How that you have a solid app idea, it's time to talk budget. Think back to the last purchase you made, maybe it was a new pair of jeans or just lunch down the street from the office. For the most part, the prices you pay have a direct correlation with the quality of goods you receive in return. In other words, you get what you pay for—and apps are no different.
How much does it cost to make an app?
Similar to website development, with app development you typically pay for the platform(s) you want to be on, the complexity of your app, and the talent you hire to build it.
App development cost
There are many factors that go into planning and budgeting for an app. The price of building a mobile app can range anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000+. However, most mobile apps generally fall between $100,000 and $300,000.
What makes the price of building an app go up? Well, that depends on your priorities and goals. There is a tradeoff when it comes to app quality, cost, and speed.
It might be worth the higher associated cost to get a better product, faster. Or, if time isn’t an issue, you might be able to save a little money on a high-quality app.
App development budget considerations
There are many elements that add up to your total app cost, design and development being the largest portion. Even within this stage, there are a lot of options that can affect the cost of your app.
Unlike web apps, mobile apps are built for specific operating systems. In other words, if you want your native app to be available on Android and iOS devices, you’ll need to build two separate apps—resulting in essentially two development projects. There are iOS developers and Android developers that focus on one platform over the other, as well as cross-platform developers that specialize in creating apps for both operating systems.
Most developers will agree that Android apps take longer to build than iOS apps, which is why they generally tend to be more expensive. The Android platform is also more flexible than the iOS platform.
However, iOS apps as a whole are more profitable than Android apps. In 2018, the Apple App Store generated $46.6 billion, nearly twice as much as the Google Play Store’s $24.8 billion.
If your app will require a profile/login or needs to communicate with other apps and software, it will cost more. For the most part, apps require some kind of back-end server to be built or are integrated with an API. Depending on the complexity, this can be done at a low cost, but can also add up to be massively expensive.
Apps that don’t require a server component or API integration are called standalone apps. In general, you can take the cost of a standalone app and double it for an app with these advanced functions.
App development process
The two most popular methods of app development are agile development and waterfall development. With waterfall development, the full scope of the project is laid out from the beginning, and programming documentation is closely followed throughout the project. With agile development, there is little to no formal process documentation and the development is broken into 1- or 2-week sprints.
A waterfall development process will provide you with a better understanding of what the project will cost in its entirety, and what exactly you’re getting for your money. The more popular agile development process allows for phased releases, which gives you the opportunity to get to market faster and even adjust the course of the project, if necessary.
A bad mobile app design can be costly, as it easily influences adoption rates and early success, or rejection. User experience (UX) is arguably the most important aspect of your app. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times dangerous, to have the developer also design the mobile app. While investing in a dedicated designer might seem like a superfluous cost, it’s often the best decision you can make for the project.
In-house vs outsourced app development
Who you choose to develop your app can greatly affect the cost. Even if you know you want to work with an expert, you'll still see a wide variety of prices from the bestmobile app development providers based on your app's specific needs.
If you want to hire a top-of-the-line firm, owned by holding companies, you’ll be on the top end of the range I stated above and will need to budget at least $500,000, usually more. You can also choose to outsource your project to app-focused agencies, which is typically the happy-medium option.
Building the app in-house requires you to already employ or hire a stellar app developer. On top of a developer, the project will most likely require a team of people, which can include a project manager, UX/UI designer, testing engineer, and so on depending on scope. Developing an app in-house is really only a cost-effective option if you already have the tools and resources under your roof.
How much does it cost to make an app by yourself?
Believe it or not, building an app by yourself can often cost you more money than hiring a development team, agency, or firm. There will most likely be more issues with your DIY app created with a mobile app builder, resulting in larger and more frequent future fixes and probably low adoption rates upon launch.
There are many free app builders on the market that will allow you to create apps without writing a single line of code. Obviously, the biggest downside to DIY app makers is that your app won’t be very advanced.
But, with all of that said, if you're creating a basic app, you might be able to get away with a drag and drop app builder. These tools give non-developers and first-timers an easy solution to building DIY apps.
5 hidden app development costs
On top of the upfront and apparent costs of creating an app, it’s important to keep potential hidden costs in mind. The cost for building an app is so much more than UX design, development, or project management hours—and it’s certainly not just a one-time cost.
1. Testing & bug fixes
The more complex your app is, the longer it takes to test everything. Apps need to be checked, via beta testing and/or professional quality assurance testing, across devices and fixes will almost always need to be made. It takes a lot of time to test every page, button, and possible user flow.
2. App marketing
Planning how to market an app is an ongoing process. You should allocate a portion of your budget for post-launch app promotion, such as social media advertising, email campaigns, and more. If you’re building a mobile app, your marketing strategy should include app store optimization as well.
3. Updates & maintenance
Apps require continuous maintenance, meaning more development, and possibly design, hours. The frequency of updates will depend on the app’s features and functions, as well as how often the operating system itself updates.
4. Data storage
If your app stores user information, like photos or addresses, you’ll need data storage. If you’re planning to use the cloud, there will be monthly hosting costs, too. Keep in mind that this might seem like a small cost now, but as you scale this cost will only grow.
5. App marketplace fees
Publishing an app to a marketplace isn’t always free. The Apple App Store has a yearly fee, the Google Play Store charges a one-time registration fee for a Google Play Developer account, and the Amazon Appstore doesn’t have a publishing fee at all. But, all three of these marketplaces have transactional fees for app sales, in-app purchases, and subscriptions.
While the upfront fees most likely won’t break the bank, the transactional fees could be a big chunk of your profits as you begin to scale. Again, it’s just another ongoing fee you have to budget for.
When it comes to budgeting for mobile app development, it’s important to remember that along with initial design and development costs, there will also be ongoing expenses associated with the project.
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Get creative with your app budget! We asked experts about their favorite app marketing tactics that boosted downloads.
Bridget Poetker is a former content team lead at G2. Born and raised in Chicagoland, she graduated from U of I. In her free time, you'll find Bridget in the bleachers at Wrigley Field or posted up at the nearest rooftop patio. (she/her/hers)