How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide

It’s no secret that smartphones are quickly becoming intrinsic multi-tools that enhance our productivity, our access to information, and pretty much everything else in our daily lives. The meteoric rise of mobile devices is indeed a shake-up to an already volatile and new industry itself; it’s almost difficult to believe that mobile devices account for 63% of all internet traffic, a 6% rise from 2017.

Out of that 63% of mobile internet traffic, a whopping 90% was spent using apps. Just like the total increase of mobile traffic, app usage grew by 6% from 2017 to 2018 – a dip from the 11% between 2016 to 2017 – but still a significant amount of growth nonetheless, especially when accounting for certain app genres, like games, which are seeing users spending both more time and money on their interactions.

This is a trend that isn’t expected to stop any time soon, and if you’re an entrepreneur, or the CEO of a fortune 500 company, and you don’t have an app to enhance your business (or engage your customers), it’s time to get one.

Chapter 1: Native vs. Hybrid Development

Chapter 2: iOS Development and Swift Code

Chapter 3: How to find the perfect mobile app developer

Chapter 4: ASO 101

So, how do you go about making an app?

Building an app

Before we get into the intricacies of app creation, let’s go over what we’re going to cover in our How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide.

  • The platforms available to you, and the code that makes them work
  • How to properly design your app
  • How to find and communicate with developers
  • Different types of development
  • App Store Optimization and how users engage with the App Store
  • Usage, keyword, and design trends
  • How to measure, grow, and ensure your app’s chance of success over its lifetime

For the next 22 weeks we’re going to dive deep into every facet of app development, from the very basics and first steps, to user retention and acquisition strategies. This is the How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide after all, so strap yourself in for a five-month-long ride down the app creation highway.

For now, here’s an introduction to each topic:

The platforms available to you, and the code that makes them work

Mobile Platforms

When it comes to platforms, there are two main players; iOS and Android. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks when comparing the two – iOS provides greater stability and Android allows for more customization.

Apps that run on iOS are programmed using Swift, the most current iteration of the language being Swift 4. Swift can be used to code for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. This is handy, as it gives you the ability to code for all Apple products while only requiring the knowledge of one language, but it limits your potential audience.

When programming for Android, there are many languages available to you: Java, C and C++, Go, and Kotlin – the most popular being Java. Android is open source, which gives you free reign to modify and distribute Android’s code at no charge. Android is used on a wide variety of mobile devices, which gives you the potential to open up a greater range of revenue streams, but this can also slow down your app’s development.

When it comes to choosing a platform for your app, there isn’t a right or wrong option – and frequently, the best answer is both. In the future, we’ll be looking more into the intricacies of developing for both iOS and Android.

How to properly design your app

App Design

App design is like butter on toast; not enough, and you’re in for a bland experience – too much, and you’re not sure whether you should eat it or throw it out to give your arteries a break. Due to user experience (UX) being so entwined with user retention and acquisition rates (as well as user ratings) an app’s design can make or break its chances of success.

Design trends are changing all the time, so it’s important to update your app to not only keep it secure, but to also ensure it stays relevant. User reviews are a great source to pay attention to when planning your app’s design – but always err on the side of caution when designing your app – if you can scrape some butter off of that toast without sacrificing flavor, get rid of the unneeded butter.

In the future, we’re going to cover app design principles from the ground up.

How to find and communicate with developers

Finding App Developers

There’s a multitude of developers out there, so how do you figure out which one is the best for you?

Rather than searching Google, it’s best to start with Clutch. Clutch is a website dedicated to providing a platform for entrepreneurs and businesses to search for developers that fit their specific needs, and is a great resource for vetting teams when deciding on a development partner.

As we cover development pitfalls and best practices, we’ll go into detail about how to ensure time spent building your app is never wasted, as well as tips on how to communicate effectively with your development team.

Different types of development

App Development

There’s plenty of fish in the sea, just as there’s a myriad of methods to structuring and planning your app’s development. The most common are Skyscraper, Agile, and Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

In short, the Skyscraper method relies on heavy planning and market research, Agile focuses on utilizing an adaptive, responsive method of development, and MVPs are used to quickly and efficiently produce a bear-bones, but workable app, intended to be enhanced upon after being brought to market.

