Hiring an app agency vs. an app freelancer

What is the more cost effective option; an app development agency, or a freelance app developer? While there’s plenty of pros and cons to assign to either, it is our belief that ultimately, when presented with the entirety of an app’s lifecycle, hiring an app development agency is the better choice.

Why? Because apps are never truly finished products – they exist in a medium that necessitates constant and continuous improvement. When your product exists in a space that sees users demanding the best features, the fastest loading times, and the most up-to-date UI, you need to ensure your app’s code is accessible, modifiable, and organized.

Below, you’ll find the pros of cons of hiring an app development agency versus a freelance app developer, via a comparison of both options throughout each step in the development process:

Finding an agency vs. finding a freelancer

Whether you’re searching for a freelancer or a development agency, you’ll want to begin online – however, do your best to stay away from Google or other search engines.

For freelance app developers, sites like UpWork or Clutch or The Manifest. All of these sites function very similarly; you can search for developers based on certain criteria, and find contact information (whether through the aggregate site or their own) in order to begin the vetting process.

While it’s (usually) easier to find a freelance developer, you’ll find development agencies are (again, usually) more responsive.

Hiring an agency vs. hiring a freelancer

The difference in vetting a freelance app developer versus an app development agency marks where the process starts to noticeably deviate depending on which route you take. You’ll find freelancers’ CVs and portfolios to be very skillset driven – this is because freelance developers tend to specialize in developing one type of app.

App development agencies, on the other hand, will usually focus on presenting potential clients with examples of past projects and experience – this is because agencies employ a team of developers who each specialize in different aspects of app development – this diversity of knowledge allows agencies to work on a wider array of apps.

Agencies rely on steady clients, and therefore tend to take NDAs (and business partnerships in general) more seriously than freelancers – freelancers are, however, more likely to adjust to client demands.

Agency capability vs. freelancer capability

The complexity, scale, and scope of your app will largely determine if freelance development is even a viable option. As previously mentioned, freelancers tend to specialize in developing one type of app: such as eCommerce, productivity, or event apps, for example. Not only does this specialization narrow freelancers’ capabilities to the development of a single type of app, it often means freelancers are only capable of deploying in one environment, and developing for one platform.

Development agencies, however, will make use of the multiple skill sets available to them. These full-stack agencies can create any app, large or small, for any system, and for either platform: Android, or iOS (because Android and iOS utilize different code bases, it is exceedingly rare to find a freelancer capable of developing both Android and iOS apps).

Even when coding for a single platform, programming an app requires two different skillsets – frontend and backend development. For this reason, app agencies will employ programmers for both; frontend developers build out the UI and connect the functionality of the app’s features to the UI. Backend developers program the app’s logic architecture, set-up and implement servers, and connect APIs to their respective endpoints.

Agencies also utilize other tangential skillsets in order to improve the quality of the product that is developed; UI/UX designers create the visual design and flow of the app, providing a roadmap for the frontend developers – QA engineers create test environments in order to throughly analyze the robustness of an app before its initial launch, and project managers ensure every task is completed on time and in order, therefore maintaining a consistent and efficient development schedule.

When you hire a freelance developer, you are relegating all of these tasks onto either the freelancer, yourself, or your company. As an example – while a freelance developer might be efficient at developing the systems necessary for the entire feature set of an eCommerce app, they might not be the best UI/UX designer.

A freelance developer, in this situation, would most likely make use of an app design template (meaning your app will look cookie-cutter) – or run the risk of designing the app themselves – or, if their client was willing to pay for it, bring on a supplemental freelance designer.

Agency app management vs. freelance app management

Due to the nature of their work, freelancers tend to move from client to client very quickly – small projects have quick turn around times. Your app’s lifecycle is neither short or hands-off, however. All apps require updates for aesthetic purposes, improved security, and new feature implementation. Continual analysis of your app’s status via analytics and crash reporting is a necessary task as well – and with every update released by Google Play or the App Store, your app will need to follow suit. Even updates for changes as simple as new screen resolutions require time spent in development.

Agencies have this app lifecycle management structure built in to both their build teams and business model – freelancers generally don’t.

The cost of an agency vs. the cost of a freelancer

For all of the reasons stated above, the lower hourly rate freelancers are known for doesn’t equate to more cost effective development. For a freelancer to successfully develop the entirety of an app, they must have a mastery of a wide array of skills – and when they are lacking in an area of development, must spend time learning said skill, adding to the overall time your app spends in development, and bloating your budget.

Agencies specialize in producing complex apps efficiently; freelancers specialize in client acquisition, not app lifecycle management.

How much does it cost to update an app?

“An app is never finished.”

This quote is un-attributable because most every app developer has said it – it’s a constant in the world of programming – software isn’t complete until it’s dead. From websites to operating systems, updates are an inescapable necessity.

In fact, it’s safe to assume you’ll spend one-fifth of your total development cost every year updating your app – so if your app cost $50,000 to develop, you can expect to spend about $10,000 a year on updates.

That might sound like a lot of money – and it is. If you want your app to be a top performer in terms of user retention, conversions, and revenue, however, you’ll need to be prepared to absorb the costs associated with updating your app. Based on this graph from SensorTower, you can see the industry average back in 2014 was to update an app well over once a month:

This is a correlation that has only grown in recent years – the most successful apps today release an update one to four times every month.

Why do apps update so frequently? There are a few different answers:

Updates are a form of marketing

Updates are among your strongest marketing tools – right up there with push notifications and proximity marketing. Updates are so powerful because they convey a few messages simultaneously:

  1. Serve as a reminder that your app exists
  2. Inform your users about value added to the app
  3. Provide a free CTA with immediate value for the user

Updates will also create a notification tag on their settings icon – both Android and iOS operating systems are designed to make users aware of their available updates, so users are sure to be made aware of the added value you are giving them.

Finding the right voice and message through push notifications can be incredibly difficult, but updates can be plain and straightforward – they inherently come with free value for the customer.

Design and device trends

Keeping up with UI trends is a constant task of not only keeping your sights on what your competitors are doing, but also what the top twenty apps on the App Store or Google Play are doing as well.

This is because the competition in your category might not be staying up to date with their design choices as well – it’s always best to seek out the top performers and study what they’re doing. Keep a close eye on design aspects like:

  • Where buttons are located on the screen
  • Use of negative space
  • Transitions
  • How information is displayed

Design trends are always changing, and users are more likely to abandon an app than they are to stick by its side – if there’s an app out there that does what you do, but looks better, you’ll begin to lose users to it.

For more about keeping up with design trends, check out:

The same goes for device trends – mainly concerning higher screen resolutions. For every new screen size that hits the market, you’ll need to update your app in order to fit on those new devices. Keeping up with these trends is important to the health of your app – early adopters of new device models are usually power users, so if you aren’t catering to their needs, your app’s metrics will begin to drop substantially.

Security

Unfortunately, there will always be someone who is trying to exploit vulnerabilities in your app’s code – especially if your app deals with sensitive user data like payments or personal information. Luckily, updates can help mitigate these risks.

There is no way to build an un-crackable app. No matter what, someone out there will find a way to exploit a previously-unnoticed vulnerability if given enough time. An oft-sought out type of app for hackers to exploit are those that work in eCommerce – so if your app exists in this domain, make sure you are updating your security regularly.

Users take security very seriously. Take, for example, the fallout from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal: One in ten American users completely deleted their Facebook profile, and a staggering 26% deleted the mobile app from their smartphone.

When payment information is stolen, the response is even stronger. For this reason especially, eCommerce apps must be vigilant when it comes to the security of their users.

Bug Fixing

While the goal of any app is to launch without any bugs, they do sometimes happen. There’s many reasons for this – some bugs appear through situations that would be nearly impossible to test for, such as scalability issues, or new devices coming to market that don’t properly mesh with the code that makes your app run.

It’s a virtual guarantee that eventually, your app will run into a bug – what happens next is up to you. Users are fickle, and will abandon your app if they continue to run into bugs. In order to keep your users, you’ll need to fix the bug as quickly as possible.

