September 28, 2020

What Will It Cost to Develop My Mobile App?

First-time mobile app development shoppers may experience sticker-shock!


Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon/

When it comes to mobile apps, one of the most often asked questions is,

“How much will it cost to have a mobile app developed?”

Good question — a loaded one at that!  As a software development company working to make inroads in the mobile app development market, determining what to charge a prospective client for an app has been challenging, to say the least. It’s not as straight forward as one might think.  We can certainly quantify our total costs after the fact, and thanks to experience, we can accurately estimate expenses for development beforehand. But covering costs, not to mention building in a bit of margin for profit, can lead to sticker-shock for potential suitors.  It’s often a case where the developer’s production value and the client’s perceived value are very disparate. Sure, everyone wants a mobile app – until they see what they’ll have to pay for it. Compounding the problem is that there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of information readily available about mobile app costs and pricing. With that in mind, here’s an attempt to provide you with at least a few useful nuggets on the subject.

Eyes Wide Open

Going in, it might be good to know that a common belief is that most apps never make enough money to even cover their development costs, let alone produce any kind of profit. So, if your motivation is to make a few quick and easy bucks, you may want to reconsider.

It may also be a mistake to think of the design and development of your app as a one-time cost.  In order for a mobile app to continue to be relevant and/or work properly, future updates will be required. If any changes or enhancements are desired, an update will be necessary, which will carry with it more costs. Even if changes to the app’s content or features aren’t in the mix, updates will still be required in order to maintain proper functionality and a user experience that’s free of bugs and crashes. These and other incompatibilities are almost guaranteed to occur as a result of operating system updates and new releases.

Not All Apps Are Created Equal

Mobile apps come in many varieties and most are unique in their own way, so there really is no “typical” mobile app. Likewise, the complexity of every app is different and directly correlates with the ultimate cost of the app.  As such, there is no “standard” pricing  for mobile app production but it is safe to assume that the amount of development time required to build the app will directly drive its total cost.

Hourly Rates

Once developers have built in their margins and set their rates, those rates will also vary amongst developers, almost as much as the apps themselves.  Hourly rates for developers can range anywhere from $15 – $250 per hour. It’s commonly stated that an average app developer in the US charges around $100 per hour. A general rule of thumb is, the lower the rate, the more likely the developer does not include all of the same services that one with a higher rate likely does; services such as testing and debugging. Part of the tradeoff becomes how much risk you’re willing to take by foregoing testing and debugging in order to keep your costs down and get your app to the respective stores sooner.  If testing and debugging are performed, which is highly recommended, expect it to account for at least 10-15% of the development cycle (time & cost), and expect it to be the same for each version of the operating system that is to be supported (i.e., iOS4, iOS5, iOS6).
Which Devices?

A similar cost consideration has to do with the devices for which you are developing. Let’s just say you wanted your app to be available for smartphone and tablet users with Apple iOS devices released in the past three years or so, you’d need to include the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2, and/or the iPad with retina display. If you want your app to be backward compatible without crashing on older iOS devices like iPhone 3 and the first iPad, you’ll need to add those to the list, as well.

Remember, we’re only talking about an app that works on devices running the iOS operating system. We aren’t even talking about devices that run on Google’s Android operating system, whose devices outnumber iOS devices in the neighborhood of 2 to 1, so it’s pretty likely you’d want to be in the Play store no matter what. That essentially means you’d be paying for an entirely separate app in order to serve those end users. The point being, it’s not just a one shot deal. It’s a good idea to ask your developer what exactly they are developing for and to have them put it in writing.

So What’s a Ballpark Price?

Developers have indicated in surveys that the average cost to produce a mobile app is approximately $6,500. That stands to reason with a straight forward and simple consumer app, which would likely take a developer about a week to produce and cost about $6,000 to $7,500. When a server becomes involved for the purpose of feeding content to the app, the coding time on the app itself would likely double, plus an additional two weeks of programming on the server side would also be necessary. The resources involved in coordinating how the server side interacts with the app, and vice versa, would also need to be taken into consideration.  In all, these requirements could bump costs to anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000.

Above we’ve discussed development costs associated mainly with consumer mobile apps. More and more, companies and organizations are looking to use mobile apps in a variety of ways, including creating new sales and digital marketing channels and for business operations and processes. What those apps will cost to produce is a ripe subject for another discussion.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is…the bottom line ain’t cheap! But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the investment. Mobile apps are like opinions, they’re neither right nor wrong. Sometimes simple is best. In those cases, it’s probably easier to contain your development costs. In other situations, an app really has to bring it, with the features and functionality, in order to achieve high download rates and consistent user engagement. Whatever the case, explore the tremendous opportunity that a mobile app can create.  Then do a cost/benefit analysis and see if you can expect a return on your investment. If and when you decide to take the plunge, go in with your eyes open when it comes to costs.

About Johnny Behave

Follow @JohnnyBehave on Twitter.

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