In the future, we’ll cover how to figure out which development style will work best for you.

App Store Optimization and how users engage with the App Store

App Store

App Store Optimization (ASO) is crucial to your app’s chance of success. Just like SEO, ASO relies on utilizing keywords that users regularly search for, which are then paired with your app’s total downloads, user retention, user ratings, and user reviews, which culminate to form your app’s ranking in the App Store or Google Play. Apps with higher scores in these categories will be listed above lower-scoring apps during searches, giving them access to a wider audience.

Most app downloads come directly from the App Store’s search function. The two largest discovery channels in the App Store are the search function, coming in at 20%, and word-of-mouth, coming in at 15%. This exemplifies the importance of both keywords and UX, as users are much more likely to recommend an app to a friend if their experiences using the app are positive, as opposed to negative or even mediocre. Interestingly enough, negative word-of-mouth spreads much faster than positive, doubling the importance of your app’s UX.

In our How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide, we’ll spend a lot of time covering ASO best practices, pitfalls, and proven user acquisition and retention strategies.

Usage, keyword, and design trends

User trends

Your app’s ranking, design, and user experience aren’t set in stone. Trends can make or break your app’s growth, so knowing the resources and options available to you in order to stay at the crest of these trends is crucial to your app’s success.

Your customer’s usage patterns will morph based on a plethora of factors, from simply-recognized time-of-day patterns to seasonal usage patterns influenced by weather, or even geographical differences. For example, productivity apps are used more during the day, while mobile games are used more during the evening. An app that tracks waves for surfers to catch will perform well in costal areas, while a snow-plow service app would perform better in cold regions during the winter.

ASO is ever changing – for example, certain keywords (especially those that are holiday related) can perform better during certain seasons, and should be implemented only at particular times. Keyword trends are forever changing, and it’s imperative to keep up with those trends to maintain your audience’s engagement and growth.

Even the design of your app is expected to change over time – mobile devices are constantly improving and changing, and your design must follow suit to compensate with larger screen resolutions and more powerful processors. There are trends in mobile design as well, which evolve frequently, and paying attention to the UX innovations of your competitors can give you an edge on how to do it better (simpler is always better), and stay up to date.

In the future, we’ll go into more detail about the methods and resources available to help you stay on top of upcoming keyword and design trends.

How to measure, grow, and ensure your app’s chance of success over its lifetime

App Growth

There’s never a fool-proof method to ensure a 100% success rate with any app, let alone any facet of life, but there are tools and options available to you to help ensure your app is successful in the marketplace.

There are tons of analytical services to choose from, ranging from touchscreen heat mapping and user session tracking and recording, to crash monitoring and realtime alerts.

If you’re keeping up with your ASO, and providing users with regular updates to stay on top of trends, you’re already headed in the right direction. Partnering with the right developer can spell either the success or failure of your app as well, so knowing how to shop for and speak with development teams is a crucial step in providing yourself with a stable foundation to build upon.

Over the next few months, we’ll dive deep into all of these topics, covering app creation from start to finish. Next week, we’ll cover tips on how to be a successful appreneur.

How Much Does it Cost to Make an App?

Spoiler: Want to know what your app idea will cost? Use our Mobile App Cost Calculator

The Short Answer

  • Simple apps typically cost less than $37,500
  • Medium apps typically cost between $100,000 – $150,000
  • Complex apps typically cost above $500,000

Source: Clutch

Hourly Cost of Mobile App Developer

  • Low Cost App Developer: $85-$105 per hour
  • Mid Cost App Developer: $105-$125 per hour
  • High Cost App Developer: $125-$175 per hour
  • Very High Cost App Developer: $175-$300 per hour

Now Let’s Dive Into How Much it Costs to Make an App

mobile app development cost

So, your business is in the market for an app, and you’ve received quotes ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, or $250,000 to $1,000,000. What’s causing the discrepancy? Are the high estimates from developers trying to get more from you than their work is worth? Are the low estimates indicative of low quality development?