New Features

Along with new device and design trends come new features – two big ones right now being location services and real-time updating. A good example is the order tracker popularized by Dominos Pizza. Dominos’ customers became familiar with their order tracker, and then began to expect it on other online ordering platforms.

Now, online food delivery platforms all make use of this order tracker – if they didn’t utilize it, users would abandon their app in favor of one that does. New features mean added value – always plan to add more value.

Show your users you care

What looks better – a website with a regularly updated blog and content, or an obviously three-year-old website that’s still touting an award from 2016? When shown the latter, you’ll probably begin to question if the company is still in operation.

Users want to know the app they are investing their time into is there for the long haul – by updating your app regularly, you implicitly show them that your app is here to stay. It also shows that your app is worth looking at and using – if you care enough to update it, there must surely be value that makes the update worth it.

Updates are a powerful user retention tool – despite their cost, app updates are necessary to your app’s longevity, and publishers stand to loose more by not updating their app than by spending capital in order to do so.

How much does it cost to build an app like UberEats?

How much does it cost to make an app like UberEats? Just like every app, the cost of development comes down to three deciding factors: feature set, time, and hourly rate. If this sounds similar to our last blog, How much does it cost to build an app like Uber?, it’s because this formula is a constant across all apps.

As we also went over in our blog about the cost of developing an app like Uber, the most expensive part of any app is actually post-development. This is due to app marketplace standards dictating the need for developers to provide continuous maintenance and update to an app’s code, infrastructure, and UI.

User retention is key to an app’s success – especially for an app with a business model like UberEats. Let’s look into the feature set that provides the platform for an app like UberEats.

First off, we need to segment the app into four different apps, those being an individual app for the customers, the restaurants, the delivery drivers, and the administrators. It is common practice for apps that require different feature sets to interact with a particular user to have different screen show depending on what the type of user is currently engaging with it – effectively creating individual apps.

To continue using the example from our previous blog, Uber; once a user selects that they are a rider, they are brought to the rider app – the same is true for drivers – once “driver” is selected, they are brought to the driver app. Both of these apps work in tandem with each other, but offer completely different feature sets, and thus show different screens.

As previously stated, an app like UberEats would be split into four different apps:

UberEats’ feature set

Customer app

Register / Log-in

Apps like UberEats make use of a login feature – this means users can save their delivery address, payment, and other info their account, therefore speeding up the process and bringing more value to the user.

Search Menu

For the user side of an app like UberEats, it is absolutely necessary to include a search function. In order for this search function to work, it must be able to search through the individual data points of your backend servers that house your restaurant data – proper logic and organization of your backend system is critical to decrease the time it takes the app to search through these data points.

Cart

A family simple feature, the cart allows users to keep track of what they have already added to their order.

Payment Integration

Payment services give users the ability to pay their driver directly though the app using a credit or debit card, as well as promotional codes – this feature is usually achieved through payment service APIs like Stripe or PayPal.

Order Tracking

Order tracking is a quality-of-life feature users have come to expect in the past few years – in order for this feature to be successfully implemented, a few different features must be used: GPS, and real-time updating.

Rating and Reviews

Users are able to leave ratings and reviews for restaurants that are aggregated in a database that can be remotely accessed by other users – this requires a connection to your backend servers.

UI

The UI is the layer of the app the users interact with; for UberEats’ customers, this would be to order food and put in the necessary delivery and payment info.

Delivery app

Register / Log-in

Delivery drivers use their account to keep track of payments and orders – accounts are also necessary when payments are involved; deliver drivers have their account info and payment info tied digitally together in the app.

Order Management

In order for delivery drivers to keep track of where an order needs to go, they need some way to manage the orders they currently have – in order for an app like UberEats to be able to tell a driver where a specific order must go, it needs to be able to access the backend servers remotely – it also needs access to GPS and mapping, as well as location services and navigation.

Updating of order status

The delivery side of the app must constantly provide the customer with real-time updates as to the driver’s current location – to do this, it must connect to the backend servers and provide location data taken from the app’s GPS, mapping, location services, and navigation features.

Restaurant app

Register / Log-in

Restaurants need to be able to create an account for the app as well – this is so they can update menus and other information as it changes.

Order Management

Restaurants need a way to manage their orders as well – this is put in place so the restaurant doesn’t need to contact the customer with a question; the order management system provides all the details they need to make the order – a feature like this would require sharing data over a remote server between the customer app, the restaurant app, and the delivery app.

Updating the order status

Just like the delivery portion of the app, users have come to expect to be informed as to the current status of their order while it is being prepared – just like the delivery app, this would require real-time updating over a remote server.

Admin app

Admin Log-in

This would function the same as any other log-in feature, but it would provide access to the administration portion of the app.

Restaurant management

This feature would give the administrator access to the data tables that create the organization structure that houses restaurant data – after a restaurant joins the app, the administrator would add their profile here.

Payment management

This feature, which can be achieved through API integration, is necessary to the processing of payments.

The cost of developing this four-in-one food ordering app would range anywhere between $100,000 to $250,000, and sometimes even more. Scale plays a large role in determining the development cost of your app.

Also keep in mind that an app like UberEats that requires the participation of individual businesses has to budget for the acquisition of those businesses. It is easiest to start with smaller, local businesses and move up as your platform gains traction in the market.

UberEats’ tech stack

In the same vein as our previous blog about Uber, UberEats exists mostly on the backend – while the simple UI exudes simplicity, the backend systems required to handle so much real-time updating and data sharing would be both extensive and costly.

Storing and transferring data, whether it happens through physical servers or via the Cloud (which is still stored on physical servers somewhere anyway), is expensive, and requires significant infrastructure and time spent optimizing the organization of data.

In order to create and maintain a stable backend, you must invest significant time and resources – both infrastructure and human.

UberEats’ maintenance and updating costs

The costs of maintaining and updating an app comes down to the total collective salary of your entire development team.

This cost is necessary to an app like UberEats, however – only the best apps stay on top. In fact, the average mobile user in the US will spend 90% of their time engaging with their personal top five apps.

UberEats knows what keeps their app in users’ personal top five apps is the experience it provides – and this is why they spend so much money maintaining and updating their app. If their servers are unresponsive, or provide outdated data, users will move on to a different app without these issues. If their app doesn’t keep up design trends and new device screen resolutions, users will, again, abandon their app in favor of one that does.

An app is never finished

This is why the cost of developing one never has a set number – the longer your app is around, the more money you will spend on it – but these should be measured against the lifetime profit of your app.

While the coding and design of your app’s feature set are one-time investments, keeping your backend running and your frontend up-to-snuff will constitute continual, regular costs, as they are necessary to maintaining and increasing your app’s user retention.

How much does it cost to make an app like Uber?

How much does it cost to make an app like Uber? The cost of app development (no matter if you’re building a game, fitness, or social app) comes down to three distinct factors: feature set, scale, and hourly rate.

Every app’s feature set is a combination of different features that provide a cohesive user experience; while the code that makes these features work is technically the same whether one user is engaging with the app, or 100 users are, the scale of an app has significant costs on your backend and server maintenance costs – not to mention API calls and other data transfer costs.

While your app’s feature set will make up the majority of your initial development costs, scalability and maintenance will easily overshadow these investment costs over the course of your app’s lifecycle.

For an app like Uber, which boasts 80 million users spread across 77 countries, scalability is literally a huge issue – so much so that Uber employs 2000 engineers – a full third of their total employees.

This isn’t to say all of an app’s reoccurring costs come from backend management – the app marketplace demands continuous improvements to an app’s UX and UI – meaning designers are needed to improve upon existing features and ideate new ones, and engineers are needed to code these updates.

In short, development for an app like Uber is never done. For as long as that app is available on the App Store or Google Play, there will be reoccurring costs. With these costs, however, come profits; the more time and effort is put into improving your app’s UX (design and feature set), the higher these profits will usually be.

Uber’s feature set

Uber makes use of the following features to provide a working app:

Geolocation

Geolocation is used to provide both riders and drivers with real-time locations of each other.

GPS/Navigation

GPS/Navigation is used to provide drivers with optimal routes.

Push Notifications

Push notifications are used to provide riders with updates about their ride, or other info when the user isn’t engaging with app directly.

