How much will it cost me to build a mobile app?

As a cross-platform mobile app development specialist, one of the most common questions AustAR Labs gets from businesses is “I want a mobile app, but how much will the app cost to develop?”

We can’t answer this question with the “How long is a piece of string?” question, because we don’t get very far after that. So we’ve jotted down some of the cost considerations in this post.

While it involves a few different skill sets, there’s nothing particularly special about mobile software projects that make them cost significantly more or less than say web development projects.

However, the time and effort behind mobile app development isn’t well understood outside of the industry. Especially now that people see high-quality mobile apps retailing for a couple of dollars on App Store, everyone’s inherent value-compass tends to vastly underestimate how much it costs to actually build them.

What follows is the general guidance we give to prospective clients.

‘Basic’ app: $5k to $15k

An entry-level app generally starts from around $5,000. This might include:

  • Calculator or small utility apps
  • Store locator/brand extension apps
  • Simple reference apps

These will generally be self-contained (no cloud service), and use mostly standard UI components with some custom graphics. Professional, high-quality graphic design will cost more, but is generally worth it for apps in this category.

You may be able to build your app more cheaply by using offshore developers, although you should expect to devote more of your time managing their output.

There are also some companies that churn out templated store locator apps for a few hundred dollars, but in our experience the resulting apps are very poor quality and, if anything, end up damaging your brand.

Repeat Timer Pro Case Study
An informative behind-the-scenes look at building an app is Repeat Timer Pro — the offshore development costs ended up being around US$4,500 (excluding design and subsequent marketing costs).

‘Complex’ app: $15k to $60k

A complex app is one that incorporates any of the following:

  • Dynamic updating of in-app content via a back-end service
  • A cloud database to synchronise or share information between devices or users, and/or support for an ‘offline mode’
  • Extensive integration with third party services (e.g. Google Docs, Facebook, weather services, financial data etc.)
  • Implementation of image recognition & Augmented Reality functionality
  • Custom user controls or complex dynamic graphics & animation
  • In-app purchases, subscriptions or push notifications
  • Support for both Apple & Android devices

Most business apps would fall into this category. There’s a lot of variation in the cost, but the biggest factor in most app quotes we see is its size: if you have 30 screen mockups in your brief, it’s not going to be cheap to build.

Typically we recommend stripping the functionality down to its absolute bare minimum. Then the app will be less expensive, delivered sooner and be much easier to use.

‘Top-shelf’ app: $60k to $150k+

An app entering an existing market (e.g. a Twitter client, RSS reader, or a vintage filter photo sharing app) will have to be very high quality in order to compete.

This generally requires extensive UI design, graphics work, and lengthy rounds of usability testing. Expect to go through several iterations of development, testing & rework before you begin to approach the required level of polish.

Other apps in this price range would be ones with complex custom cloud services behind them (e.g. Evernote, Instapaper, Flipboard, etc.). In this case you need to build both a full featured cloud application including database/file storage, web service interface and back office administration tools/panels, as well as the app for Apple & Android devices.

The most commonly cited example of app development costs in this category would be this StackOverflow answer by one of the developers of Twitteriffic. He estimated approximately US$250,000 to build the iPad version of their twitter client.

Other considerations

If you want to sell your own app through the App Stores, then you’ll need to enrol in the developer program at US$99 per year. For Android apps, Google Play has a one-time fee of $25.

Note that Apple & Android will take 30% of the sale price of apps & in-app purchases.

You’ll also need to take into account:

  • Hosting costs, if you’re running a cloud service. These can range from free up to thousands of dollars a month, depending on how many users you have & how the service is being used.
  • Marketing costs — customers need to find your app, and you can’t rely on the App Stores to do this for you. The most common approach is to design & publish an app website and use cost-per-click advertising, but blogging, RSS sponsorship, offline promotion and social media activity all help spread the word.
  • User support — you may need to provide email or forum support for your app (depending on what it does) — if so, you’ll need to implement a support/helpdesk system, and you’ll probably want to hire or outsource support functions as your userbase grows.

As is typical with custom development, please first chat to AustAR Labs to get a more accurate estimate of how much your app will cost. And hopefully the information presented here helps.

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