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How To Estimate A Mobile App Development Cost? [Project Manager’s Guide]

Nov 237 min read

Jarosław Ziembiński

IT Project Manager at Ideamotive and agile advocate.


In 2017, the total number of global mobile app downloads amounted to 178.1 billion. In 2018, that number is estimated to reach a smashing 205.4 billion! Apps have become central to the user experience on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Many entrepreneurs consider mobile apps to realize their ideas. Businesses invest in customer-facing apps and internal apps to address the growing demand for mobility as well.

If you’re toying with the idea of developing your mobile app, you’re probably wondering how much does it cost to make a mobile app and what are the factors that impact the price mobile app development.


This is a guide that takes you through the process of estimating mobile app development cost step by step, diving into the different variables that come into play in creating a budget for a mobile application.


In mobile development, you will be choosing between two different operating systems: Android and iOS. Now, the question is: is it more expensive to develop an iOS or Android app? That issue is highly debated and generates a lot of disagreements.


If we look at the cost of development, the cost per hour for hiring a developer to create an iOS and Android app is pretty similar. However, consider that iOS is a system which is part of a very narrow range of devices. When considering mobile applications, we’re pretty much talking about iPhones and iPads.


When it comes to Android, the matter becomes quite complicated. There is a much broader variety of Android devices with different screens sizes and produced by various manufacturers. That’s why it takes much more time to develop an Android app. Some people say that the time frame might be even two or three times longer than one required for developing iOS apps. If you multiply that by the hourly rate of developers, it turns out that creating Android apps is indeed more expensive – you can use a simple cost calculator to check that. That’s why many companies choose to develop iOS apps first and, once they validate their business idea, move to the Android market.


Pro tip: You can also choose the option of cross-platform development which allows writing a single code base that will work for both Android and iOS. It’s an interesting alternative to native development that saves a lot of time and money, speeding up the development process and allowing businesses to release their app quickly. There are several cross-platform solutions for mobile development, with React Native being one of the most popular.


Next, there are the features and functionalities you plan for your application to have. In general, mobile applications can take advantage of many different functionalities that are built into smartphones such as Bluetooth, camera, GPS, NFC, IoT, or even fingerprint reader. While some of these functionalities are easy to implement thanks to the existing tools and libraries that help developers avoid creating everything from scratch, others may take days or weeks to implement.


That’s why it’s smart to list all the functions that you would like to see in your application and then remove those that aren’t critical for the first version of your app. This approach is called MVP (Minimum Viable Product) development, where you start with a minimum of features that form the core of your application and leave the extra functions to be added later on as an update. That way, you will also be able to create a more realistic estimation and check how much you can afford right from the start.


But it’s the purpose of your application that will define which features will need to be part of your app.

Your app’s purpose

You can equip your app with many different features but remember that their type and number will directly impact the technical complexity of your project – and therefore its cost. Here are some of the most common mobile application features with preliminary estimations to give you an idea which ones may turn out to be more expensive than others.

Implementing the in-app purchases

In-app purchases are one of the most common ways application publishers monetize their apps. In-app purchases allow you to sell various items ranging from virtual goods and premium content to extra functionalities and subscriptions. You can do that directly inside your application – which can be either free or paid itself. In general, in-app purchases add technical complexity to a project, and you can expect them to drive up your development costs. However, they offer a very attractive monetization model for mobile applications. That’s why it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of including in-app purchases early on when defining your development cost breakdown.

Third-party integrations

Another significant factor that impacts the cost of mobile app development is the integration of third-party frameworks, libraries, and services. By doing that, developers can get some functionalities up and running faster and at a much lower cost than developing a custom solution from scratch. For example, smooth integration of your app with social media networks is possible with the help of social network APIs. Using ready-made solutions to implement anything from payment features and geolocation to real-time chats and social media sharing functions is a smart move. When preparing your mobile app cost estimation, take the presence or absence of third-party integrations into account.

Custom design

An app’s design matters just as much as its functionalities. Design can make or break an app, especially if it’s an MVP that doesn’t include many features. Even if your app can’t do many things, it should do what it was created for at top performance – combined with an optimal user interface. That’s why it’s a good idea to make your app stock look attractive with a custom design. However, customized user interface will come at a cost. That’s why it’s yet another thing you need to weigh in your initial estimations and decide whether it’s worth the price.