In-app Messaging

In-app messages are used to provide riders with updates about their ride when the user is currently engaged with the app.

Payments

Payment services give users the ability to pay their driver directly though the app using a credit or debit card, as well as promotional codes.

Register/Log-in

Most apps utilize some sort of log-in feature via email or social media account.

Messaging

Not to be confused with in-app messaging, this feature gives drivers and riders the ability to directly message each other.

Price estimate calculator

By using data from the GPS/Navigation feature, the app provides riders with a pre-estimate of how much their ride will cost – this is influenced distance, time of day, and location.

Ratings and reviews

Users are able to leave ratings and reviews for drivers that are aggregated in a database that can be remotely accessed by other users.

UI

The UI is the layer of the app the riders and drivers interact with – for Uber riders, this is mainly used for booking rides and paying drivers, and for Uber drivers, it is mainly used to accept riders and follow routes.

If we were to add up the costs of developing these features, and not include the costs associated with maintaining those features, the initial costs would total anywhere between $100,000 – $300,000 depending on the hourly rate of the development team in question.

This might seem like a heavy upfront investment, but consider the potential for revenue available to you – Uber’s revenue was $11.27 billion in 2018.

Uber’s tech stack

Virtually every app (other than an extremely simple app) utilizes both a front and back end – and Uber is no exception. Much like an iceberg, Uber’s front end, while making up the layer users see, is dwarfed by its hidden-from-view back end.

While all of Uber’s backend functionality can be achieved through API integration, a backend is still required to provide the logic for the API calls. For an app at the scale of Uber, however, heavy reliance on third-party APIs can bring about exponential additional costs; GPS and mapping APIs, for instance, base their pricing on the number of API calls made – which when paired with the real-time updating that Uber utilizes, creates a significant operating cost.

Third party API integration, while expensive, can still come out as the cheaper option when compared to building your own custom system – many backend systems rely on physical infrastructure to run. Continuing with the previous example, third party GPS and mapping APIs are plentiful for a reason – significant physical infrastructure is necessary to the operation of mapping systems – everything from servers to satellites.

In order for Uber to function on a daily basis, its core functionalities – geolocation, mapping, GPS, and payments – require a significant amount of data to transfer through the app’s servers. All of its features, other than its UI layer, require some sort of data transfer in order to function.

Due to this heavy reliance on servers, backend maintenance is paramount to Uber’s success.

Uber’s maintenance and updating costs

The costs of maintaining and updating an app comes down to the total collective salary of your software and hardware engineers, as well as your UI designers. It might seem unthinkable to employ 2000 engineers like Uber does – but there’s a very good reason for an app with the scale of Uber to do so.

As loading times increase, user retention plummets. The same goes for any hiccup in the UX of an app – if there’s an app that provides even a slightly better experience in one step of the entire process, users will gravitate towards it in favor of the slightly-less-optimized one.

While many of Uber’s engineers are undoubtably updating and maintaining the frontend of Uber, there are plenty also continuously working to improve and optimize the backend architecture of the app.

Even if a week’s worth of work for an entire development team results in the increase of data transfer speeds by one hundredth of a second, the impact is significant when millions of transfer requests are made every hour. Those hundredths of a second add up when multiplied by a million over and over again – and users will notice their load times decrease, bringing them more value.

If the salary of every engineer on your team is $100K, and you were to maintain an app like Uber, your yearly operational costs would be at least $200 million (this number is based purely on salary, and doesn’t include the operational costs associated with employing 2000 engineers).

These costs are necessary to an app like Uber, however – only the best apps stay on top. In fact, the average mobile user in the US will spend 90% of their time engaging with their personal top five apps.

Uber knows what keeps their app in users’ personal top five apps is the experience it provides – and this is why they spend so much money maintaining and updating their app. If their servers are unresponsive, or provide outdated data, users will move on to a different app without these issues. If their app doesn’t keep up design trends and new device screen resolutions, users will, again, abandon their app in favor of one that does.

Operational costs are forever

Just like diamonds (and plastic), the task of updating and maintaining your app is forever present – and so to will the associated costs continue on.

While the coding and design of your app’s feature set are one-time investments, keeping your backend running and your frontend up-to-snuff will constitute continual, regular costs, as they are necessary to maintaining and increasing your app’s user retention.

How much does payroll software implementation cost?

There are certain expenses every business has to accept – and one of the largest contributors to those reoccurring, inescapable costs is payroll. The time it takes to manage your payroll process will always need to be accounted for in your budget, but the time (and the resulting costs of the time and resources) spent can be diminished through the help of payroll software.

When it comes to choosing a payroll software, there are a multitude of options to compare – but first, we’re going to cover the reasoning behind paying for payroll software.

It’s about time

The goal of payroll is to be done in as little time as possible – there’s no profit to be made from it. Any process that cannot lead to income generation should be practiced in the most efficient manner possible – unfortunately, HR administrators tasked with payroll can spend up to ten hours a week on payroll alone.

So, when weighing the two options of either paying for payroll software or continuing to do it yourself, there’s an easy question to ask that will provide the answer as to which is more cost effective:

Which costs more – a quarter of my employee’s salary, or the payment model of a payroll SaaS?

For fun, let’s say the employee in question makes $35,000 a year – divide that number by four, and you’re left with $8750 – if your payroll is processed in house, that’s your yearly expense – for an administrative task that can never lead to income generation.

Let’s take that number and compare it to the cost of some of the more popular payroll software, apps, and APIs.

Freeware

There’s plenty of payroll software out there for free – and for small businesses, these are a good option. While not as comprehensive as proprietary software, free payroll software can help you accomplish simple payroll administrative tasks like payroll and tax computation and submission, direct deposit, new hire reporting, and year-end tax information.

There is one area that freeware can’t compete, however – scalability. There’s also a lack of options for customizing the software to your company’s needs – in the case of free payroll software, what you see is what you get.

If you’d like to try out your options before settling on a software for your payroll needs, there are many freemium versions of software that allow you to try out their service before purchasing payroll software.

One such is Gusto, which also has a proprietary software version that is purchased through a subscription. Let’s go over the cost of a subscription model payroll software:

Monthly subscription

While there are much more well-known payroll softwares out there (like ADP Workforce and Quickbooks) we think it’s important to showcase an up-and-comer like Gusto for two reasons: small businesses understand the needs of other small businesses in a more intimate way than large corporations, and there’s plenty of information already other there about both ADP and Quickbooks.

Despite a less well-known reputation than payroll software household names like Quickbooks or ADP Workforce, Gusto can do a lot: manage payroll administration, HR, and benefits administration and compliance, as well as automatically computing your business’ local, state, and federal payroll taxes (including payment and submittal of payroll taxes), and the option of paying your employees through either direct deposit or check.

Its inviting look, and simple UI make it the perfect option for someone in a small to medium business who either doesn’t have formal training in HR operations, or needs to make more efficient use of their time in the office.

Gusto offers two subscription options – their Core Plan and Complete Plan.

So, with a company of 10 employees, the Core Plan comes out to $1,118 per year, and the Complete Plan totals $3,228 per year. While still fairly priced given the automation and services Gusto provides, its costs can quickly increase as the scale of your company grows. On the Core Plan, a company with 100 employees would be charged $7,688 per year, and $16,188 on the Complete Plan.

Let’s continue looking at our options.

Per-user pricing

While this form of payroll software obviously suffers from the same issue as Gusto’s plan, they are definitely worth mentioning – for small businesses, per-user pricing payment models can be extremely cost effective.

PayrollHero offers employee attendance tracking, as well as scheduling, and time tracking and analytics – all available through a master platform that can be customized with product add-ons such as secure communication channels, data recovery, and unlimited storage. These add-ons do, of course, come with an additional price tag.

PayrollHero, like Gusto, has two payment options:

With 10 employees, the Small Business Plan comes to just $420 per year, and the Enterprise Plan comes to $540 per year. While these are extremely affordable options, PayrollHero doesn’t offer too much in the way of customizability or payroll tasks that aren’t directly related to employee attendance. For a small company that only needs a lean payroll system, however, PayrollHero is a good option.

