How Much Your Mobile App Will Actually Cost You

Posted / 02 December, 2017

Author / Enginess

person using mobile app

The cost of building a mobile app remains difficult to ballpark. Mobile apps come in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, and can set you back anywhere from $3,000 to $300K.

Want to develop an app? Then cost is probably on your mind.

Unfortunately, the cost of building a mobile app remains extremely hard to even ballpark.

The core challenge is that mobile apps come in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, and can set you back anywhere from $3,000 to $300K.

So, here’s a rough guide to the various buckets apps fall into, and factors that will impact how much you should expect to spend.

But first, a few points on app development

  1. Offshore development can save you a boatload of money, but will almost undoubtedly set back your timeline, require numerous revisions, and drive your project managers crazy
  2. If you choose to work with freelancers, then remember: you’re not their only client, and their work for you may suffer or be put on the back-burner as they rush to get other high-priority projects completed
  3. Consider out-of-the-box solutions – look around to see if someone else has already created an app for your problem (especially enterprise problems)
  4. Games are a whole other kettle of fish with entirely unique costs and challenges. The generalizations applied here should not be carried over wholesale to game development

Simple Consumer Apps

These are generally the least expensive types of apps, and the ones that you’re probably most familiar with. They’re usually static apps, meaning that they are essentially just informational.

They are completely self-contained and can have as few as three distinct screens. They can cost anywhere between a few thousand dollars or up to $100,000 (or more) per platform.

That’s a pretty huge range, so here are the things that are going to really affect your costs:

  • How complex it is (e.g. how many screens)
  • What sort of developer you’re getting: offshore, freelancer, development shop, or in-house
  • How many platforms you’re on. Generally, apps will launch on one (e.g. iOS) and then if they're successful, adapt to second or third (e.g. Android, Windows Phone)
  • Design, user experience design, and testing (KEY TIP: consumers are extremely discerning and intolerant of a poor user experience. Don’t skimp on the look or UX, because it will mean the rest of your investment is for naught.)

Dynamic Consumer Apps

Dynamic apps are apps that pull from the web and update all the time. Twitter is a dynamic app, for example.

These apps tend to be more complex and more expensive to build.

However, the format and breakdown of cost factors are roughly the same as simple consumer apps.


Enterprise Apps

Enterprise apps are apps that are generally not consumer-facing (although they can be) and have a whole range of unique costs.

These are the most expensive apps and have the longest development cycles. An enterprise app, with security, user authentication, integration, continuing governance and maintenance and top-quality architecture is going to be at least three to six months in development and, in most cases, cost upwards of $150,000.

Here’s a breakdown of where the expenses are

  • Development Costs. When you’re developing an app that has to be secure, integrate with existing technology, and have different user profiles, you’re looking at a lot of hours. Plus, with a cross-platform mobile app, development costs increase again by a multiplier of about 0.8. So if your app cost $10,000 for one platform, a second one will bring your total costs to $18,000.
  • Design. There’s an old (and inaccurate) perception that enterprise apps don’t need to invest in branding or user experience, and that ‘business as usual’ will suffice. This is entirely untrue. A mobile app is a chance to really showcase your own innovation and create something amazing, and branding is a part of that conversation. On the user experience side, remember that the people using your app are going to also be using consumer apps, which already have an incredibly high standard of user experience. Your app needs to be equally good, or no one will use it.
  • Complexities. There are a lot of additional complexities with enterprise apps. Often they need to work across a range of departments and do a wide range of things. And on the back-end side, an enterprise app usually needs to dynamically access a huge range of information quickly and effectively. These two things mean that there is almost always more testing and more development time tinkering to get a deliverable that’s going to be adapted on a large scale.
  • Ongoing costs. When you’re crunching numbers to see if an app is right for you, remember ongoing costs. Forrester estimated that the up-front costs only totalled 35% of a two-year spend. Your app is going to need to be updated regularly, likely more than once a year, and your budget needs to accommodate that.

How To Save

Fortunately, there are some areas where you can pinch pennies without compromising quality.

  • In-house development. If you can, use in-house resources to develop the app. At Enginess, we’re always willing to work with in-house staff to keep project costs down.
  • Shop around. Talk to a few vendors and see what sort of price you can get. It will help you understand what sort of money and timeframe you’re looking at and give you a feel for what out-of-the-box solutions might be available.
  • Plan and scope to the tiniest detail. Surprises and setbacks are going to happen. But a really easy way to reduce them is to plan and scope the project very early on so that everyone understands precisely what is included in the app and what isn’t. This includes wireframes, detailed functional specifications, and even a prototype, if time and budget allow. Generally speaking, time and money spent on planning come back to you again and again both in budget and in a headache-free project.

Things To Watch Out For

There are always some things that you're going to want to be wary of, when you think you’re saving money but you’re probably running your costs even higher.

  • Low-ball development costs. If you get five quotes from five different sources, at least one of those is going to be significanty lower than the rest. Trust your gut – dev work that sounds too good to be true usually is, and hiring a quality development team to clean up a mess later on is time-consuming and expensive.
  • Stakeholder buy-in for UX design. Don’t cave on UX design. It's an integral part of the project and even though it seems like bells and whistles, if no one uses the app and you have to redevelop it in six months from scratch, your budget is going to be blown to pieces.
  • Project Management. When you’re talking to vendors, make sure that you address project management needs explicitly. A quick conversation can save months of headaches not knowing who’s responsible for what deliverable. If a shop doesn’t provide strong and clear project management, then seriously consider moving on – an average developer with a great project manager is better than the best dev team on the planet with no PM to speak of.

A consumer or enterprise mobile app can give your business a huge boost – whether it’s in new customers and visibility, or by increasing operational efficiency – and, overall, really help your business achieve its financial goals.

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