition to stay, and advancements in technology to stay ahead. Always listen to user feedback in order to maintain customer satisfaction.

On a technical level, you will also need to anticipate security updates and bug fixes. iOS and Android OS continually update their platforms, so app maintenance will be necessary in order to stay compatible with the latest operating systems.

5 Mistakes to Avoid in App Development

Now that you understand the app development process, let’s talk about a few things you want to avoid.

Mistake #1: Starting Without A Mobile Strategy

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, so do not build an app without a mobile strategy. A lack of strategy can easily result in the original vision not translating into the final product. As a result, rework would be necessary, driving up the overall cost significantly in the long-run.

Mistake #2: A lack of project planning and management

Project management is essential to keeping production on track. Without it essential processes, such as requirement analysis, project planning, and scope management could be neglected. Ignore these steps, and the cost of development goes up steeply.

Mistake #3: Choosing The Wrong App Development Team

Not all app developers are created equal, so choose wisely when assembling a dev team. The main choice is between hiring a freelancer, contracting app development agency, or building your own team. Strong credentials and expertise in the app development space are what you want to focus on.

Mistake #4: Taking App Development Shortcuts

Yes, the app-development journey can be pricey, but shortcuts are pricier. One common, and extremely dangerous, shortcut is applying code from another application to yours. If your project shares the same codebase as another app without their consent, then you are illegally infringing on their intellectual property. This could open you up to a lawsuit from the owner of the codebase. Additionally, your repurposed codebase can make you more susceptible to a data breach, which we all know can be a costly, possibly business-killing event.

Mistake #5: Underfunding your project

Similar to the mistake of corner-cutting, underfunding can set you up for failure later on. If you underfund, you will be compromising your app’s potential for success in some way. It may affect the app’s design quality, security, performance, or any mix of the three. Don’t be fooled by developers with prices that are too good to be true. In most cases, cheap, corner-cutting developers will make wild claims in order to get a foot in the door. So be wary.

How much does it cost to make an app?

Now that we’ve covered all the steps and variables that go into creating an app, let’s talk about costs.
Mobile App Development Cost Breakdown

By looking at the essential criteria for making an app and drawing from our own experience, we’ve been able to project general time estimates for app development. On average, developing a mobile app takes between 1200 and 1500 hours of effort. This usually translates to about six to nine months from start to launch. Below is an itemized breakdown for stages and their time usually needed to complete them.

    Business Analysis and Documentation: 80 hours
    User Experience Design: 160 hours
    Back-end and Database Development: 240 hours
    Web API Development: 100 hours
    iOS or Android App Development: 480 hours
    Mobile User Testing: 240 hours
    Project Management: 120 hours
    App Deployment: 24 hours

Based on the example, the time needed to create this app is about 1344 hours. We all know that time is money, so with our time estimate down, let’s see how much it will cost to make an app.

App Development Cost By Vendor

Who you hire can affect your app’s cost, quality, and timeline. Previously in this article, we outlined the options of hiring freelancers, an app development agency or in-house developers. Let’s look at the price estimates for each option..

Freelancers

Freelance developers can be hired from platforms like Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Toptal, with the average hourly rate at $80. Taking our time estimate of 1344 hours, hiring a freelancer will cost about $107,520.

Just over $100K is pretty affordable as far as app-building, but what are the drawbacks? Well, remember when we mentioned how fundamentally important it is to have a quality mobility strategy? That’s usually not in a freelancer developer’s purview. Additionally, they will not likely provide the level of expertise you need for back-end development, web API development, or user experience design. Mobile app development is a multi-tiered process that requires different expertise. It’s too big a job for an individual. Hiring a freelancer is fine if you need expertise for just one discipline. But if you’re looking to create an app from scratch, hiring a freelancer could be a mistake.

What if you hire multiple freelancers? The issue then becomes organization and management of these different workers with their unique talents and working styles, which you likely will spend a lot of time learning and planning around, as these freelancers are all new to you. Managing a team that is spread out will become extremely challenging and time consuming. You may exceed project time and budget, which can exponentially increase your overall spend. In short, we advise against hiring freelancers for complete app development.