Let’s look at a more customizable payroll platform and payment model:

Quote-based pricing

You can think of this option of payroll software as a pick-and-choose model. The perfect example of a quote-based payroll system (and one of the most widely-used payroll platforms out there) is Paychex.

Through the PayChex Flex platform, you can build your own payroll system out of pre-made sections of software – each option runs completely on its own, and they all seamlessly integrate with each other. These selectable options are as follows:

  • Payroll
  • Time & attendance
  • Retirement services
  • Recruiting and application tracking
  • HR records
  • Benefits administration
  • Hiring and on boarding
  • Reporting and analytics

Due to its customizable nature, it’s difficult to give a set price range for Paychex’s software – and prices can vary depending on the scale of your payroll operations.

Paychex is continuously improving their software through the Paychex API Developer Center.

Now that we’ve covered the different payment models of payroll software, let’s look into the costs behind the actual coding of the feature sets that make up a payroll system:

Custom payroll software development

If there are all of these great options, what’s the point in developing your own payroll software?

Lifetime value – yearly expenses add up after awhile. For example, let’s look back to our first payroll software example, Gusto. After 10 years, their Complete Plan will total $30,288 – and that’s if your company experiences zero growth over ten years.

Let’s pretend a company that started with 10 employees now has 100; at a rate of 100 employees, Gusto’s Complete Plan comes out to $16,188 per year. In just two years, that’s almost a much money as the yearly salary of a single employee.

A custom-made payroll platform has a much more cost effective lifetime value – there is only the upfront cost of development, and after your initial expense, the only extra associated costs come from maintenance or further additions to your custom platform.

Essentially a very complex backend system hooked up to different UIs, custom payroll software can cater to any business need – every feature listed in this blog can be implemented (and more): including commission management, and split payment management.

You can also integrate a custom-made payroll platform into your already existing internal business app.

Custom-made payroll software is undoubtably the most affordable option at scale – since the code is owned by your company, and not loaned by a third party, you can scale your custom-made payroll platform to any size of workforce and company infrastructure – and with mobile integration as well.

We’ve stated it many times throughout our blog – but it remains just as true; the cost of software development comes down to time, not type of software being developed. For a fairly complex custom-made payroll platform, designing and building the backend will take up the most time – this includes building out the logic, creating the backend architecture (how collections of data will communicate), and building out servers to store your payroll data.

Other costs include UI design, as well as the coding of the front end of your platform. All in all, an average estimate could range from $50,000 to $250,000 depending on your desired complexity. Those are big numbers – but keep in mind, they are truly one-time costs, and the product developed is fully scalable, at no extra cost (other than server maintenance).

Let’s compare those numbers to the expenses of a company with 1,000 employees using Gusto’s Complete Plan. After 10 years with 1,000 employees, Gusto’s costs come out to $121,490. If you’re planning ahead for your company’s future and growth, a custom-made payroll platform will end up being the most cost effective option.

Empower your HR team

When your company makes use of payroll software, your HR department has more time to do what they’re supposed to do – build and disseminate your company’s employee culture. Internal culture and employee happiness are directly related to productivity, speed of business, and employee longevity and loyalty.

When your HR team is working for your people, and not your money, your business can grow into a more efficient, productive, and happy workplace.

Android or iOS development – which costs more?

This blog was updated on July 3, 2019

Developing an app is never an inexpensive endeavor, which is why it’s always important to cut any unnecessary costs. What’s the most significant variable to the cost of developing your app?

Android, or iOS?

After identifying your targeted pain point, the next question you should always ask yourself is this: which platform do I launch on? Answering this question will dictate your UI, your marketing, your development, your testing – the entire strategy behind building your app, basically.

Quite often, however, the most important aspect of developing an app isn’t which platform to develop for, but which platform costs more. So, which platform does cost more to develop for? Well, by now you’ve probably noticed a pattern – it depends.

For the time-pressed reader, the more affordable option is usually iOS. But there are factors that can alter this answer, and it’s important to know why and how these factors impact the cost of developing an app.

Let’s get into it.

The two wrestling giants

Both Android and iOS boast an almost unprecedented number devices sold, available apps, and total app conversions:

  • In 2017, over 1 billion Android devices were sold, while Apple sold over 200 million iOS devices
  • As of 2018, Google Play has 2.6 million apps available for download, while the App Store comes in a relatively close second with 2 million
  • In 2018, App Annie released a report stating that the total number of app downloads between Google Play and the App Store was 28.4 billion conversions – of that number, Google Play accounted for 20 billion downloads

Android owns significant percentages of the marketplace, while iOS apps see higher user retention:

  • In the U.S., Android owns 54.6% of the market, and iOS owns 44.4% (Android is the top performer globally)
  • More iOS users download purchasable apps than Android users (11.82% vs. 5.76%)
  • iOS apps have a higher retention rate than Android (1% to 3% higher)

Something to keep in mind: While Android does account for a larger share of the mobile market than iOS (at least in terms of devices sold), this figure is likely skewed by the fact that Android comes with many pre-paid phone options, and there are no iPhone counterparts. While this larger presence seems to indicate apps available for both platforms would see more downloads from Android, we have witnessed the opposite from the data of apps we have published.

Out of these three apps, one has an audience centered in the U.S., one is centered internationally, and one has an audience split almost evenly between the U.S. and international markets.

  • For the U.S. centric app, 76% of downloads are from the App Store.
  • For the internationally centric app, 46% of downloads are from the App Store.
  • For the app evenly split between U.S. and international markets, 65% of downloads have come from the App Store.

Purchasing power and user profiles

When you compare the average revenue per user between app categories on Google Play and the App Store, despite iOS accounting for less devices and downloads, iOS apps see higher average earnings than Android.

  • Gaming app average revenue per user: $1.99 (iOS) versus $1.56 (Android)
  • Shopping app average revenue per user: $19.64 (iOS) versus $11.49 (Android)
  • Travel app average revenue per user: $32.29 (iOS) versus $20.47 (Android)

What’s the reason behind these differences? While it’s important to keep in mind that the following findings are generalizations of markets, and not indicative of every user profile, there are noticeable trends that arise when comparing Android and iOS users:

Again, these are generalizations, and should be treated as such.

Some other interesting stats on user profiles:

  • iPhone users are more likely to engage in m-commerce
  • Apple customers are loyal; 80% of iPhone users have perviously owned another iPhone
  • iOS users tend to favor social media and retail apps, while Android users favor utility and productivity apps
  • iPhone users tend to identify as extroverts, and Android users as introverts

The cost of development

Development costs, no matter what platform you’re developing for, come down to three factors: time, hourly rate, and investment in infrastructure (like the computers used for development, or the servers that house your app’s backend).

The time it takes to develop an app can be further broken down into three determining factors: ease of programming, testing, and publishing (specifically the review of your app before it is officially launched).

Swift, the coding language all iOS apps are programmed with, is robust, streamlined, and was written expressly for the purpose of building apps for Apple’s devices. On the other hand, Android apps can be built by JAVA, C++, Kotlin, and Go (among others).

While the latter two of these languages were written with the same purpose as Swift (app development), JAVA and C++ have been around long before the idea of what an app is today had come to fruition. JAVA saw its public release in 1996, and C++ was released over a decade before that.

Since these languages are old enough to order a beer and not get carded, there are more programmers who can code for Android than iOS. While this does usually translate into a cheaper hourly rate when hiring Android developers, it doesn’t always ensure you end up with a smaller bill to pay.

There are conventions that no Android developer will break – but while there might be two, or possibly even three ways to write a feature in Swift, there’s a multitude of ways to code that same feature with JAVA (the most popular Android programming language). Due to this, when comparing the two platforms based on ease of programming, Swift tends to come out on top.

If you’re being incredibly thorough with testing your iOS app, you’re going to need about ten different devices (ranging from the iPhone 5s to the Xr, to the different iPad generations, and possibly Apple Watch). To achieve the same level of quality assurance for Android, you’d need 24,000 different devices (and there were that many in 2015!).

Realistically, a good batch of Android devices to test with are all the popular and currently used devices, plus as many others as you can get your hands on. But even when accounting for ignoring 23,970 devices, those thirty remaining Android devices still add up to at least three times the amount of devices that need to be tested against. Again, when it comes to testing, and the time necessary to properly do so, iOS comes out on top.

