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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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) :
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) :
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):
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.
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.
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)
- Game center
- In-app purchasing
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
- Minimum Viable Product
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.
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.
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