App Development Agency

If you choose an app development agency, you’re unlikely to hit the issues you would encounter with freelancers. Agencies have specialists dedicated to the app development process as a whole. In turn, your app will be higher quality and complete faster. App development agencies charge an average hourly rate of $125 per hour. If we multiply that by the average time of development at 1344 hours, the cost comes out to $168,000.

With an agency fully managing your project, you will have more time to focus on other aspects of your business. They can also ensure your app’s success by providing maintenance and ongoing enhancements.

Big Consulting Firm

For app development plus business strategy assistance, a large consulting firm is an ideal choice. They are often the best answer when there are compliance needs, and they provide a cushion in case of any disastrous situation. With the average hourly rate of $225 per hour, an app built through a big consulting firm will likely cost around $302,400.

Though a relatively pricey option, collecting a big consulting firm offers ample benefits. A consulting firm usually has a large team, often spanning 30 to100 associates, and all of whom are specialists with ample domain expertise. This is a great fit for the larger projects. With an expansive team, a large firm can take care of development, launch, promotion, support, training, and maintenance. Hiring a consulting firm is likely the most worry-free option, as long as you are able to manage the costs.

In-House Developers

Want to build the app yourself? Then in-house developers can be a great choice. You can precisely for the areas where you need specialists. With this choice, your cost is dependent on the salaries you pay for the role you hire. The average salary for talent in user experience design, app development, and product management ranges from $80,000 to $150,000. If the talent lives in higher cost of living areas, like New York City, Boston, Seattle, or San Francisco, then salaries will likely be higher.

The biggest downside when it comes to hiring in-house development is scale. Sourcing qualified talent that is the right fit for you takes time. Hiring for each employee will be a multi-week process. Also, if you encounter new challenges which your current team is not qualified to address, you’ll need to conduct additional hiring.

Hiring in-house developers will add fixed costs to your payroll, and in many circumstances, a single mobile app may not need a full-time dedicated team long at all times. Instead, outsourcing to an app development agency or a big consulting firm is the more appropriate answer.

Cost of the Apps We Built

You might be wondering where Invonto falls in these categories. Many of our clients rely on us to provide full development services or hire us as an extension of their team. We ensure they launch successful apps within their timeframe and budget.

Some of the solutions we’ve offered include developing web applications, enterprise cloud applications, Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, augmented reality, virtual reality, and applications for artificial intelligence (AI). Most of the mobile app development projects require back-end and web programming. Modern mobile apps also try to take advantage of augmented reality, IoT, and AI.

Considering all the aforementioned services, in our experience, the average cost to develop an app ranges from $150,000- $200,000. This covers comprehensive project assessment and end-to-end development services. Below is a breakdown on a few of the apps we have built in our history.

SudokuPDQ App
Description: A complex casino-style puzzle game developed for iPad and Android tablets along with a custom gaming platform.
Cost: $400,000
Production Time: One Year

America’s Got Talent Voting App
Description: A web admin portal for managing shows and performances.
Cost: $100,000
Production Time: 4 months

Insite Link App
Description: A supply chain business iPhone app used to scan QR codes & barcodes and display packaging project details.
Cost: $45,000
Production Time: 2 months

Investment Management App
Description: An iOS and Android app for a financial business used to manage funds in various investment accounts, forecast growth, and receive financial advice.
Cost: $165,000
Production Time: 9 months

App Development Cost By Type

When building an app, you must decide what type of app it will be. There are three choices, native, web, and cross platform. Each carries their own benefits.

Native App Development Cost

Native app development is most common for applications. As the name implies, native apps are built natively for specific mobile platforms by using their mobile SDK. Because they use native SDK, native apps have the best app experience and performance. They have full access to all device features and are more interactive than hybrid apps or web apps. Native apps are the most expensive to build, and if you want your app on iOS and Android, you will need to build two apps. Native apps also have more restrictions because they need to adhere to each respective operating system.