Like most everything in life, the answer is rarely black and white. Before shopping for an app developer, it’s important to recognize the scope of your idea. Does your app require graphics, back-end integration, or augmented reality? Every feature your app requires adds another degree of complexity, and with it, a rising cost.

The more complex your app is, the more hours are put into development, which is a major factor in determining your app’s price point. Keep in mind that different developers will use varying production strategies, from the skyscraper method, to Minimum Viable Product – but we’ll get to that later.

Variables That Impact Mobile App Development Costs

Let’s go over some of the most significant variables that affect the cost of your app:

  • Back-end integration
  • Graphics
  • Platform
  • Features

Back-end Integration

Back End Integration

Just like your website, some apps require a back-end infrastructure. Building this infrastructure can incur a significant increase in the cost of your app, as it requires developers with expertise in additional skill sets, such as data tables, data architecture, and data administration, to name a few. Certain apps, especially those that are natively developed, will require an even higher level of complexity, based on custom databases and APIs, which often lack documentation.

Most back-end infrastructures require user management, with tasks ranging from adding, modifying, and deleting user accounts, to processing password changes. If your app has a back-end that is integrated with your website, the complexity of your app’s architecture can increase exponentially.

Graphics

Mobile App Design

If you’re a marketer, you know the addition of graphic design elements can dramatically increase the cost of any campaign, and for apps, it’s no different. The average salary for a mobile app designer in the U.S. is $58,500, about $12,000 more when compared to the average income of a traditional graphic designer. This discrepancy in salary widens when a mobile designer has a graphical skill set as well as a technical one, and requires the development team to invest in infrastructure needed to support graphics development. Hiring a development team with graphic-heavy capabilities will significantly add to the final cost of your app.

Graphic design elements in apps include 3D graphics, visual transitions, and static art. Often, an app will run multiple types of graphics at once, requiring robust infrastructure to ensure your app runs smoothly from front to back end. These initial costs, however, can lead to higher profits when compared to apps with little to no graphic elements. Of the top 50 grossing apps on Google Play, only one app is not a game requiring heavy graphics – Tinder. The top 50 grossing apps on the iTunes App Store have a much lower ratio of games compared to business or productivity apps, but most still require heavy graphical capabilities.

Customized graphics do come at a higher cost, but markets show a trend of rewarding graphic-heavy apps over those with little to no graphic elements. Like every step in determining what is best for your app, it’s important to consider the problem your app is trying to solve; if you’re a business looking to create an app to help increase efficiency internally, graphics are probably not an important factor, but if your app is intended for your customer base, graphic design elements can give you a leg up on your competition.

Platform

Android vs iOS Development

Android and iOS are currently the leading platforms in mobile app development. Both platforms require different coding languages, Android mainly using Java, and iOS using Swift. Android apps cost about 30% more than iPhone apps to develop, primarily because android apps require more time in their development cycle, due to their open source and customizable nature. For more information about Android mobile app development, visit our Android dev page.

When developing an app for Android, it’s important to note your app will be used on a variety of mobile devices. In contrast, apps designed for iOS, while lacking the customizable nature of Android, boast high levels of robustness and stability, as iOS is used on a relatively small number of devices that receive regular updates, reducing the number of OS versions your app must support. For more information about iOS mobile app development, visit our iOS dev page.

Features

What features does your app require? When deciding what your app needs to function, it’s important to keep in mind that the addition of more features directly affects the cost of your app. Features range from buttons, fields, and screens, to geo-location, camera integration, or in-app purchases. Each feature adds to the code required to run your app, from displaying screen elements to ensuring necessary functionality.

The more features your app has, the more hours it takes to develop, and the more expensive it will be. While it’s impossible to determine exactly how many hours each feature will add to your app’s total build time, it’s always safe to assume each feature set will incur an additional cost on your end.

Let’s use mapping as an example of what goes into a feature set. This example app directs users to destinations, providing routes, directions, and real-time updates. What appears to the user as one function – getting from point A to point B – is actually comprised of multiple separate features: Mapping, GPS, navigation, real-time updating, real-time audio instructions, and back end integration with existing map data and servers. The app might provide push notifications so users can receive route updates while running the app in the background; the app might even include augmented reality aspects to help distinguish destinations. The app may use the device’s accelerometer, cloud networking with other devices to determine traffic patterns, and third party tool integration to collect user location data.

