IT Project Manager at Ideamotive and agile advocate.
In 2019, the total number of global mobile app downloads amounted to 204 billion. Last year, consumer spending on mobile apps exceeded $83.5 billion, a 17% growth from 2018. Apps have become central to the user experience on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Many entrepreneurs consider investing in mobile app development to realize their audacious business ideas. Companies turn to customer-facing apps and internal apps to address the growing demand for mobility and reach their audience on every channel.
If you’re also toying with the idea of developing a mobile app to create new revenue streams or unlock operational efficiencies, you’re probably wondering how much it costs and what factors impact the final price.
This guide takes you through the process of estimating mobile app development cost step by step, diving into the different variables that come into play when determining a budget for a mobile application.
Developing a mobile app is an elaborate process that involves the contribution of several key roles. According to various sources, the costs of professional mobile app development can be anything between modest $5,000 to jaw-dropping $500,000:
These numbers are humongous. However, they mostly apply to sophisticated proprietary enterprise-level mobile solutions that serve thousands of business end-users with intricate and robust features. Realistically, the cost of developing a simple app delivering a single functionality hovers between $15,000-$25,000, while medium-complexity apps typically fall within the range of $40,000-$100,000.
Still, that’s quite a gap! Let’s try to narrow it down a bit, and find out an approximate cost of your mobile app development.
In this article, we will delve deep into the few most fundamental cost drivers for mobile applications. Before we do it, here’s a helicopter view of all aspects that make up the price of mobile app development:
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 many 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 (see the box below for average rates). However, note that iOS is a system that supports quite a narrow range of devices. When considering mobile applications, we’re pretty much talking about iPhones and iPads, with a possibility to convert application to macOS and support all kinds of Apple computers.
When it comes to Android, the matter becomes more complicated. There is a much wider 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. That’s why many companies choose to develop iOS apps first and, once they validate their business idea, move to the Android market.
$$$ tip: There’s one important aspect of iOS/Android mobile app development that will help you save a few extra bucks. Namely, if you want your target solution needs to work on both platforms, cross-platform development with forefront technologies like React Native will save you coding time and effort, bringing the total cost down. This approach 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.
Developing an app for iOS and Android takes about the same amount of time, from two to eight months, depending on the application. This period breaks down into:
When it comes to the cost of hiring mobile development teams to deliver the project within these timeframes, here’s what you should be expecting to pay, according to PayScale, Glassdoor, and other resources that track pay in the IT sector:
Software development is a team effort. Let’s see how much you should expect to pay other professionals who are involved in the development of your solution:
The next vital factor to include in your calculation is 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 them 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 build.
To refine the calculation for your app’s budget, list all the functions that you would like to see 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 set of features that form the core of your application and leave the extra functions to be added later on as an update. This way, you will also be able to create a more realistic estimation and check how much you can afford right from the start.
$$$ tip: If you plan to create an 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 essential that you have a clear idea about all these factors before setting out to cost estimation. And if you are confused about MVP development, consult us; we’ll be happy to share our knowledge and experiences.
MVP or a Full-blown Product?
Often, you don’t need a fully-fledged mobile app with all bells and whistles to get in front of your customers or investors. Premature scaling accounts for 70% of all startup failures, so instead of planning for a comprehensive feature-packed app, think about spinning out a Minimum Viable Product first.
By building an MVP, you can test your idea, get a chance to attract investors to cover the cost of the “actual” development, and gain precious feedback from beta users that will save you a whole lot of time (and money) on further research and UI work. A time required to build an MVP is usually an equivalent of 300-320 work hours distributed among the entire mobile app development team or done by a single developer, depending on the delivery schedule and project's complexity.
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.
Please note, that the cost estimations below are just... estimations :) Usually, the price starts with the bottom value and can exceed the upper value. Again, it all depends on the app complexity level and there are various factors that can contribute to the final cost, such as processes within company, visual side of the project or custom elements or features that needs to be developed separately
In-app purchases are one of the most common ways application publishers monetize their apps. They 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.
