Any company that develops mobile applications will tell you that the question asked most frequently by clients is the trickiest one to answer: how much will the creation of a mobile app cost? Although we’ve already touched on a lot of the factors that can affect the relative cost of development, we will explore the topic more thoroughly in this post.
One reason that makes this such a difficult question to answer, is that it is very much like asking what it will cost to build a home or purchase a car. The answer is that it depends. A used, older-model compact will not cost the same a brand-new Italian supercar; a three-bedroom bungalow in a less developed rural area will not cost the same (to buy or build) as a twenty-room waterfront mansion in a major urban center. So, the costs and time involved in developing a mobile app will vary greatly according to the type of app required and the features needed for a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP; usually the V1 of your app).
As discussed in an early post, a major cost consideration in mobile app development is whether or not it will be limited to use on a single mobile operating system (and family of devices), and the development model chosen (native or hybrid) if deployed on multiple platforms at once.
And although in another post, we discussed at length the growth and popularity of the Android operating systems and phones among users, the truth is that many apps are still trending towards a “iOS-first” deployment and development model, especially for “paid” and corporate “enterprise” apps. Although I still believe that this trend will change in the future, it is clear that there are some major obstacles (Java) that Google must overcome before this can happen.
Many modern apps make use of large sets of data to create the core functionality of their products. And although cloud-based data storage and access has simplified (and reduced the costs of) the infrastructure demands of apps and websites, the integration of this infrastructure into a mobile app still represents a large cost and time component in development.
This is compounded not only by the amount of data to be stored and recalled, but also how secure that data needs to be. Thus it is easy to see how an app like Uber, that need to store and access data to connect millions of drivers and customers every day, as well as store user and payment information securely, can cost $1.5M. Other companies that have tried to build similar apps to compete with the giant quickly learn of the significant costs associated with a single app that can link to the vast amounts of data required in a vast ride-sharing network.
There are many websites that offer online “calculators” to help estimate the price of building a specific mobile app, where one can pick the platforms, layout and needed features of their app, and the calculator will give a price based on these choices. Every extra function that is added increases the cost of the app. Real-time messaging? Social-media connectivity? E-mail or SMS notifications? Location tracking? Camera support? Push notification? Each new feature will require APIs to be integrated into the app’s code, and will add not only costs but time to develop. However, unlike the previous two considerations (development model / platforms, and infrastructure), additional features are much easier to add after your V1 app has been created. So to reduce your initial cost, it may be important to consider which features are absolutely necessary to create a Minimum Viable Product.
Variations of this simple Venn diagram have been used for decades to describe the costs associated with any product: from advertising campaigns to car design and manufacture. The premise is that you can only have two of these three things in any given product (all three is an unrealistic expectation). Want an app that is great and fast to develop? then it wont be cheap. What about great quality but cheap? then it will take time to develop. Fast and inexpensive? then be prepared to have an average (at best) product. Pick two: you can’t have all three.
As mobile apps get more complex, and mobile users expect more and more features from “basic” apps, the average costs (and times) associated with mobile app development rise. An article from 2010 will quote a much smaller price (even for more complex apps) than anything that might be written from more current data, as the complexity of a “basic” app in 2016 would likely rival the complex ones from earlier in the decade (and the complexity of today’s more robust apps could not easily be even imagined a few years ago). The following is from a survey of medium to large-sized companies producing internal (“enterprise”) apps in 2014.
Although the data is specific to a particular type of app, similar averages can be found today for other apps (this is especially true of broader studies that include mobile games in their results for app development costs, as games typically cost more to produce). And the same can be said for the timeframes involved: you should still expect 6-12 months for the creation of any V1 app.
Digital Fractal Technologies is an Edmonton, Alberta based software-development company that focuses on data-driven mobile applications for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows devices. We develop both cross-platform apps as well as native mobile applications. For a free app consultation, please contact us.