Mobile apps have become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to stay connected, informed, and entertained – putting virtually everything consumers want and need just a few taps away. With the increasing demand for mobile apps, many businesses and entrepreneurs are exploring the idea of developing their own apps for a variety of purposes. And understandably, one of the most important questions that arises when considering app development is how much it will cost.
The cost of developing a mobile app can vary greatly depending on a range of factors, such as the complexity of the app, the platform on which it is built, and the features and functionalities it offers. As such, there is not a single set price for app development.
However, though there are many nuances involved in calculating the cost to build an app, understanding these details can help you determine how to best plan and pay for your mobile app project.
What is the Cost to Develop an App?
As with any major project, the cost of app development is likely a top priority for your organization. After all, you want to be confident that you are investing in a project that will provide a suitable return. Even though there are a multitude of variables that impact app development costs, there are estimated averages that can give you an idea of what to expect.
The average cost of building a mobile app can range from $30,000 to $150,000, and largely depends on the complexity of the app.
Knowing this price range is helpful, but looking at the numbers alone is not necessarily enough. Before you can devise an app development budget, you’ll need to address several key questions, including:
- How much does it cost to hire an app developer vs. develop the app internally?
- How long will the development process take?
- What is the core functionality and purpose of the app?
- Will the app require third-party integration?
- Which (if any) smartphone hardware features will the app use?
- What is the planned mobile app platform (iOS, Android, hybrid)?
- What is the app maintenance plan?
When your app concept is in its earliest stages, it can certainly be overwhelming to consider all the ways in which the cost can quickly add up. To make things easier to understand, let’s walk through the foundational factors that go into building an app, so you can arm yourself with the relevant information needed to make your project both successful and cost-effective.
Key Factors that Affect the Cost of Mobile App Development
Long before you begin the development process, it is crucial to spend ample time in the discovery phase. In other words, you’ll need to evaluate your primary objectives and target audience, desired features/functionality, and other essential details. With a clear plan in place, you can then move forward and establish an accurate estimate of the total cost.
Among the many factors that influence development costs, there are three that typically have the most significant impact:
- The complexity of the app/development process
- The app’s design and structure
- The platform on which the app will operate
The Complexity of the App/Development
Obviously, the more complex an application, the more time needed for its development (and thus, the higher the cost). Details such as the number of buttons, screens, and functions in an app play a major part in its complexity, as do your selected integrations.
Let’s look at the three basic levels of app complexity, including characteristics and examples of each.
Simple mobile apps:
- Are built with essential features
- Incorporate only the necessary UI features
- Are designed to provide functionality without any added features
- Use a minimal number of screens (three to four)
- Do not typically store data
Examples of simple app types include calendar, calculator, and notes applications.
Mid-level mobile apps:
- Are intended to serve a somewhat more complex purpose
- Are capable of integrations with API
- Are often equipped with a custom UI
- Have elevated features such as real-time messaging, social media integration, geo-location, and payment portals
- Use more screens than simple apps
Examples of mid-level app types include food delivery and photo-sharing applications.
Complex mobile apps:
- Have multiple functions and a highly complex purpose
- Often built with advanced features such as chatbots, real-time synchronization, media processing, and video chats
- Are usually custom or legacy applications
- Frequently incorporate heavy customizations, necessitating original code for most functions
- Require far more research, planning, and development
Examples of complex app types include gaming apps and trading platforms.
The Application Design
Much like the development process, during application design, your costs steadily increase as you add more customizations and features. Using templates can significantly restrict your final product, whereas opting for a highly customized design will result in a higher cost (and more development time). Ultimately, you will need to weigh the pros and cons of each.
Application design is a complex topic that involves a myriad of considerations, such as:
- User experience (UX): User experience should be based on an in-depth understanding of the target user and your objectives. How much it costs to launch a mobile app can fluctuate dramatically, depending on the intricacy of the UX design.
- User interface (UI) and app visuals: Deciding how the application will look is another foundational aspect of app design. The type of application you are aiming to create, as well as your end goals, should help guide the UI design.
- Branding: Branding is a key part of virtually every aspect of your business operations, including the application development process. Ideally, you can find a balance between creating a design that is representative of your brand and developing a cost-effective approach to your branding efforts.