With so many devices necessary in order to properly test your app, Android apps can require a significant investment in infrastructure. It is definitely worth noting, however, that iOS app development requires Apple products, which means if you don’t already have iMacs or MacBooks, you’ll need to find a developer that does, or foot the bill yourself.

When comparing the cost of investment in infrastructure for both platforms, it really depends on what infrastructure you already have in place – if you already own Macs, iOS would be the cheaper option. If you already own a bunch of Android devices, Android will be the cheaper option.

What costs more to publish – Android or iOS?

Publishing an app on the App Store or Google Play is a drastically different process – Apple requires a stringent process to be followed before publishing – Android, in comparison to the App Store’s publishing guidelines, offers developers a much simpler route to publishing their app to Google Play.

Let’s go over the publishing process for both, and what these costs mean for you in both the short and long term.

Android publishing costs

Publishing your Android app to Google Play is a straightforward process. Android does review apps – but the approval process is automated, so it is relatively quick. Before officially launching your app on Google Play, you’ll want to create your promotional materials.

These are what make up the content on your Google Play listing, and are comprised of: in-app screenshots, teaser videos, graphics, and promotional text.

Next, you’ll choose your publishing options – this includes setting such as what languages you’d like your app to be listed in, as well as how much you want to charge for your app based on region.

Finally, you’ll confirm your options and promotional materials, and then push the “publish” button. In a few moments, your app will be available in all previously selected regions through Google Play.

In order to publish to Google Play, you must pay a one-time fee of $25, and Android also takes 30% of profits from paid an in-app purchases – updating apps is free, and updates to your app’s code aren’t usually review by a person.

When it comes to publishing an app to the app store, it’s an entirely different ballgame.

iOS publishing costs

First off, to get the easy stuff out of the way – if your app is going to be free (as in no revenue from downloads, subscription fees, ads, anything) you’ll only need to worry about: administering your App Store account, gathering your promotional materials, and your app’s review – after that, you can publish.

Publishing a free app to the App Store is largely the same as publishing an app to Google Play, other than without any of the associated publishing and sales costs.

Publishing a revenue-generating app to the App Store is a more involved process.

First, you’ll want to accept Apple’s payment agreements, and your tax and banking information.

Second, you’ll add your users to your App Store account, which can easily be done by entering their email. From here, you can assign privileges and roles – this will help with administering your app’s page on the App Store, which will be essential in order to manage your ASO campaigns down the line.

Third, you’ll add your app to App Store Connect – this doesn’t mean that your app is available for download, nor does it require your app’s code be complete. You can think of this as setting up your app’s profile page for the App Store. After adding a build to App Store Connect, you can upload multiple versions through either Xcode or Application Loader – you can then view these variations through your App Store Connect profile.

Next, it’s on to testing and submitting your app. While Apple does require a more stringent review process for apps submitted to the App Store versus those on Google Play, they do help with the setup of your app’s beta test.

By using Testflight, you can upload a beta version of your app to send to your testers – from here, you’ll want to go through the steps listed in our blog, All about beta testing: When, why, and how. After you have deemed your app ready for review, you’ll submit it to apple for their approval to the App Store. These are the guidelines Apple grades apps by:

  1. Safety – Apple looks for harmful or offensive content, data security risks, and much more. All of these risks are more carefully considered when the app’s main audience are children.
  2. Performance – Apple will be on the lookout for incomplete apps, if beta testing was indeed conducted, if your app’s metadata is correct, and if it meets hardware and device compatibility requirements
  3. Business – Apple will make sure your app follow all of their business, payment, and licensing rules.
  4. Design – Apple looks for copycat designs, functionality, if spam is used, and many other factors.
  5. Legal – Apple will search for any violations of it’s legal agreements, especially those relating to user and data privacy – this is especially stringent when the app’s main audience are children.

After submitting your app, a real human will review your app by these guidelines and more – if you are gearing up to submit your app to the app store, we highly recommend heading over there yourself before you do.

After approval, you can officially upload your app to the App Store! To publish an App on the App Store, you must pay a yearly fee of $99, and Apple takes 30% of profits from downloads (that 30% is only applied to paid app and in-app purchases).

It is also worth noting that for every update you provide for an iOS app, Apple must approve that update before it can go live. This review process is again conducted by an actual human being.

When comparing the two platforms based on time and cost to publish, Android is the winner. These differences do, however, influence other aspects of your app’s lifecycle, which we’ll cover a little bit later in this blog.

The cost of marketing

This is probably the aspect of launching an app that is least influenced by which platform you’re building for – but due to the centralized nature of Apple products and customers, iOS app marketing usually comes out cheaper.

This isn’t due to Android app marketing relying on different marketing channels than iOS, but rather the scale at which Android apps must market themselves. Because Android has such a large presence in international markets (one of the main attractors to the platform), you’ll inevitably spend more time and money marketing to those extra markets than the mainly U.S., Canadian, and western European markets iOS users usually reside in.

This is also influenced by the need to market your app in the native languages of those respective markets.

Longevity

Remember those strict Apple publishing guidelines? When it comes to getting the most out of the lifecycle of your app, those rules and regulations will actually work to your benefit. iOS apps are more secure, therefore they can be used for a longer period of time before being confronted with a vulnerability.

iOS apps are required to notify users of data collection, as well as receive their permission in order to do so. Because every update is reviewed by Apple before it can go live, users can always expect an update to provide meaningful, tangible improvements.

While these rules might seem strict initially, they’re powerful user retention tools. Privacy and data security are at the forefront of your users’ minds all the time, and generally speaking, iOS users can expect a higher degree of security from their apps.

One aspect of app lifecycle management where Android comes out on top is its open source nature. Because the platform itself is based around open source releases, and its core libraries are available to everyone for free, Android does have the benefit of unlimited potential for growth and innovation. In addition to this, because iOS is only available on the iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch or TV, there is always a potential that Apple products will fall out of favor with the market.

If Samsung fails, Android remains strong. If Apple fails, iOS is gone. There is no indication that this is going to happen anytime soon, but it is worth noting.

There’s a time and place for everything

Generally speaking, if you want to access users in western markets, iOS development will be the cheapest option. If you’re looking towards international markets, Android will take the lead – at least when it comes to lifetime profits. But when accounting for time to develop and test an app, iOS will almost invariably come out on top.

Custom app development costs

How much does it cost to develop a custom-made app? This is a question we are asked quite frequently – and the answer is so open ended that we felt it warranted its own blog. Regardless of what type of app you’re developing, there’s one factor that rises above the rest when determining the cost of software development – time.

And when it comes to custom app development, time still holds on as the key determining factor of your app’s total cost. There are, however, a few different aspects, features, and feature sets of custom app development that will take up more of your time (and therefore money) than others.

The time it takes to develop these features, however, is balanced by the fact that these features usually add a significant amount of profitability and robustness to your app. And often, the features are necessary to the key functionality and experience of your app.

Let’s get into those features.

Design

There’s a lot the word “design” can refer to when on the topic of app development – especially so when it’s a custom-made app in question.

When developing a custom app, every aspect of its design must be built out. While both Android and iOS have universal design libraries, custom feature sets require custom layout, custom graphics, and custom flow.

You should expect an app to take 100 to 150 hours to properly design – this estimate can change depending on the complexity of your app. Let’s look into what makes up all those hours:

Custom layout

Every custom app’s layout will be unique – while certain features will undoubtably share some implementation styles and guidelines (like the iOS Human Interface Guidelines), a custom-made app will solve its pain point using a uniquely-implemented feature set.

You can think of your app’s design as the interactive guide that leads users through your app’s feature set. It’s the links in the chain of your user flow – just as it’s the process of visual cues that make up your app’s UX.

I’ve used this example before, but I feel it’s a good one; an app is like a choose-your-own-adventure book, and its design is the language that indicates to users what choices are available to them.

When designing your app’s layout, keep a few things in mind:

  • A user’s location, situation, mood, and method of interaction
  • What the overarching purpose of your app is
  • Your main user story

The most important thing you can do when laying out your app is to ask yourself: “How would I want an app to solve this problem?”