All of these features will enhance your user experience, but will add to development cost. For each feature, testing must be conducted to ensure your app remains robust on both the front and back end, which can be compounded if your app is intended to run on multiple platforms. There’s a simple equation to keep in mind when deciding what features your app requires; Concept + Features = Cost.

Features are undoubtedly the most important aspect of your app. The most well-designed app won’t perform well on the marketplace if it doesn’t function properly. It’s not only important, but necessary to ensure every feature is tested thoroughly to prevent bugs which can reduce your app’s user retention. Don’t skimp on testing in order to trim your budget, as every cent put into your app’s features and functionality will pay off.

New technologies, such as wearables, will require dedicated support, adding additional coding needs to run your app. The more features and platforms you add to the scope of your app, the more hours of development are required, which in turn raises the cost. It’s important to know the exact problem you are trying to solve with your app, to ensure you only include features necessary to the function of your app, and help reduce needless additional costs.

How Design Impacts Mobile App Development Costs

A well-designed app will be more costly when compared to a less robust design, as to be expected. The time put into design is usually well worth the investment, however, as good design will improve the user experience of your app, which can directly improve your app’s ROI.

While browsing through potential app purchases, a customer is much more likely to be drawn in by a screenshot of a well-designed app, which leads to a higher download and use rate. Keep in mind that design costs can vary wildly from developer to developer, especially when considering the background of the designer.

A web developer will probably cost less to design your app, but a mobile designer will most likely have a clearer idea of space restrictions and user flow. It’s like bringing your pet into a doctor rather than a vet – the doctor knows the internal structure of a human, and can give a good guess as to whether or not your pet is healthy, but a vet will have a clearer understanding of the specific problems your pet faces.

It’s also important to remember to not over-design your app. Like any well-designed software, unnecessary elements detract from the quality of your app and reduce your users’ experience.

Other Factors That Affect Mobile App Development Cost

Your app’s complexity directly affects the amount of programming needed for the creation of a functional and robust app. The complexity level of a mobile app can be classified as low, medium, and high. This level can then be used to calculate an estimated range for the development cost.

We encourage you to download these apps to get a feel for their level of complexity.

Low Complexity (<$37,500) :

Low Complexity Mobile App

A simple app is typically based on tables. Your development cost can be lowered by providing your development team with complete content, image examples, and clear intentions. No matter the complexity, it’s always important to know exactly what problem your app is designed to solve, thereby reducing time spent discussing back-and-forth with your developers.

To further reduce waste and cost, consider creating graphics for your app in-house, especially if you already have a dedicated graphic designer. Your team might not know how to code graphics into your app, but developers can use standard .png file types to create functional graphic elements. Remember, adding features such as GPS locators or social media integration will add additional cost, and will equate to a noticeable rise in price at this complexity level.

Tip: Before sending image files to your developer, name the files according to the developer’s naming conventions. Doing so can help save development time and ensure effective and optimized app production.

Medium Complexity ($100,000 – $150,000) :

Medium Complexity App

A basic database app is typically classified at a medium complexity – if your team provides all of the necessary content. As the name suggests, database apps are inherently driven by data, so most of your developer’s work will be on the front end.

The primary determining factor of the development cost of a database app is the code needed to create your app’s logic and usability. If your database app is relatively simple, your developer can write most of the needed code based directly on the content you provide.

High Complexity (>$500,000):

High Complexity Apps

Complex apps, such as games, are much more difficult to estimate based on cost. The simplest of games need to track top scores, integrate with an online community, and usually require heavy, interacting graphics, which requires a significant amount of code.

Some games have incredibly high requirements for 3D graphics and sound, which require complex calculations. A game that makes use of a mobile device’s gyroscope, for instance, will be particularly expensive to code. Games, however, tend to boast higher ROI than other apps, as they’re usually downloaded in greater numbers.

Developer Costs

So, now that you know what goes into making an app, we can dive into how developers use different development and delivery models, and how that affects your bottom line.

