The rise of mobile applications was inevitable. They have been a driving force in the mobile industry, and as of recent, they’ve gained a few other purposes outside of the mobile market. They now provide a level of convenience that many users have become used to and they also serve as a reliable source of income for most companies.
A report by Statista said that as of 2018, both Google Play and the Apple App Store counted around 4.1 million apps. And for good reasons, after all, applications serve as a great source of revenue.
But the never-ending question of how much does it cost to make an app remains not clearly defined. Mobile app development is a complex project that requires a lot of planning, effort, and research. To answer this question, one must take into consideration a whole host of factors, which is precisely what we will be talking about today.
What factors go into app development cost?
There is no definitive answer to the app development cost question. There are many things you need to take into consideration before starting a project. From the architectural design to the visual language, there’s a lot to cover. Yet, as with all projects, there are many different aspects that can influence the mobile app development cost. By knowing these variables you can come up with a more accurate picture.
How complex is your app?
The very first thing you should determine is the complexity of your application. Like everything in this world, the more sophisticated your idea is, the more it will cost. But it’s not just the development expenses that will grow - the application will also require more time in the oven. On the contrary, if your project is simple and provides the bare minimum, it will be quite easy to develop.
But do bear in mind that features aren’t the only things that can impact the app development price; the design also plays a vital role. If you want your product to feature custom transitions, sleek visual style, and unique segments, it will cost you a penny.
Apps without web servers
Apps that don’t use a web server still resort to a database that is stored on a server. The logic, however, is drastically simplified. The app will instruct the server to send raw data which the application can open. This decreases the wait time but also impacts the performance of the app as everything has to be decrypted on the device. This functionality also requires extra development time and has issues that are harder to tackle without pushing an update.
Apps with web servers
Let’s pretend that you have a shopping app that automatically updates prices. For it to update them correctly, the application must send a request to a server, whereas the server has to look up a flat file or a database to send it back. Once the variables are known, the application can update the pricing information. Simple, right? It is, but that doesn’t mean it will be cheap. Indeed, building a server on its own is already a pricy endeavor and implementing that kind of functionality into a product will impact your budget. Yet, most applications that have an online component to them are built that way.
There are several MBaaS (mobile backend as a service) providers that an application developer can choose from. These are the most common ones:
- Google Firebase. The provider offers a cloud database, hosting, testing, and crash report features. There’s a wide spectrum of analytics to analyze user interactions. Google Firebase allows creators to display in-app advertising and earn money on monetization. Pricing: $25 per month.
- Apple CloudKit. While solid for hosting basic iOS applications, the provider doesn’t support server-side logic and lacks functionality. Pricing: free plan - 40 requests per second, 2 GB data transfer, 100 MB database storage and 10 GB assets storage; for every extra 10 requests, you have to pay $100, $0.1/GB of data transfer, and $3/GB of database storage.
- Microsoft Azure. A fair share of mobile applications rely on Azure as a backend-as-a-service provider. It offers a range of storage solutions to fit various project sizes and budgets.The cost per GB of data starts from $0.001.
- AWS. Amazon’s hosting is highly functional - developers can use cloud storage, and there’s a wide array of features for developers. Having said that, AWS has a complicated interface which takes a while to get a hang of. Pricing: developers pay for each used feature as they go.
App development by platform type
There are two primary platforms to develop on - Android and iOS, which both imply a native type of mobile software development. There’s technically a third development type referred to as ‘hybrid’ which is perhaps the most popular as it allows you to create a universal app that works on both platforms.
For developers to build applications, Android SDK is needed. The key advantage of this framework is the fact that it can run on everything, including Mac OS, Linux, and Windows.
This platform requires a developer to install Xcode which is only available on Mac OS. It requires you to know Objective C or Swift which is a proprietary language created by Apple. With it, developers will have access to devices features and semi-full control of hardware (developers can’t configure the CPU power output to maximum).
The main benefit of this method is that products come out more reliable and significantly faster. Another advantage is that these apps, by default, have the ability to employ the device’s hardware, including camera, microphone, address book, and more.
As the name implies, these types of products are built for several platforms. They are similar to native applications, yet, the technology used to create them is different. Such products use a mix of native and web technologies that are supported by the platform. However, they can’t use the device’s features unless configured. It is also worth stressing that these types of apps allow for a better UI, significantly simplified maintenance, and cheaper development costs.
Cost of app development features
Another aspect of application development that can impact the average price is the amount of unique features. Keep in mind that not every feature is priced the same. Therefore, you can have a ton of small functions such as setting reminder notifications or the ability to work in the background even when the app isn’t open, and it won't cost you as much. If you want something more complex, see the table below.