Then, when conducting market research, make sure to ask others the same question. Figure out what scenario users will most likely find themselves in when interacting with your app – that is your main user story. Design your app’s layout to this user story.

Custom graphics

In a similar vein as “design,” the word “graphics” can mean a wide variety of things when used in reference to custom app development. An app’s design is compromised of:

  • Your app’s logo
  • Individual icons, e.g. “home,” “map,” etc.
  • “Furniture,” i.e. reoccurring graphical elements like button styles or border styles
  • Fonts and type treatment

Some other categories that fall under graphics, but aren’t as common as those listed above:

  • 3D graphics
  • Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Virtual Reality (VR)
  • Level design (specific to games)

The real craftsmanship of design is knowing how to make an intuitive, interactive visual experience – and doing so takes time. Uniqueness is a strong suit of custom developed apps, and graphics and other visuals are the most effective method for portraying your app’s individual brand.

Don’t be afraid to take the time necessary to develop your custom app’s design. A picture is worth a thousand words – a well made icon is worth one thousand lines of code.

Application Program Interfaces (APIs)

APIs can be thought of as pre-made feature sets – some are customizable (to a point), and others aren’t. Perhaps the most well-known API is Google Maps – it can integrate with custom apps in order to provide that app with GPS, mapping, and navigation functionalities.

Through the Google Maps API, developers can customize elements of the API’s Javascript to control visual elements, such as map colors. Rather than coding for hundreds of hours, developers can use the Google Maps API to provide the same (if not better) functionality, all without users leaving their custom app.

While APIs most definitely save developers time, they do usually come with at least one type of reoccurring cost: either a subscription fee, or a data usage fee – and sometimes, both.

Due to these reoccurring costs, the inclusion of APIs in your custom app can lead to significant costs down the road – and as your app grows, these costs will more often than not scale up as well. Be careful with your selection of APIs too – if a third party API your custom app utilizes is deemed as unsafe, not secure, or predatory by the App Store, your app will be removed from the App Store until the problem is resolved.

Also, keep in mind that if an API provider’s services are down, so to will that portion of your app’s functionality disappear – so, depending on how crucial that API is to your app’s experience, you could lose most of the functionality of your custom app.

It is worth mentioning that despite the inherent risks and costs associated with API backend integration, using APIs will save you an incredible amount of time during your custom app’s development phase; and let’s face it – Google is going to make a better navigation system than most companies.

Don’t be afraid to utilize APIs – but also balance the risks, and do your research before implementation.

Backend development

Building out the backend of an app will take up (depending on the complexity of your app) a significant portion of your app’s total development time and cost.

Backend development, in a very generalized sense, can be thought of as hooking up the features your app’s users interact with to different programs, servers, or even other apps entirely.

Fun fact: if you’re developing a custom app for both Android and iOS, you’re actually developing two different apps – Android runs on JAVA, and iOS runs on Swift.

For example, in order for an in-app messenger to send messages back-and-forth, it needs to be connected to a server that can take in and send out data.

Let’s get more into some of the most time-consuming aspects of backend architecture and integration:

Backend architecture

We’re not going to go too deep here – this subject could easily be its own blog. In fact, keep a lookout for something about that in the future.

Your backend architecture is, in short, how all of the different systems, infrastructure, and programs that make up your app’s backend fit together. You can think of it as a puzzle – a vast, digital puzzle with pieces made from code, servers, and APIs.

Backend servers

Your backend is hosted on a server – this can either be comprised of a single server, many, or hosted through the Cloud. Servers are used to store and transmit the data that your app needs in order to function – this can range from data tables that keep track of sales numbers in an internal business app to features like interpreting and sending out data through real-time updates for a gaming app.

Your server’s hosting comes with two costs – your costs associated with purchasing or “renting” server space, and the maintenance that comes with along with using a server. Your server’s maintenance will undoubtably be the larger of the two costs, and you should expect it to be a reoccurring one – servers require continual, regular upkeep.

Time, and time again

This is the last time we’ll state it (in this blog, at least) – time is the most significant factor when determining a custom app’s development costs.

The processes and features discussed above are some of the most cost-intensive aspects of app creation – but with every app’s development will come unique situations, and therefore unique budgets.

There’s a lot more to developing a custom app than what we covered here. If you’d like a roadmap to app development, check out our blogs on easy app development and the steps to creating an app.

Easy app development

How hard can developing an app really be? They’re pretty much just mobile versions of websites anyway – going the route of hybrid or web based apps should save both time and money, right?

On the surface, these assumptions would seem correct – but for many reasons (which we’ll get into below), taking short cuts or going with a route other than native development will actually create more headaches, and ultimately make your app’s development more difficult.

What about going easy on the market research? Surely apps don’t need to include a traditional marketing budget – that’s what the App Store is for.

Things sure would be easier if that were true – apps require fully fledged ASO campaigns in order to survive against their competition.

There’s a lot that goes into developing an app – and we’ve never said it was easy (in fact, we’ve said the opposite in the past), but we’ve put together the info you need to know in order to make sure your app’s development is as easy as possible.

Fish out of water

Who’s the better swimmer – a penguin, or a dolphin? The dolphin will win in the water every time. Now, I’m not trying to take a shot at penguins – they’re way better at swimming than I am – but they exist in a space between land and sea. They’re never truly in their element; they’re clumsy at best on land, and when in the water, they’re hampered by adaptations specific to land animals.

In essence, they’re very similar when compared to both a hybrid or progressive web app. There is no argument that your initial costs will be lower when going the route of hybrid development; but over time, a natively developed app will perform better than a hybrid on many fronts.

When measuring for usability, performance, security, and maintenance, a native app will beat out a hybrid every time – just like, and for the same reasons as, the penguin vs. dolphin match up.

Visit our blog for a more detailed explanation as to the benefits of native over hybrid development.

Before you find a developer

It’s time for the first step in building your app: finding a pain point. Every app helps to solve a problem in someone’s life – mobile games stave off boredom, fitness apps help to solve our issues with laziness, and navigation apps provide the answer to “How do I get around this accident?”

No matter what your app does, when you boil it down to its true essence, it helps people solve pain points they are faced with throughout the day – or if you’re making a sleep tracker app, throughout the night.

But ultimately, your app helps people. If you’re making a mobile game, the formula is pretty simple – build an app that’s entertaining enough to make people want to play it to pass the time during their morning commute on the train.

For more complex concepts (ideas, not apps – mobile games are some of the most technically complex apps out there), the process of ideation becomes much more involved. Unless you’re developing an app based on inspiration that came to you from facing a pain point in your own life, the easiest way to come up with a (good) app idea is to conduct some…

Market Research

Now, in order to know what to research, you’ll need at least some form of an idea of what you want your app to do – but market research will help you narrow down that broad idea into a marketable product.

Let’s pretend we’re making an app for raccoons. We don’t know too much about the raccoon life – but we’re going to go out on a limb, and guess that this app is in some way going to revolve around getting their little paws on some trash.

We honestly don’t know what the raccoons want, however, so we need to go to the source – unfortunately for us, most of the focus groups and field research probably won’t be held in the cleanest venues.

Okay – so, it turns out, according from our totally real research, that raccoons do indeed face a pain point when it comes to trash acquisition – it isn’t, however, the pain point us humans would expect. Finding the trash isn’t the problem – our target audience’s noses are fine tuned for that sort of work.

Raccoons need an app that gives them the ability to leave other raccoons instructions on how to open the dumpsters that hold all that delicious garbage. As our market research shows, finding the trash isn’t the problem – accessing it is.

So now it’s time to figure out the solution to the trash acquisition problem.

Designing your app

There’s two separate times you’ll design your app – the first instance being the step we’re currently on: user stories.

A user story is the step-by-step process a user will take when interacting with an app. In our case, it would be a raccoon currently stumped by a particularly stubborn dumpster lid.

There are a few things you need to think about when coming up with user stories:

  • Location
  • Situation
  • Mood
  • Method of interaction

The location and situation your users will be in when interacting with your app matters – as well as the mood you can expect them to be in. In our case, the location, at least most of the time, will be back alleys, and mostly at night. We can expect our users to be hungry, and therefore impatient.