Many common features such as Bluetooth, GPS, and use of hardware components such as the camera will increase the technical complexity of your app and raise its development costs. That’s why it’s best to work on your idea first and define the scope of your app features before setting out to estimate your app.


Pro tip: If you plan to create the MVP for your app, keep in mind the long-term goals that you want your app to achieve. At the MVP stage, that consideration is critical, so ask yourself questions like: Am I developing a prototype that will most likely be rewritten later? Will this app be the core of my startup? It’s critical that you have a clear idea about all these factors before setting out to cost estimation.

Who will create your app?

Another significant factor you should count into your estimation is who you will be hiring to create your app. At this point, you can basically choose between three different options: hiring in-house developers, partnering with a software development company, or hiring freelance developers. Below are the pros and cons of each strategy to help you understand which one will work to your advantage and match your budget.

In-house team

One strategy for realizing your idea for an app is hiring in-house developers, designers, and product managers to who will help you build it. It might be surprising that you need all these people and not just a team of developers. But in fact, you may need someone to coordinate the many different tasks that are part of a custom application development.


That is unless you find someone who would fit all of these roles. You can probably tell by now that this option can be costly. As global competition for mobile development services increases, hiring a full-time and full stack developer who also has project management skills and a knack for design would be extremely difficult, not to mention time-consuming and very expensive.


Moreover, hiring a team might become a very costly commitment, and you need to think twice before doing that if you’re planning to develop an MVP. You may be spending weeks or even months on trying to find a fantastic, talented developer for realizing your MVP. So is it really worth it if you consider the mobile app development cost against your objectives?


Naturally, your answer will depend on your resources and long-term plans for your app. However, if you don’t have have a lot of funding and you’re under pressure to produce an MVP, it’s smarter to look at other options.

Software development company

Another solution is teaming up with a software development agency. Many founders and entrepreneurs choose to do that because such agencies come in a package of many skills. When a hiring an app development company, you will get a team of developers, but also designers and project managers who will all be at your disposal.


Moreover, you can be sure that such companies have amassed a significant amount of experience in developing apps and may even possess domain knowledge to help you with custom application development. They have also developed mature development procedures to help their clients get exactly what they want at high efficiency. Numerous agencies offer maintenance and scaling services, supporting entrepreneurs at every step of the way.


There’s no denying that hiring an app development agency is expensive. But what you get in return is the time and money you save on sourcing, hiring, and building your own team. Instead, you can focus on other critical activities such as market research.

Hiring freelancers

Another popular option is partnering with freelancers you find on online platforms. That alternative is quite affordable, and you may be able to find high-quality freelance developers to achieve the same quality as an app development company. However, if you’re considering to hire freelancers, you should be aware of this downside that often comes as part of the deal:

Lack of qualifications – hiring freelancers from online platforms is a bit like a gamble. You can’t really know the level of technical expertise they possess or their ability to coordinate projects and communicate with customers. Sometimes, they might be skilled in native development, but only beginners is cross-platform development. Finding quality developers will be challenging if the platforms you plan to use don’t have reliable pre-selection procedures in place to filter out low-quality developers.


When choosing the freelancer platforms, check whether they vet listed candidates and whether project management software is available. Sometimes such platforms don’t even support popular tools like Trello, Asana, or Basecamp. There are many people out there who have an idea for an app but absolutely no clue about how to manage a project like that. And the lack of tools makes it more likely to experience failure.


All in all, it’s not easy to access vetted developers who also have excellent project management skills and know-how about. That’s why teaming up with a software development company for creating your app is the most viable solution. You will get not only all the technical skills you need, but also proper project management, access to extra services, and plenty of fantastic product development advice from experts in the field.

Key takeaway

If you’d like to develop a mobile app development, factor in these elements into your cost estimation. They will help you create an accurate estimate that will, in turn, allow you to develop a realistic budget for your mobile app.


Do you have any questions about estimating mobile app development costs? Reach out to us or get in touch with us directly at hello@ideamotive.co.

At Ideamotive we help entrepreneurs realize their visions with state-of-the-art custom app development. Let’s create the Next Big Thing in mobile together!

Jarosław Ziembiński

Jarosław is an IT Project Manager at Ideamotive. Agile enthusiast with master experience on working with technical teams.

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