What specialists do you need to develop your application?
For features to be refined and well implemented a wide range of specialists is required. The average team size is around five people but this number can vary as the complexity of features increases. Keep in mind that in certain cases, external resources are required (i.e. sound designer, community manager, developers, etc). Here’s how an average sized team should look like. The cost to develop an app is dependent on the number of specialists.
App cost by app type
We can’t stress enough that not every app is equal. There are several different types of apps and some of them are not just complex in terms of features but have a totally different architecture. Knowing the type will help you calculate app development cost much faster and with more accurate results.
App costs for no network access
Such products that work offline can enable users to store the data locally on the smartphone, or in other words, allow the user to run the application whenever they want. Also, the cost to build an app can fluctuate drastically because some features depend on network connectivity.
An application with no network access stores data as a database. A basic database app development may cost on average $100,000 - $150,000.
App costs for data consumption
While most apps are optimized to eat as little data as possible, there are a number of them that actually rely on massive data consumption (i.e. video apps such as YouTube). The less your app consumes data, the more users will like it. Yet, like everything in this world, good things come with a price.
For an app to consume less data, developers need to come up with a compression mechanism or rely on a small file system.
This way, data will have less space to travel, meaning that the application will consume less of a user’s data. The average price for such applications ranges around $50,000 with the most notable ones being stock apps (those that are classified as system apps) such as Calendar, Stocks, Weather. Last but not least, certain companies resort to applications such as Facebook Lite, which is a stripped down version of the usual Facebook client. It requires fewer amounts of data and is generally less demanding on the hardware.
App costs for user authentication
Most apps that have some kind of user authentication system set in place can be classified as expensive. While the user authentication feature isn’t expensive, it’s the supplementary (essentially, even) features that are expensive. Data interaction, push notifications, synchronization, invites - all these features add to the cost of creating an app and it’s hard to exclude even one.
The best example would be Dropbox. The application allows for sharing, copying, storing, and modifying a wide range of files. Another good example would be Viber as it's not just a regular messenger but a robust communication tool with all sorts of features. Considering that it came after WhatsApp, it gained a massive install base due to its high-quality feature list. Creating a similar app and taking into account the core functions can result in a $150,000 price tag.
A developer can choose between several user authentication providers. Here are some of the most popular options:
- Firebase Authentication - no fees.
- Amazon Cognito - $0.50 per monthly active user in a total pool of 50,000 users.
- Azure Active Directory B2C - up to 50 000 authentifications are free, up to 950 000 users - $0.0028, next 9 000 000 authentifications - $0.0021.
Social networking apps costs
With the introduction of the Facebook application, almost every social media channel started developing their own app. And for good reason - they bring more people on board and have a higher retention rate. These products on the surface look similar to others, yet, they are classified as an “ongoing project” because they are constantly transforming.
The price for such apps is hard to calculate as it depends on the constantly expanding feature set, as well as evolving visual design. And it’s not just that - some devices require a custom layout due to different screens (for example, iPhone X) which can add to the price. Although as pricey as they may sound, the benefits of having such an app are clear.
The average cost to start an app of this type can range anywhere from $100,000 to a whopping $450,000 depending on the list of features. Such applications are great but only if your social media platform already has a decent install base.
When estimating a cost of a social networking mobile product, it’s helpful to know how much money it took to create today’s most famous social networks. Such estimates, in fact, have already been listed by The Next Web. Here’s what they found out:
E-commerce app costs
E-commerce applications are known as the most expensive and most beneficial ones. They can be described as complex systems that generally interact between multiple servers, agents, and sometimes even companies. Such applications have a dedicated or third-party payment processing system and have the capability to accept credit card payments.
Yet, what makes these applications so valuable to companies is that they have the ability to draw information from an ever-increasing product catalog. If you don’t want to use a third-party catalog system then you can use APIs and web services to gather data. Otherwise, your choices are limited to platforms such as Magento, Shopify, etc. Keep in mind that using these systems is both beneficial and counterproductive. You won't have to worry about products in the cart but you will be limited in terms of features due to platform ties.
The most prominent examples of a good e-commerce app are Amazon and AliExpress. They have a number of payment methods and all of their product catalogs are being updated via a server which is also handled by its own app. The average cost of app development in this case can reach as high as $300,000. However, if you're looking for the most affordable development options, you could even fit in a $15,000 budget.
So that about wraps things up. Application development is a massive undertaking and it can be sometimes hard to calculate everything on your own. Indeed, app cost estimation can serve as a topic on its own. But in any case, hopefully our post answers at least some of your questions, and if you need further assistance, leave us a message. We have a number of apps under our belt and we understand what draws users to a product.