The Cost to Develop an App

Whether you are an entrepreneur with a new business idea or a CEO looking to increase productivity with a mobile app, a top concern on your mind is undoubtedly the cost to develop an app. Starting around $25,000 for a simple standalone app, and running to over $1,000,000 for a complex app with numerous integrations and features, app development costs depend on a series of factors. However, even though an app is a big investment when taking into consideration the mobile app monetization possibilities, usually the investment is worth it. After all, millions of people use their phone daily so utilizing this data is essential.

What determines the ballpark cost to develop an app? As you would expect, app development cost is heavily influenced by the app’s features and functionality. A complex feature set requires additional up front work to understand the user experience needs, and also lends to increased complexity in visual interface design. Coding those features obviously requires time, and each piece of functionality must undergo it’s own quality assurance testing.

While an app’s features and functionality play a significant role in determining the cost to develop an app, there are other factors that impact the bill. These include things like the development platform, user interface, server requirements, and even the type of agency hired. We’ll review some of these factors before talking about typical app development costs.

Factors Influencing the Cost to Develop an App

Mobile apps have become a prevalent part of everyday life, monitoring health data, tracking finances, and showing the weather at the tap of a few buttons. Downloading a new app might set you back a few bucks – at the most. And that cheap accessibility can mask the behind-the-scene development costs that remain more hidden and, at times, confusing. Several factors help determine the cost of an app. Here are some initial questions to consider:

How many development platforms do you need?

Even with the existence of cross-platform development tools, the more platforms on which you desire your app to run, the higher the cost. As we explained in our post iOS or Android: Which Platform First?, selecting the best platforms for your app is a decision that should not be based on cost alone.

While Android and iOS development tools are more similar than ever, Android apps are generally still more expensive to create than iOS apps – an increase in app development cost of 20-25% is not out of the question. This is primarily due to the ongoing variability in the installed base of OS versions and device form factors.

If your user base is such that you require your app to be available on multiple platforms, we still encourage you to build the apps sequentially, as this will enable you to learn from your customers on the first platform. Unless an app is extremely simple, it will go through several iterations before it offers the desired experience. Trying to manage learnings across two platforms is cumbersome. Instead, the feedback and refinements from the first platform can be leveraged to speed development on the second platform, saving both time and money.

Does the app need a server?

When there is a server involved, you have to consider its configuration, as well as ongoing hosting and maintenance. In addition to the development work done to provide data to Android, iOS, and web client apps, each of those clients require code/capabilities to exchange data with the server as well.

Who will use the app?

A consumer app built for the general public needs to stand on its own in a more pronounced way than an enterprise app – a user must be able to download and use the app without any additional guidance. This means that consumer apps often require additional care during design to ensure that on-boarding is smooth and ongoing use is intuitive.

While companies obviously desire for an internally-oriented app to also be intuitive and polished, there are often opportunities for training and guidance to occur directly with users. This can allow for less on-boarding features within the app itself.

What do you need from your developer?

The size of the agency you hire also impacts the cost of app development. The cost structure for a freelancer is significantly different than that of a large agency, and the app development quote will reflect that. While an individual or small shop of a few people can do stellar coding work, additional expertise typically comes along with the additional price of a larger agency. These services range from app design and more specialized development skills to strategy development and marketing plan creation. A higher price tag might be more than worth it, in order to gain assistance in other areas that are critical to market success.

App Development Cost Ranges

As you would expect, the more basic the app, the lower the cost. Standalone apps, like the clock or camera on a smartphone, represent the bottom cost bracket. They either require no server or can function without network connectivity.

Expenses start rising with additional functionality. Logins, push notifications, payment processing, and rating functions all raise costs. Social media and e-commerce apps, which generally hit the middle of the cost range, often utilize similar user interface features. The most expensive apps pair with physical objects and allow for control and interactions with remote objects.

Before jumping in, we should caution that these app development costs reflect just that – creating the app. Once built, there is still considerable work to be done to acquire and retain a user base. Ongoing maintenance and enhancements are almost always required as well. If you’re not familiar with these concepts, we encourage you to check out our post on mobile app marketing and user retention.

Cost to Develop an App with Zero or Limited Network Connectivity:

Sometimes referred to as “standalone” apps, these are apps that do not access a server, require no authentication to work, and/or have limited need for a network connection. This category includes apps like clocks, calculators, and weather apps. Typical cost range per platform: $25,000 – $50,000

Cost to Develop an App with User Authentication:

A majority of apps today require user authentication to get the most functionality from them. (If following best practices, these apps are also able to be utilized without a login, but features are typically limited.) This category includes apps that offer help with things like household management, tracking fitness data, monitoring stock portfolios, or curating a wine list. Costs rise because user authentication typically implies a need for things like user accounts and storing (and protecting) personal data, syncing across devices, or interacting with data. Typical cost range per platform: $50,000 – $250,000

Cost to Develop a Social Networking or e-Commerce App:

While many apps utilize social features, we consider social networking apps those which offer at least the baseline functionality of user authentication, establishing friend networks, messaging, and interacting with others’ data (e.g. likes, comments). Apps in this category are prevalent and many quite heavily utilized – Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat to name a few.

eCommerce apps have social features (e.g. liking or sharing a favored product), but also require functionality for payment, as well as the ability to access a product database. There are a number of off-the-shelf platforms that can be utilized for both these features and the less customization required for each, the less cost incurred. Obviously there is quite a bit of variability in cost as a result. Typical cost range per platform: $75,000 to $800,000

Cost to Develop an App that Connects to a Smart Device:

These apps are considered part of a technology category called the “Internet of Things (IoT).” It’s a fancy name to convey the idea that the app communicates with objects in the real world, from garage door openers to thermostats to wheel chairs.

While this category has the highest upper end of all in our list, these apps don’t have to have complex features, and could just require low level interaction with firmware that controls the hardware itself. However, those that are more feature laden can drive costs up significantly. Typical cost range per platform: $50,000 to $1,000,000

Concluding Thoughts

Estimating cost for apps is a layered process, and even the information we have provided here can only help to frame the conversation. While some development companies have created price-my-app calculators that offer a projected expense, we’d much rather chat with you (no strings attached!) and help you get a more accurate sense of the cost of app development. Please get in touch!