Now, with a clear picture of the situation, location, and mood our users will be in, we can start designing the flow of our app.

First of all, we need to revisit the pain point; raccoons want the ability to share advice with each other on how to open up dumpsters, in order to get to trash faster.

So, now we need to design a feature set that will help to solve that pain point. Our app must include:

  • GPS and mapping, as well as location services, in order for users to place beacons on a map for other users to select
  • Camera and microphone access so users can take photo and video instructions
  • Back end integration so the app itself can host photo and video media
  • User profiles that can be rated based on the advice they provide

So, add all that up, and you get an app that allows users to pin video and photo instructions to specific dumpsters based on their GPS coordinates. Other users would then be able to vote on the provided advice, which would then be posted to that user’s profile.

This feature set would create a system for raccoons to share advice with each other, as well as a community based around the app.

Time to build

Next, you’ll want to take your research and user story, and bring it to an app developer. From here, they’ll be able to take your idea and run with it. From here, development is pretty much out of your hands – you’re there to give the thumbs up or down.

A full, in-house development shop will usually start by designing the layout of an app with wireframes, and then flesh out the design. Once the design for each screen has been finalized, a prototype will be built – this is for you to look over, so you can make sure their interpretation of your vision is accurate, and to the spirit of what you imagined.

The developers coding your app will reference the prototype as well – and from it, they will build the actual code of your app. After your app is coded, it will move on to testing, and from there, it’s on to…

Launch

Remember when we brought up ASO? This is where you’ll want to implement those efforts. There’s a lot that goes into an ASO campaign, and if you’d like to take a deep dive on the topic, here’s a blog all about it.

ASO, at its core, is keyword research and implementation. It’s just like SEO, but for the App Store and Google Play. We recommend new apps start with five keywords to focus on – and from there start evolving your ASO campaign with strategies ranging from A/B testing to push notifications.

The key to a long-lasting, successful app is frequent updates. Once you’ve launched your app, you’ll want to get right back to developing it – top performing apps update regularly to stay on top of design trends, security issues, and new devices.

This is a big reason native apps are more cost effective and easier to develop than hybrid – maintaining and updating a native app is a much simpler process.

The tortoise and the hare

If you’re developing an app the right way, there’s no such thing as easy development. You can, however, save a lot of headaches and backtracking by carefully planning and building your app. Do as much research as you can, and continuously test your app as you build it. Remember – slow and steady wins the race.

How to: Get a low cost app developed

What’s the key to low cost mobile app development? Preparedness. But how are you supposed to know how to prepare if you’ve never built an app before?

Well, as soon as it began, your search is over – below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to the quickest and most affordable model of mobile app development: MVP.

Really quick – before we get into it, let’s go over what a Minimum Viable Product is (when it comes to apps, at least). A MVP is an app that focuses on solving its main pain point, and very little else. All features, design, and graphics focus on helping to provide a solution to the main pain point – hence the term “minimum.”

MVPs do one thing, and they do it well.

Now, here’s how you make one:

Step 1: Research

This is all about how to build an app for the lowest cost possible; and the key to all development costs boils down to one singular ingredient – time.

Your app’s design is crafted through a combination of creative thinking, mouse clicks, and keystrokes; your app’s code is built by process-oriented imagination, and a whole lot of keys being pressed in rapid succession on a keyboard. There’s nothing magical about the development of an app.

Now, this isn’t written with the intention of giving the impression that developing an app is easy – quite the opposite, in fact. Building an app is kind of like writing an interactive choose-your-own-adventure novel, but it’s written in a language computers can understand, while also remaining readable for us humans.

And in order to pull that off in a streamlined, cost-effective manner, you need to complete all of your research before going to a developer with your app.

Find out why we recommend against using services like Appy Pie or app design templates to build your app.

The first step to research is…

Determining your pain point

All apps are beholden to one goal: solving their pain point. For a MVP to be a MVP, however, it must only provide the solution to its pain point. Any feature included in a MVP app must play a role in helping to solve this problem – this is to ensure no time is wasted spent developing out features that aren’t truly needed for users to receive enjoyment and benefit from your app.

The reason this is your first step taken on the road of app development is because everything that you do during the development process will be determined by the pain point of your app – from the market research you conduct to the features your developers implement.

A good pain point is both marketable and actionable – meaning there’s an audience or group of people who want a solution to this particular problem, and are willing to do something about said problem.

Let’s say you’re making an app like BrewTrader – just for some context, it’s an app that gives craft beer enthusiasts a platform to find and trade beers with other users.

Take a second to analyze that sentence. You know you’ve come up with a good pain point when you can explain the whole idea of your app in one sentence. Think of it like a thesis statement; if you can’t construct a grammatically correct sentence that covers the entirety of your app’s functionality, your MVP isn’t focused enough. It should be succinct, but meaty.

After knowing the problem you want to solve, and how you want to help solve it, you can move on to the next step of research:

Competitive analysis

This step serves two purposes – it gives you an idea of what your competitors are currently doing (obviously) – but more importantly, it will serve as a roadmap for ideating your app’s feature set.

If you want your app’s development to be quick, (and therefore low cost), you’ll need to know every feature your app will utilize; this includes knowing details like where in the user flow a feature will exist, how it will interact with the user, and if you’ll need supplemental features or APIs in order to properly implement the original feature.

Download the top three competitors and use their apps for at least one session from start to finish. Get an understanding of what they do correctly, and make a note for later. Then, go find the lowest rated app (be careful about security risks) in the same category, and pay attention to what they did wrong.

Knowing what’s incorrect is just as important as knowing proper UI/UX design. It helps to prevent you from making a decision that might seem like the makings of a previously-unimagined and creative UI/UX solution – but there is more than likely a reason the top performers use the UI/UX flow they already have.

Also, begin your ASO research now – pay attention to keywords the top competitors are using. When starting out with a new app on the App Store or Google Play, pick five keywords, and focus in on those.

Market research and marketing

There’s a million different options for conducting your market research, but some key data to be aware of are:

  • Target age range (different age groups respond to different mobile marketing strategies)
  • Target preferred platform (we recommend iOS if you’re starting with a MVP)
  • Target interests

As soon as you know what your app will be called, you have a logo, and you have a description of what your app will do, build a website. Even if you only have content for one landing page, make it, and make it live.

SEO takes a while to take hold, and having something to link back to within your social campaigns will help to build a solid SEO foundation. Apps on the App Store and Google Play require both SEO and ASO to thrive – so don’t neglect either.

Speaking of social media, you’ll want to make sure you’re putting out as much content as possible. Speak to the voice of your app’s brand, of course, but don’t be afraid to open up a little. Everyone understands that when they’re interacting with a brand’s social media account, they’re talking to an actual human being.

Be open and honest and genuine – know your target audience’s interests, and speak to them. To steal advice from Gary V, if they like the Red Sox, talk about the most recent Sox game. Engage with your followers more than you advertise to them. Then, every once in a while, sprinkle in some native content that speaks about your app’s brand, or the features it will provide, or where you are in development.

People love documentation. You can easily create content for social media by documenting the journey you’re on through the development of your MVP app – take one long-form piece of content, and build a few pieces from it each day. Then cater those pieces to each social platform your brand is on. All of a sudden, you’ll be running a fully-fledged social campaign based on a single piece of content (that you didn’t even have to take time out of your day to make).

MVP development

Whether you’re developing an MVP app or a fully-kitted-out enterprise level app, the actual process of coding remains largely the same – the only difference is the time table, which is shorter with a MVP, due to the limited feature set that needs to be built and implemented.

The importance placed on knowing your feature set in and out comes into play here – the most effective and efficient way to ensure easy, low cost app development is to make sure there’s no unanswered questions between your vision, what you want, and how you want it to work.

The clearer of a picture you can give, the more information, and the more concrete of a user flow you can produce for a developer, the better. It’s always important to take your developer’s advice, but relying on your own research and business acumen can help speed up the process.