In general, in-app purchases add technical complexity to a project, and you can expect them to drive up your development costs (by $1,500-$3,000 on average). 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.
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. Here are some examples of labor-intensive and costly integrations that may radically increase the total sum of your mobile app development:
Geolocation uses the phone’s GPS and real-time permissions to identify the geographical coordinates of the device and track the user’s whereabouts. Though it’s a must-have for commercial apps, geolocation is a sophisticated feature that requires at least 50 hours of development, i.e., $2,500-$5,000 extra on the final bill.
This feature is crucial if you want to sell your products or services via the mobile app. The scope of work is determined by several factors, such as platform type, payments processing type, number of integrations, level of payment protection, etc. Overall, expect to pay at least $2,500-$5,000 to add this feature to your app.
Social logins remove friction from the login and registration processes, increasing user engagement, driving more subscriptions, and enhancing revenue from apps. With all the libraries available, social login integration is rather simple; the cost of implementation usually doesn’t go over $1,000.
Powering your mobile app with Artificial Intelligence capabilities takes it to an entirely new level. Would you like to help your customers resolve their issues quickly with a chatbot? Are you looking to enhance the user experience through voice recognition? Maybe you need to boost your teams’ productivity and support their day-to-day operations with auto-generated email replies or in-depth data analytics? AI offers immense potential for mobile and can solve a myriad of business challenges for streamlined communication, faster response, and leaner processes. However, because of the endless applications of machine intelligence in mobile development, it’s not possible to scope the cost range without knowing the exact requirements. (If you would like to evaluate your idea, drop us a note, and we will estimate the cost of AI implementation in your app.)
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.
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, the 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.
Here are some things that can put a damper on the development of your mobile app, leading to delays, and mounting costs:
Another significant factor you need to count into your estimation is who will create your app. At this point, you can choose between several available options: leveraging in-house developers, partnering with offshore IT companies, hiring freelance developers, or working with an agile software development agency. Below are the pros and cons of each strategy to help you understand which one will work to your advantage and match your budget.
One strategy for realizing your idea for a mobile app is hiring in-house developers, designers, and product managers 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, mobile app development is complex, and quality apps require fulfilling different roles, not just software engineering. Usually, you also need someone to coordinate the many different tasks that are part of this process. And to ensure your solution works as desired, QA’s assistance is indispensable.
Here are some key aspects of in-house software development, which have a bearing on the total cost of your project.
Another popular option for developing mobile apps is partnering with freelancers. You can find them on many online platforms, like Upwork, Freelancer, or Truelancer. But should you?
Another solution is to seek outsourcing support from offshore IT companies that supply software development support in various engagement models. These firms provide teams of engineers, testers, and project managers who have tech skills to build software products.
Software development agencies support your teams with full-stack software development expertise and innovation, helping you supplement mission-critical skills and resources to implement your vision. They usually attract dedicated and skilled developers and have their processes in order.
All of the hiring models above have some pros and cons. That's why in Ideamotive we believe you should not limit yourself to one hiring type and propose a hybrid hiring model.
We run a vast network of software talents which includes on-site developers, off-site contractors, and various software houses from the region.
As a result, we can quickly provide individual team extension or a whole development team, matched with the Client's industry, technology, and company culture.
We can also deliver product-matched software consultants for the pre-development phase and non-technical talents such as Project Managers or Scrum Masters, who will ensure the flawless delivery of the product. All on one invoice.
(If you want to learn more about our Talent Network and our process? Feel free to reach out!)
As you can see, figuring out the cost of mobile app development is easier said than done. However, the above key factors should help you create a more accurate estimate that will allow you to develop a realistic budget for your mobile app.
And if you have any questions about estimating mobile app development costs, reach out to us, and we will get them answered.
Jarosław is an IT Project Manager at Ideamotive. Agile enthusiast with master experience on working with technical teams.View all author posts
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