As reported by Clutch, development time estimates can vary wildly. Simple apps take about 250 hours to develop, while medium apps require 1,000 hours, and complex apps clock in at about 5,000 hours. The hourly rate for a standard mobile app developer ranges from $100 to $150 per hour, providing a cost estimate of $25,000 to $37,500 for a simple app, $100,000 to $150,000 for a medium app, and $500,000 to $750,000 for a complex app.

Delivery Model

Just like any marketing campaign, dissemination of your app through the proper channels is paramount to your success in the market, and because of this, it’s important to consider the cost and methods of delivering your app to your customers. Delivery methods can include the following:

  • Software Development Kits (SDKs)
  • Sharing
  • Game center
  • In-app purchasing

SDKs

An SDK can be a highly effective method to track your app and promote monetization. Using an SDK is like adding another set of tools to your tool box. These pre-made software development tools can boost your apps’ analytics and advertising capabilities, or provide debugging and maintenance utilities, and much more. The average Android mobile app utilizes 15 SDKs, the most popular being advertising and analytics tools. Integrating your app with an SDK is generally a low-cost venture, but it becomes more expensive as your select more specific options.

The cost of using SDKs, such as AdMob, Applovin, Chartboost, Google Analytics, Tapjoy, and Xplode to distribute an app ranges from $50 to $200. When shopping for SDKs to enhance your app, be careful during your selection process. An SDK runs on separate code, and can violate your user’s privacy, or reduce your app’s performance – issues that may cause your app to be banned from Google Play or the iTunes App Store.

Share Capabilities

When it comes to sharing, all the usual suspects are available to you: social media, email, your website, or any other channel your marketing campaigns utilize. This cost factor is largely dependent on your own capabilities, options, and avenues of marketing, and can range from $500 to $1,500.

Game Center

Game Center

Integrating your app with Apple’s Game Center is a relatively straightforward process, provided you follow the rules carefully. Initial costs for adding your app to the Game Center totals about $1,000. Apple will keep 30% of each sale, and charges $99 per year to list your app in the Game Center.

Google Play

Integrating your app with Google Play is similar to Apple’s Game Center, with a one time fee of $25, and Google will also keep 30% of each sale, just like Apple.

In-App Purchasing

mobile App with In App Purchasing

In-app purchasing gives your users the ability to buy full versions of apps and new content for existing apps. Cost factors include the price of your app, and whether the entire content is available in a single app. The cost of in-app purchasing is between $1,000 and $3,000.

Development Models

Mobile app developers will use different models of development. A development model dictates your app’s production schedule, and how the development team works with each other and you, the client. The differing development models are as follows:

  • Skyscraper
  • Agile
  • Minimum Viable Product

Skyscraper

Imagine you’re building a skyscraper. What’s the first step? The foundation. Floors are then added onto the structure, slowly growing the structure in an additive, pre-planned process.

Developers can use this same process to plan, design, and implement your app. To successfully utilize the skyscraper method, you must first conduct all of your market research, know exactly how your marketing campaign will be implemented, and develop a concrete plan for how and what your app will achieve. Basically, you first lay the groundwork, and follow a regimented schedule for a successful development process, slowly adding onto your pre-conceived plan to create a final product.

This method ensures every member of your team, as well as the development team, know each step of the process, and know exactly what the final product should look like. However, if your market research is flawed, or there’s an unexpected hiccup in development, you could face extraneous costs or delays that are difficult to account for due to a rigid development style.

Agile

An agile development cycle is exactly what it sounds like – a development process with an over-arching plan, designed to account for unexpected issues, or changing market demographics.

A typical agile development cycle is characterized by “sprints,” usually lasting two weeks. During that time, developers will identify a goal to achieve within the sprint, and begin coding based on that goal. Individuals of the development team will end each day with a short catch-up meeting to discuss what they achieved, the issues they faced that day, and how they will proceed the following day. This allows the development team to adapt to issues in an efficient, responsive manner, rather than fixing outstanding issues after the main cycle of development.

At the end of a sprint, the development team will meet to discuss the goals they achieved, and plan out the next sprint.