Web App Development Cost

Web apps run as websites which work on desktops, mobile and tables in any browsers on iOS and Android. Because they work ubiquitously, web apps need only one version built. As a result, this lowers the cost to build by about 35%. Many companies will choose to build a web app if they have a limited budget. Web apps are also preferred when there is no benefit to developing native mobile interfaces. On the downside, web apps tend to be slower than native apps and utilize less mobile features.

Cross-platform App Development

Like native app development, cross-platform development is mobile focused. Unlike native, a single app can be used on both iOS and Android mobile platforms. However, when finalizing your app, you will have to test it for both platforms. Because of this, you will not be cutting your costs by 50% compared to native app development. You will, at most, save between 15% and 20%

App Development Cost By Mobile Platform

Apps can be built for iOS, Android, or both. The platform or platforms you choose for your app will influence the cost to build it.

iOS App Development

iOS has a closed source framework. As such, iOS only works on Apple devices. This more restrictive measure improves security and allows for a consistent experience across devices. Tools for development include iOS SDK, XCode, and Testflight. For native iOS development, you can utilize Objective-C or Swift. The cost to build a native iOS app is about the same as building a native Android app, but native iOS apps are cheaper to support and maintain.

Android App Development

Android is less restrictive than iOS, allowing for greater customization. Native Android app developers tend to use use C++, Kotlin, and Java. Google provides development tools such as Android SDK, Firebase, and Jetpack. Once the app is built, the process to get the app on Google Play is speedier. iOS apps take several days to get approved for the Apple app store, while it takes only a few hours to get Android apps approved for Google Play. In general, Android app development is costlier due to its fragmented software ecosystem. On average, Android apps cost 25% more than developing iOS applications due to additional time it takes in developing and testing apps for different Android based devices.

Cross-platform App Development

Cross-platforms apps work on both iOS and Android. They are commonly built with 3d party frameworks like Xamarin, Appcelerator, and PhoneGap. Cross-platform faces sizable drawbacks compared to native development. The largest issues are lack of performance and user experience. Additionally, after the release of new mobile operating systems, it takes about six months for a cross-platform framework to update. This will cause delays in keeping your mobile apps updated. In our experience, cross-platform mobile apps are not recommended due to its limitations and the negligible aforementioned potential 15-20% cost-saving.

How to get app cost estimates in minutes

We built an app cost calculator to help you understand what you will need to budget. All you have to do is answer a few questions about your app features. It usually takes less than five minutes to get an estimate.

What can you do if you do not have enough budget?

Don’t have the budget to have your app professionally built? It’s okay. You still have a few options.

Start with wireframes

Wireframes are fundamental to developing your app. They turn app requirements into visual storyboards and can be used to demonstrate its potential to investors. A wireframe mockup can be built for as little as $10,000. From there, you can improve your chances at snagging investment funding to further build out your project.

Learn More: How to Raise Startup Capital With Confidence

Create a proof of concept (PoC)

A step up from wireframes, a proof of concept app includes only core functionality. Used by startups and enterprises alike, PoC lets you test your app with focus groups. It can be instrumental in evaluating and refining your idea before seeking large investments. A risk-minimizing approach, PoCs are ideal when building prototypes for emerging technology. This makes PoC perfect for validating ideas in augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT, and AI. A Poc can be built for as little as 20% of your app’s cost estimate.

Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

It can be easy to chase all the bells and whistles an app can have. But when you’re starting a lean business you must budget for “needs” over “wants.” With an MVP, you can restrict the scope of work and direct focus on key functionalities. This restriction will help reduce the financial investment and speed up your delivery time. In our experience, an MVP could cost as little as 50% of the total app development cost.

Conclusion

App development is serious business. The right app can jumpstart the next unicorn or elevate your digital transformation strategy. Though app-building can seem daunting, there is support out there. With an experienced development team, your app can be finished on time and within budget.

Maulik Shah
Maulik Shah is CEO of technology consulting company Invonto. He is a business-savvy technologist with over 20 years of industry experience. He advises his enterprise clients on digital strategy and has led several digital initiatives. He is often featured in digital and print publications for his views on technology trends, entrepreneurship, American workforce, and digital transformation. Maulik recently published his first book, The Digital Transformation Cookbook: How To Transform Your People, Process, and Data.

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