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Chewing the Fat

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Apr, 2015

Mobile app development costs

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Part 1 of the Costs Series

The cost to build a mobile app can vary widely depending on the type and complexity — size, number of services, customer databases, and other factors. The median cost range of developing an app is $38K and $172K, according to a survey of top development companies. With enterprise e-Commerce or apps with a global audience in many languages, the cost of an app can be $500K or higher. A few quotes:

StarMobile: “€œBased upon complexity, the initial costs to develop a native enterprise application for one mobile device platform can range from $50,000 to $250,000. Those costs grow exponentially if you need that app to support multiple mobile device platforms.”

Kevin Benedict (Senior Analyst, Digital Transformation, Mobility, Cognizant): “€œCompanies are under tremendous pressure to develop and deploy mobile apps for their business systems, yet the traditional approach to mobile app development typically costs $250K+ and takes 6+ months for a single app.”

Ken Yarmosh of Savvy Apps: —Apps built by the largest app companies, the “€˜big boys”€™, likely cost anywhere between $500,000 to $1,000,000. Apps built by agencies like savvy apps cost anywhere between $150,000 to $450,000. Apps built by smaller shops, possibly with only 2-3 people, likely cost anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000.”


Types of apps

There are many types of apps, as listed in the Apple App Store category list. Let’s simplify that into these basic categories.

General: Displays content that users can interact with, from Basic Table Functionality, such as email, to Fully Dynamic, such as those dependent on external information: real estate sites, social networks, and weather. Examples are Ticketmaster, Facebook, and NBA Game Time. Additional costs include social media integration, GPS configuration, photo viewing, ratings, browser integration, language translation, microphone use, camera and flash use, video recording and playback, audio recording and playback, voice recognition, dictation services, calendar integration, document editing, and a few more.

Media:€” Integrates video and audio, from device function enhancement, such as making the camera work better or add functionality, to custom utilities — such as those geared toward permitting a user to input and output content a certain way. Examples are InstaVeme, iMove, Garage Band, Spotify, Audio Memos, and Audible. Additional costs are social network integration, video recording and editing, taking pictures and photo editing, audio edition, text messaging, email management, database and web services, and website management.

eCommerce:€” Sells products and/or services. Examples are Amazon, Ebay, and Sam’s Club. Additional costs are social media integration, audio recording and playback, video recording and playback, browser integration, language translation, microphone use, camera and flash use, calendar integration, and a few more.

Games: from simple to complex to 3D and shared across many users.

The process

There are four major parts to app development: idea, planning, design, and testing and deployment, and each have their own cost factors.

The more complex the idea for your app, the more expensive it will be, but there is also a higher chance of getting a decent return on your investment. Figure your budget to see if it will fit your idea. Planning means going through every single screen and figuring out how each part interacts with another part — buttons, screen states, scenarios. This is put into a design scope document that the designer will use to create wireframes and mockups of the screens. Design can render your app a huge success or a horrible failure, so this is a very important section to regard. Testing should be thorough and extensive on each platform. Deployment with the different platforms have rules and regulations that are quite different and complex.

Please beware of the 18-year-old nephew who says he can develop your app for under $1K.

Cost variables

Platform (Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry, and web): For native apps, more types mean more teams, not individuals, and they work separately. Some platforms are just more expensive to build upon than the others.

Complexity:€” such as how many buttons; how many fields; how many calculations and algorithms; how many screens and screen states; how many unknowns such as breaking technology and wearables; how many features such as payment processes and push notifications. The more complex the app will be, more costs will be involved.

Back-end infrastructure and administration:€” Because apps are designed to pull and push data and interact with various APIs (application programming interfaces, such as PayPal, GoogleMaps, Zillow), API integration can be expensive, depending on its complexity and permissions. Not many kinds of apps don’t integrate back-end infrastructure.

Back-end infrastructure makes an app more complex because it can require other types of back-end developers, such as PHP or Ruby on Rails. The most cost-driven infrastructure it that some companies even have their own databases and API they want in a native application. These APIs have no documentation, so the development process is as if you put a blindfold on. 

Any app that requires management of users will require not only initial development, but maintenance and support. Changing passwords, account services, booking a UHaul trailer, ordering a pizza, flight confirmation, and QR codes to check-in with hotels and at the airport all require administration panels. Some require full web integration so that the user can interact the functions of the app off device.

Visual design:€” Design quality always depends on what you desire and are willing to invest. Design elements can follow native standards, or be extremely customized experiences. Development companies who have invested in design staff with platform infrastructure and user accessibility knowledge combined with an understanding of design as it applies to marketing strategies, the language of color, and good artistic skill will be able to offer you good return on your mobile app development investment, if you need them. Understand that the more customized the design you want for your app, the more expensive it will be.


Continuing costs

App design and development costs don’t end at deployment, that kind of thinking will be a mistake. Art Whitman of Information Week said, “The short-term investment in creating those first pristine apps is likely to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of people and capital costs. Whether you’re using internal teams for development or contracting with coding houses (a practice that brings its own set of challenges), you’ll need to make a sober assessment of the short- and long-term costs of supporting the practice.”

According to an AnyPresence survey, over 80% reported updating their apps twice a year and nearly 33% were updating once per month. Things to consider are business process changes and operating system updates.
We have a three-part series on maintenance that starts with How your app can fail without maintenance and support, PART ONE.

Detailed Breakdown of Development Stages
Stage Component Median Low (Hours) Median High (Hours) Maximum High
Planning Research and discovery 8 40 200
Scope definition 9 27 160
Design Wireframe design — seven screens 14 56 140
Visual Design — seven screens 14 87.5 210
User experience design 7 28 200
Features Native device features 4 29 100
User engagement, such as SMS, Email, Push, Social 5.5 30 150
User login 4.5 28 70
Use of location data 5 24 150
Payments 12 40 200
Sync across devices 16 62.5 200
Infrastructure Initial setup/Basic controls 5 20 50
Data storage 6.5 40 200
Third-party API integration 8 50 120
Access to enterprise data 22 100 400
Data encryption 10 40 80
Scalability/Large number of users 24 130 800
App Administration Infrastructure for performance
 management and analytics 8 20 80
Web portal or CMS to manage application 35 120 1,000
Testing Internal, user, and deployment testing 30 160 300
Deployment Licensing, packaging, etc. 5 11 40
Total Hours 252.5 1,143 4,850
× $100/hour $25,275.00 $114,300.00 $485,000.00
× $150/hour $37,912.50 $171,450.00 $727,500.00

In conclusion, the cost to build a mobile app varies as wildly as purchasing a house. There are many different things to consider that make it difficult to pinpoint with any exact formula. Development firms can charge from $100 to $150 per hour. Maximum costs can range between $485K to $728K at those per hour charges. Sinew has competitive prices with costs per type of app (Media, E-Commerce and General), per platform (Apple, Android, and Windows), and per optional feature. Call us today.


How much does it cost to develop an app? www.bluecloudsolutions.com/blog/cost-develop-app/
Cost to Build a Mobile App: A Survey www.clutch.co/app-development/cost-build-mobile-app-survey
Figuring the costs of custom mobile business app development www.formotus.com/14018/blog-mobility/figuring-the-costs-of-custom-mobile-business-app-development



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