Minimum Viable Product

Known colloquy as an MVP, or a minimum feature set, MVPs are a product with just enough features to satisfy its first users.

MVPs rely on a fluid, responsive development schedule. Typically, a development team will produce the bare bones of the app, and then release the app onto the market. Based on user feedback, the development cycle will continue, adding features and processes as users request them. This allows you to build your app with little up-front cost, ensuring a lower risk of failure due to incorrect assumptions regarding your app’s value to the customer.

For more information on MVPs, visit our MVP page.

Now that you know how much it costs to make a mobile app, do you think you are ready?

For every mobile app, the development costs will differ – even identical apps could vary in cost depending on resources available, your production timeline, development structure, and many more factors.

Want a personalized cost assessment based on your needs and vision? Take our survey to see if you’re ready to start development on your app. We’ll analyze your responses and assign a score to determine how ready you are for a mobile application development project.

Take our Survey to see if you’re ready for an application

The Hidden Costs Of Building Mobile Apps

Hidden Costs of Mobile App DevelopmentThe quick answer:

Hidden costs of mobile app development include the following:

Many of the costs to develop a mobile app are relatively easy to predict. Especially the upfront costs. But, app development also incurs costs that may not be apparent if you’ve never done it before.

These costs can be particularly troublesome when you’re in a committed project before you’re aware of them. At this point, the only practical solution is likely to invest additional money that may not be within your original budget.

The process of developing a budget for your mobile app begins with an estimation of the major, upfront costs. After this step is complete, you can begin accounting for the less obvious, long-term costs. Keep in mind that the hidden costs can sometimes be greater than the upfront costs, especially for a successful app.

Standard Mobile App Development Costs

The standard costs of app development include development and marketing:

Development Costs

The development costs of a mobile app include the interface, prototyping and testing.

The quality of the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are some of the first factors you need to consider when developing an app. You may choose a basic UI/UX that emphasizes functionality rather than appearance.

A medium-level UI/UX may have a greater level of detail, but may still look like many of the apps already on the market. A high-end interface will have a polished design with custom widgets that give it a unique look and feel.

A very simple app may not require prototyping, but most apps have multiple features, interactions, and integrations that make prototyping worthwhile. This process involves developing just enough of the app’s functionality to give developers a good feel for how the full version should perform. A typical prototype may consist of five fully developed screens.

Testing is an essential development phase for all apps. You’ll typically install the app on several devices to see how they function under real-world conditions. Native tools will be necessary to test the performance of native apps. This phase should account for 10 to 20 percent of the app’s total development budget.

Marketing Costs

You shouldn’t expect an app to sell well just because you’ve built it and uploaded it to an app store. Even if it’s better than similar apps already on the market, it will still need to overcome the brand loyalty of the existing apps’ customers.

A proper marketing strategy for a new mobile app can cost anywhere from $5,000 – $100,000 each month. Many small businesses also use Growth Hack techniques to experiment with methods of increasing their app’s popularity.

Hidden Mobile App Development Costs

The hidden costs of mobile app development include the following:

Back-end Hosting

The processes in a mobile app may be classified into front-end and back-end processes. Front-end processes include the interface and in addition to the code that accepts and displays information. The development of these processes is relatively easy to understand and include in the budgets.

However, you may not realize that most apps also require a back end to store and access the data that was obtained by the front end. An app’s back end may be a web service or Application Programmer Interface (API), which often must be hosted separately.

It may also take the form of cloud storage, which includes the full functionality of a web server or API. Either way, the app’s back end will incur a monthly hosting charge based on the provider and amount of storage the app requires.

Developer Account

App stores require developers to maintain an account that allows them to upload and store apps. The fees for a developer account are small compared to other development costs, but some of them are recurring charges.

For example, developer accounts for the Amazon and Apple app stores currently cost $99 per year. The Google Play store charges a one-time fee of $25, while the Windows store charges businesses a one-time fee of $99.

Operating System Updates

Mobile operating systems (OSs) are routinely updated with bug fixes, security patches and additional functionality. These changes frequently require developers to changes their apps, which can incur unexpected and highly variable costs. Updates that allow apps to take advantage of an OS’s added functionality may also be needed to remain competitive with newer apps.

