Developing a mobile app and determining its costs is complex with no straight answer. One response I use to give uninformed clients is ‘how long is a piece of string?’ There are several factors that can determine the cost range of a mobile application I’ll approach this answer in a few different ways.
WHO is developing the mobile app for you?
Let’s first see how you could save money building a mobile app. Going abroad or even looking at companies located in countries with favourable exchange rates and lower cost of living may allow you to stretch your dollars further. For companies in the United States looking to develop an iOS and or Android app, look north to Canada. At this point in time, 1 US dollar is worth approximately $1.30 Canadian.
Your budget can quickly dictate who you can work with. Below are some considerations to help save you some funds. It is safe to say however that any reputable company or freelancer you decide to go with will start around the $15,000 (CDN) range and go up from there.
Build your own Tools
For fun, I have tried some sites that offer “build your own mobile app” services. They are not intuitive, have limited functionality, and you have to do so much of the work yourself you’ll just get frustrated and give up. If you have zero budget, a lot of time on your hands, and don’t get easily frustrated, give this option a try.
Developing mobile apps Outside North America or Overseas
I haven’t tried any services outside North America to get an app developed, but I have several e-mails from companies claiming they are a premiere mobile app development company that can save you thousands.
Unless you find a reputable company, which may take several tries, I wouldn’t recommend this approach unless:
A) You have a lot of time on your hands
B) You don’t mind trying a few different companies and risk losing some cash along the way
C) You understand the development process and can explicitly outline every detail of the features you’d like for the app.
So let’s say you’ve decided that going outside North America for app development is not in your cup of tea. You have basically two options. Hire a freelancer or an agency.
Finding Freelancers to develop your mobile app for Android and IOS
Going the freelancer route can save you some costs as their hourly rates can be $20-$40 cheaper per hour. I have no doubt that once you find good freelancers you’ll be able to produce a competent mobile app. But wait, there must be risk? Well of course there is, otherwise everyone would be going this route.
There are certain skills and considerations that you should be looking for in your freelancer for developing your Android or IOS app. Here are just a few of the important ones:
– Good understanding of design in the mobile app environment
– Considers UX/UI to be important
– Can provide good support for constantly changing OS versions
– Can Program IOS and Android natively and/or use an application framework like Cordova to develop
– Previous examples of work (You should verify if they developed the entire app or just did a portion of it)
So, the challenge is finding someone that can skillfully implement everything that is needed to produce a quality mobile app in a reasonable amount of time. That means you’ll have to find more than one freelancer to work together. I would probably look for three to four members for your freelance team: one project manager, a UX designer or a Graphic Designer with UX experience, one to two programmers.
So there you have it. You’ve spent your time finding a group of freelancers who hopefully will work well together saving you up to 20-30% on your project. It is doable, and you can save money if done correctly and have the right mix people. Just be warned that if you’re hoping to get this app out before anyone else to gain an advantage on your market, expect to wait, and wait.
A bad word to some people, Agencies are the other option to get your mobile app idea off the ground. This can be the most expensive option depending where you go. There are all types of agencies large and small, ones that focus just on mobile development and others that can handle everything for you. This article is not about which agency is the right fit for you so let’s jump into why someone would pick an agency and costs.
Agencies will have a team of designers and programmers that have worked for years together and understand the nuances of how things should work. They have a reputation to uphold and will want to produce a quality product they can submit for awards. Some Agencies have higher costs simply due to more staff and higher overhead. So, looking for the right agency (not necessarily the most expensive option, they will also give you the most confidence in producing the app you envisioned.
Which Platforms IOS, Android, or Both? Native or Cross platform?
Native apps are recommended when you need to take advantage of built-in hardware. Games can run smoother and faster. When Building a native app (Objective C or Swift for Apple iOS devices and Java or C++ for Android), plan on doubling your costs if you want both platforms.
Cross-platform apps usually speed up development time and are a good choice for business applications with databases. Typically you can save 15%-25% when developing on a cross platform framework like Cordova.
How Complex will your app be?
As in deciding who will be developing your app, there are several factors that contribute to the complexity of the app. So far we’ve identified that Freelancers could potentially save you 20-30% but it’s a lot of work and if you want something done right and on time you should stick with an Agency. Let’s look at the Design process and get into some rough numbers.
Design and UX
Taking UX (User eXperience) and design, we need to consider how much effort is involved based on the complexity of the app and the amount of different features and functionality per screen. There’s no formula or simple dollar amount per screen. Each situation has to be carefully assessed and quoted properly. If you feel design is not necessary and you simply need the app to do a ‘very simple’ thing. I would encourage you to browse some of the apps out there and have a look around and ask yourself why some are successful and why some are failing.
Let’s divide the design into three categories for the average mobile app and assign a number so you can start getting an idea on your cost range. Keep in mind if your app strays from the loosely defined average :
Simple design: $3,500 – $6000
This would be still be an effective design but limiting our time throughout the various sections like the App store logo, App webpage that’s required for support, home screen, etc. to ensure every screen is reviewed to keep a consistent aesthetic feel.
Medium level design: $7,000 – $9,000
The designer will have more time to hone his work, ensure the logo is a solid design to appeal to potential buyers/downloaders. More effort spent on the UX will ensure an app that is simple to use and navigate.
Complex Design: $10,000 +
Lots of planning and feedback and able to produce the best possible solution. Designer has time to experiment with UX and develop prototypes to test.
Side Note: More design work is needed when working with both Android and iOS platforms.
It’s very difficult to put numbers on random features (how long is that piece of string!?) so we’ll give you a brief explanation of what it could be and its costs.
Basic App Feature – $8,000 – $15,000+
Your mobile app should do one thing really well to be successful. We’ll assume this feature is a simple tool or grouping of data that you can sort and view. This single feature typically doesn’t need internet access or be required to communicate to any external services, API’s.
User management and profiles – Add $10,000 – $15,000+
You need to start tracking user data and profiles now. Provide a login system, saving favourites. Perhaps you want to sync your data across multiple devices. Security becomes a concern. What type of data are you storing? You get the idea. There’s a lot of work here and depending on what you do can get quite complicated.
Database and images storage and manipulation – Add $15,000 – $25,000+
Your app is now required to store this profile information. You need to think about storing user input, and images taken from the camera. Do you need to retain a history of information? There are a lot of factors that need to be looked at to make sure the app is flushed out.
Hardware Access – Add $8,000 – $25,000+
Need access to Bluetooth communication or the GPS receiver? What type of logic is required when working with these? What do you want to do with this information? It could be as simple as storing GPS data of the phone every time they push a button, interacting with iBeacons, or as complex as providing best routes based on speed, location and direction.
Well there you have it. A simple app could be as low as $15,000 for a single operating system or can be over $250,000 if you’re developing a complex application. If you’d like to discuss an estimate for your app, please get in touch!