- UX Writing: It is easy to forget to add copywriting into your estimated application development cost, but quality copy is one of the smartest investments you can make. Copywriting is no less important than impactful visual design and is vital for the creation and success of an engaging application.
The Selected Platform
Once you have compiled estimates based on the app complexity and design, it’s time to determine on which platform(s) the application will run.
There are two options here:
- A native application is engineered for a specific platform (iOS/Android). This means that, should your goal be to target both platforms, you will need to develop two separate applications. Although the initial investment is higher for native apps, they are capable of a higher level of functionality.
Other App Development Costs
In addition to the three primary factors above, there are many other components that will shape the final cost of your application.
- Fees for third-party integrations
- Management/admin costs
- Infrastructural costs, such as server expenses
- Support charges
How Much Does It Cost to Hire an App Developer vs. a Development Team from an Agency?
Another major decision to make is whether to hire a freelance app developer or a team from a tech-based company. It is not uncommon for organizations to make this choice based solely on estimated expense, but cost is not the only factor to consider.
The cost of hiring an independent app developer varies widely depending on factors such as their experience and location, as well as the app itself (as discussed above). Generally, a freelance app developer may charge anywhere from $25 to $150 per hour, with rates typically increasing for more experienced and specialized developers.
On the other hand, hiring a development team from a professional agency may cost more, but can provide additional benefits such as reliability, project management, quality assurance, and ongoing support. The available resources and time that come with a full-scale team can translate into a more efficient development process. Also, depending on the team, other advantages may include legacy application documentation, security, and more.
Ultimately, the cost of hiring an app developer – and whether you opt for a freelancer or full-scale team – will depend on your specific needs and the level of expertise required to bring your vision to life.
How Much Does It Cost to Keep an App Running?
Before concluding any conversation about the cost of launching an app, we must address something that all too often falls by the wayside: app maintenance costs.
Technically, the cost of mobile app maintenance could be separated from development expenses. But when your organization is working to gain an understanding of the investment needed for a mobile application, being prepared for maintaining the app is instrumental in planning for sustainable success.
App maintenance can be broken down into a few general categories.
When calculating the cost of hosting a mobile app’s backend data, the type of data it deals with is the key factor. For instance, a media-rich app requires a higher CPU web server with more RAM and disk space. Depending on these factors, an app hosting web server could cost anywhere between $70 to $320 a month on average.
Mobile app monitoring is crucial for the app’s success. There are mobile analytics platforms that can be used to monitor an app’s performance, or you can work with a team that provides monitoring as a part of their development services.
Engagement and Marketing
Mobile app marketing costs include various components that aim to engage the mobile app user base. App installation is the first step in any mobile app engagement, and the cost of the app installation depends on the country, platform (iOS/Android), and specific ad unit. In order to estimate the true cost of mobile app user acquisition, calculations should go beyond a generic app install and consider the desirable action that app users are expected to take.
For example, the average mobile application user acquisition cost (for purchases made via a mobile app) in North America was about $5.28 for install, versus $74.68 and $64.27 for purchases and subscriptions, respectively (Statista).
Every mobile app needs subsequent updates after its launch, both to remedy any issues and to spur continuous app user engagement. The actual time needed to release an app update is minimal; however, developing that update can require a varying amount of time and effort – and thus, the cost can vary too.
If the mobile app design incorporates technologies that require a license fee, it will increase the overall app development cost. The license fee depends on annual fees to pay, the number of devices, and other factors.
Is it Cheaper to Build a Website or App ?
At first glance, the total cost to build a website is usually lower than that of a mobile application. But like any major decision, when considering a web vs mobile application, it is crucial that you assess your core objectives.
There are certainly advantages that a web application can offer, but a mobile app also brings distinct benefits to the table. If you are unsure which solution is best suited to your needs, consulting an experienced development team can help you make a confident and informed decision.
Leverage App Technology to Achieve Your Goals
Whether you are looking to improve existing solutions or are starting from scratch, application development can be a complicated process; however, partnering with the right team can ensure that your project is completed on time and on budget – and with minimal hassle.
I hope you found this information helpful. As always, contact us anytime about your technology needs.
Until next time,