In the case of bug fixes and security patches, the app may need to be updated just to keep it running safely. Much of an app’s maintenance budget should be devoted to keeping it secure. Once hackers learn of a vulnerability in an OS, they can quickly develop malware to exploit it.

These programs can impair an app’s functionality or even gain access to confidential information. Some security issues may also require the services of a specialized consultant to resolve them.

Consumer Feedback

Consumer feedback is an essential method of identifying ways an app can be improved. The major app stores all have the capability of allowing expert reviewers and regular users to provide feedback on apps. This feedback should result in many changes to an app, especially if it’s just been uploaded to the store.

New Devices

Mobile app developers are often surprised to learn that they will need to support additional devices. For example, a native Android app won’t work on an iPhone and vice versa. Developers who want their apps to use native capabilities will generally need to develop a separate app for each platform.

However, in some cases, it may be possible to develop a hybrid app that only requires minor tweaks to work on another platform.

Maintenance and Support

Developers must view a mobile app as an ongoing project that requires periodic maintenance rather than one that only requires a one-time investment. An app requires regular changes to retain its intended functionality and add the new features needed by its users. The cost of maintaining and supporting an app often exceeds its development costs.

Get A Detailed Mobile App Estimate

When working with a developer, it’s critical to work with a trustworthy, proven company that you can feel confident in. On top of that, you should still be as explicit and specific about your budget, your expectations and any other details surrounding the app you want developed.

Want to get a better idea of what your mobile app will cost to develop? Read this article: How Much Does It Cost To Make An App? or call us with any questions at 804-616-3546.

Why You Should Not Build an App for Free

don't create an app for freeHere’s a common situation in the app world: a person has an idea for an app and wants to move forward with it.

But, that person doesn’t have the financing to pay a developer or the application development chops to do it on their own. That leads folks to investigate the options for building an app for free.

There are really three basic options for building apps for free or at a nominal cost. These include:

  • Paying a developer with equity
  • Building an app with DIY tools
  • Learning how to write the code yourself

The first option – paying with equity – actually often results in a higher development cost over the long term when compared to hiring a professional developer. And the second and third options are often just farfetched, with many people starting down that path and realizing they don’t have the time or true desire to learn the programs and languages needed to build a reliable app.

However, if you’re dead-set on making your app a reality, you’ll probably investigate each of these avenues in more depth. So, we’ll walk through each of the options with you and help you understand why, in most cases, it’s best to avoid the “free” options for building your app.

Using Equity Shares To Finance Your App

You may be tempted to offer a contractor a share of your company in exchange for developing a minimum viable product (MVP) in addition to future support.

However, it’s almost always better to pay for the development up front, which should typically include at least six months of maintenance. If you don’t have this much cash on hand, you might consider applying for a line of credit to cover it.

Assume for this example that you wish to offer a contractor 5% equity, which is at the low end for developing an MVP. The cost of this service is typically in the range of $10,000 to $15,000, so this strategy only makes sense if you consider your company to be worth no more than $200,000 to $300,000.

Your company may be worth less than this if your idea is all you have to offer towards your company’s future success, even if it’s a good idea. On the other hand, your company is probably worth more than $300,000 if you can make other contributions towards success such as executive management, fundraising or sales.

Furthermore, a contractor is unlikely to provide future support if you’re only compensating them with equity. Assume the contractor agrees to provide development and support for two years, with the transfer of equity spread out over this period.

The contractor in this arrangement will have leverage over you and will be likely to ask you for more equity at some point because they’ll know you’re completely dependent upon them for technical guidance.

If you agree, you’ll give up more of your business. Even if you refuse, you’ll still lose out because the contractors can simply walk off with whatever equity they currently have, leaving you without the support you were counting on.

While 5% equity is a minimal figure for developing an app, it’s still more than the 1-3% that early-stage technical employees typically receive. That means you’re paying more to a temporary contractor than an employee who actually has a vested interest in your company’s success.