One thing to keep in mind with (and this is specific to) MVP development is that everything doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect. Don’t confuse this with the idea that it’s okay to make a sloppy app – but understand that as long as your users know that your app is in a semi-beta stage, they’ll be more forgiving.

This is why a strong, personal, and open social media presence is so crucial to a MVP app’s success; in order to properly distribute the message that your app is starting with humbler-than-most beginnings (but improvements will be coming), you need to be able to have frank, honest, transparent conversations with your followers. And, they need to be willing to listen.

The purpose of a MVP app is fast, efficient development – the efficiency truly begins to shine after a MVP app’s initial development.

The second word in the acronym MVP is viable. It might be the most barebones version of a product, but it’s still viable. What this means for you is that you can charge for it. Whether your app goes with a pay-to-play model, or subscription to a service, or with sales from ad revenue, you can begin to make a profit from your MVP as soon as it takes hold on the App Store or Google Play.

Post MVP development

As soon as your app is launched on the App Store or Google Play, make sure:

  1. Your ASO is in place and ready to go
  2. Your website reflects the launch of your app
  3. Your social media has (and will continue to) promote your app’s launch

Take the revenue you’re making from your live MVP app, and start implementing updates. Make sure updates focus on fixing bugs, fixing security risks, and providing quality of life improvements to the UI and UX flow.

Be vocal and transparent about what your updates will accomplish and feature – use both social media and push notifications to advertise these updates.

Be aware that when you’re advertising, you need to be extremely aware of just who you’re engaging with. Older generations, like generation X, prefer value-based advertising. As your target market gets younger, they will expect more personalized advertising – in order to properly do this, it’s necessary to use an app analytics platform. Our favorite is Kumulos.

Be prepared, but be ready to adapt

Knowing what you’re getting into is the most important step you can take to ensuring low cost development – but, always be ready for something unexpected to pop up.

To learn more about the in’s-and-out’s of MVP app development, check out our blogs on:

And, for more about planning out an ASO campaign, check out our ASO: 101 blog post.

With carefully planned feature sets, a concrete layout and vision, and some well-planned and executed social media, SEO, and ASO, you can both shorten your app’s development schedule, and lessen your need for monetary investment; giving you the ability to make an app now, and capitalize on an untapped market – rather than waiting for outside investment and finding a highly competitive and saturated playing field.

How design impacts mobile cost

Did you know a full service development shop will put, on average, 100 to 120 hours into designing an app’s UI/UX? That’s a significant amount time – and when dealing with large scale apps, such as social media platforms – or even larger design projects, like mobile games, design hours can skyrocket into the thousands of hours.

Let’s look into why this is.

The process of designing an app

There’s a step-by-step process most mobile design teams will follow, starting from even before rough sketches. This process dictates the workflow from the first hours of working on a project all the way to building the UI/US itself in the actual code of the app.

Let’s go over those steps:

Doing your homework

First things first, do your research. Designers will usually spend at least a few hours looking at apps that exist in the same space as the one they’re about to design. This is done for a couple reasons; there’s no point in reinventing the wheel, and it gives designers a good grasp of what app users have already come to expect from apps in the same category.

With this information, designers are able to take what works from those competitors, and after critical analysis, determine what they can improve upon, or what can be changed to fit the brand of the app in order to provide a more meaningful experience. There’s another added benefit to performing a competitor analysis before starting design – it helps the design team avoid stepping on the toes of any IPs.

Logo Design

Unless the design team is working on an enterprise level app for an already existing company, you app is most likely going to need a logo for the App Store or Google Play. A good development shop will have the capability to design you app’s logo – and it’s a good idea to keep this part of the design process in-house.

Designers are specialized, just like any profession – there’s a reason the tech industry distinguishes between web dev and mobile. A print designer will make a good looking magazine, a t-shirt designer will make a cool graphic tee, and a UI/UX designer will design a logo optimized for ASO, user acquisition, and your app’s brand.

Depending on your app’s brand, designing a logo can take anywhere from 5 to 50 hours.

There’s a lot we could talk about when it comes to properly designing a logo for an app. Maybe we’ll cover it, down the road.

Wireframes and layout

If you’re not familiar with the term wireframes, this step starts out as the “sketching on the back of a napkin phase,” and ends with a fully structured (at least visually) app. This step in the design process can take from 20 to 50 hours, and if it’s a large, complex app, even longer than that. While this is a significant amount of time, it’s absolutely necessary, and critical to the success of your app.

I’d go as far as to argue this is the most important step of visually designing an app – building out the wireframes and overall layout of an app is, essentially, deciding the entirety of the app’s UX in a single step of the development process. Sure, during other steps in the design process, you can make topical changes to an app’s UX (such as color schemes to influence certain moods), but changes such as these don’t carry nearly as much weight as the actual flow of the app itself.

A proper wireframe layout will include all the information someone would need to understand how the app will work – while boxes will lack graphics, they will include language that denotes what information will be held within those visual boundaries, as well as how it will interact with the elements around it (aspects such as movement, scrolling, fading, or other interactions).

This step also lays the groundwork for an incredibly important, but often under-appreciated element of your app’s design – its negative space. The space surrounding the individual elements of your app like text, or boxes are called gutters. While their name might not be pretty, if your apps gutters aren’t uniform, users will notice, and be extremely thrown off – and worst of all, they won’t know why – they’ll just have a subconscious feeling that something is off about your app.

Design is a language everyone can implicitly understand, and when there’s a change in the uniformity of a product, especially an interactive one, our brains are wired to pick up on it. We are built to recognize patters, and when those patterns are broken, our brain sends off a warning light that’s incredibly difficult to get rid of.

When there’s a difference in the spacing of your app, even just a few lines of text, users will notice immediately notice.

UI Design

Designers will then take those wireframe layouts and turn them into the finalized interface for the app. This is the step where designers will make your app’s icons, decide and implement font styles, finalize the motion of the UI (the way the app responds to users interactions), and implement the feature set (in the form of interactive visual elements).

Something I believe is important to impart is that designers don’t just make things look pretty – just like there’s a backend to development, so to is there a backend to design. The previous step, building out wireframes, is akin to determining your APIs – and this step, UI design, is the equivalent to connecting the endpoints.

It’s a designers job to translate a tech doc into a visually interactive and stimulating experience that fits on a (relatively) small screen, is compelling, cohesive, and helps them solve a pain point they face in their lives by the most efficient path possible. There’s a lot more to UI design than selecting colors.

A designer’s day is basically one continuously reoccurring A/B test. Questions like “Does the placement of this button add to the overall UX, or detract from it?,” plague a designer’s day.

UI design can take anywhere from 30 to 100 hours, depending on the complexity of your app.

Prototyping

This step in the design process serves as the bridge between designing an app, and actually coding it. While it does add an extra step to the process, it does help to cut down on time spent revising your app after it’s already been coded however.

Development shops use this step as what I like to refer to as an “island of stability.” It serves as the benchmark for all development moving forward, because the prototype is the, after the wireframes, the first real interactive product shown to you, the client.

A prototype is designed to be as close to the imagined finalized app as possible – from UI movement to font sizes. Prototyping tools are used to demo the feature set of the app, and should demonstrate the entirety of the app’s functionality.

This is as such so you, the client, are able to determine what works, and what doesn’t. Once a design and feature set have been agreed upon by everyone, it’s time to move onto the final step of the design process.

You can expect prototyping to take anywhere from 5 to 15 hours, or more for complex apps.

Build out the UI/UX in actual code

This is where developers will take a backseat in the design process, and your developers will step in. While the designers might not be as involved with your app’s development from this point onwards, they aren’t out of the picture entirely.

In order to build out and code the actual app, developers must translate the visual elements of your app’s design into code. In order to do this, they need to develop their own structure to keep everything in its place.

To code the design of an app, programmers must hook up features that need to access servers or other outside data to the backend, as well as create the app’s individual design elements in code. In order to maintain your app’s quality and brand, programmers will make sure your app looks the same, no matter what screen resolution it’s being displayed on.

If your app is being developed for both Android and iOS, this means your developers will need to make sure it looks and works the same, whether it’s on an iPhone or a Samsung. This will, at the very least, double your app’s development time, and why most dev shops will caution appreneures to start out with a single platform.