In this case, it would be better to give the equity to the employee who is dedicated to your company than a contractor who likely has other clients. Even though you’re also paying employees a salary, you will still get more buy-in from an early tech-hire than a contractor.

Another disadvantage of offering equity is that it keeps you from hiring the developer full-time. Even though you aren’t paying the contractor anything, you’ll almost certainly have to sign an iron-clad contract that prevents you from poaching the contractor’s employees.

Using DIY Tools To Create Your App For Free

Why You Should Not Build an App for Free

DIY tools like Appy Pie, ShoutEm and SwifTec allow non-programmers to develop mobile apps. While they do allow you to develop simple apps without writing code, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to develop a robust app – or any app with customized features – with these tools.

About Appy Pie

Appy Pie is a tool for creating mobile apps on all the major mobile operating systems (OSs), including Android, iOS and Windows Phone. It also allows users to monetize their apps with its own marketplace.

You can use Appy Pie to create forms, such as those that might be used in a simple survey or quiz and create an app with Appy Pie that links to these forms on an external source. However, you won’t be able to create complex forms, gather data or create statistics without additional development.

About ShoutEm

ShoutEm was originally a social app for mobile networks, although it’s now used to create mobile apps. You can use ShoutEm to develop apps with written content and multimedia files that allow users to select their favorite pages for quick access.

However, it won’t allow you to create in-app purchases, as is the case with some other app makers. You could get around this by creating a separate version for paying customers with additional content. Pages that allow users to input their own data would also not be possible with Shoutem.

About SwifTec

SwifTec is one of the most popular mobile app makers currently available and has helped to create over a million apps since 2010. Its customer loyalty features are some of SwifTec’s most distinctive characteristics.

These features can be a highly effective method of promoting discount coupons. You can use SwifTec to create an app for a store by integrating services from Etsy and Shopify or using a checkout feature from a payment service like PayPal.

However, you can’t create a composite seller app like eBay with SwiTec, as this capability would require a back-end that app makers can’t handle. One possible workaround to this limitation would be to create an app to host basic classified ads by using social post, although this approach wouldn’t enforce a consistent appearance for the posts.

Using Educational Tools To Build Your Own App

Learning how to build an app from scratch is something that’s possible, but it’s certainly a long-term approach to building an app. You’ll risk losing interest, someone else developing your app while you learn and many times you’ll still end up paying for part of the build even if you learn how to do part of it.

With that said, the most popular tools for teaching non-technical users how to program include Udemy, Codecademy and Udacity.

Udemy

Udemy is an online learning platform with over 10 million students currently enrolled. It offers more than 40,000 courses, which students primarily use to advance their careers or improve their personal education.

The biggest challenge with using Udemy for learning to program is that many of these courses are too short to provide the student with a solid background in the subject matter.

Most courses don’t have an assessment feature, and those that do have assessments use them inconsistently. Furthermore, Udemy courses aren’t regulated for consistency on pricing or quality.

Codecademy

Codecademy is an interactive platform that offers coding classes in many programming languages at no charge. These include many languages used in mobile apps such as Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby and SQL in addition to markup languages like CSS and HTML.

Codecademy also offers additional features for a charge, including live support, a personalized learning plan and realistic projects. It offers a hands-on approach to programming, but fails to place these exercises within the context of creating a real-world project. Students can learn to write code with Codecademy, but they won’t be able to develop an independent app.

Udacity

Udacity offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) for a fee. It was originally created to provide university-style courses, although it’s currently best known for its vocational courses for professionals.

Cost is the greatest disadvantage of MOOCs like Udacity, which typically budgets about $200,000 to develop each of its courses. By comparison, universities only spend about $50,000 to build their online courses.

MOOCs must recoup these costs in the form of tuition, which makes them an expensive method of learning online. The high cost means that MOOC users are primarily large organizations that are already spending heavily on traditional training methods.

The Real Price Of Building An App For Free

Now you can see why, for most, building your own app for free will likely cost you more in the end. You also realize the folly of giving up equity for software development so early in the game. In order for your app to be truly worthwhile, it’s best to leverage a professional app developer to support you. The only question left is, “Are You Ready?”

[Take The Quiz To See If You’re Ready]