Ingenious ideas about the creation of software and its innovative uses in the form of apps have contributed immensely to our everyday lives. People use apps for almost anything – to edit media on their devices for personal use, to calculate nutrition macros of meals they eat on the spot and even to go as far as scanning the fabric of the materials they wear for cleanliness. For people who desire experiences beyond those that conventional life has to offer, apps are there to provide them. But at what cost?
If you want to know the cost behind producing a mobile app, this article is for you – it will take you through the technical process of creating an app, and all the costs involved.
First of all, we need to figure out what kind of app we want to create, or in other words – what would its function be?
This process will include questions such as:
- Is the app targeting a broad enough audience
- How unique would its function be?
- How feasible will its design and production be?
...and so forth.
After figuring that out, we can start to get into in depth technical details such as its cost.
In this article, all the variables for producing the app will be presented, discussed, debated, deducted and at the end, summarised. I hope that the information I provide will help you fulfil your journey by enabling you to select the best options out of the multitude of choices I'll present.
1. Pay a software company or a mobile app development agency to build your app
This alternative can (safely) be presumed to be the most expensive one. After all, this route includes hiring people who specialise in app design and creation, their bread and butter function. Taking that into consideration, accordingly we can presume that this is also the most effective, safe and foolproof method for having your app brought to life.
Think of it this way – being the least budget-friendly option on the list means it most likely has the highest chance of success. Software companies and app development teams include developers, designers, project managers and similar people with high-end expertise and a singular purpose – to provide you, the customer, with the best product that they can offer.
These people are professional idea-realisation technicians. I can say that the price these business entities charge for their product design is roughly £200 an hour on average, which can be way too expensive for a freelancer with a simple idea, even though it's the most efficient way to transform the idea into a reality. This is why we will continue on to the second alternative on the list.
2. Hiring a freelancer to produce the app for you
Choosing this alternative for your app design can lead to the same quality of product as the first option, if you hire the correct person for the job. Companies charge so much because they have higher expenses to pay, while the freelancer's costs are much lower; that's why the average app developer charges around £50 an hour.
Taking this into consideration, you might be wondering why I even mentioned the first alternative. Well...there are risks.
The freelancer (as the name suggests) works by his own rules and is not a part of a larger business entity, usually meaning that there's no project manager to ensure that the product will be delivered on time and within the agreed budget. If by any chance the freelancer is working together with someone else, the lack of project manager will also mean that the team responsible for your app is going to be less organised and coordinated.
Taking into consideration the fact that you're leaving your idea to be moulded into a living product by complete strangers, there's always the risk of the app not coming out the way you intended. This is also a result of having no project manager to properly communicate with you, the employer, to ensure your product meets your criteria in every aspect.
Last but not least, there's always a chance that you might have a terrible experience. Missed deadlines, bad craftsmanship, poor communication or flat out extensive lack of it between you and the freelancer are not that uncommon.
Regardless, if you pick a freelancer with a strong background, positive reviews from other employers and an already-existing business reputation, you might evade the bullet. Moving on.
3. Buy an app template or a starter kit and hire a freelancer and simply customise it
If your app idea is similar to an existing app in the App Store, this alternative solution to the problem just might be for you. It is important to be aware that if your idea is very popular, there are going to be tons of clones around already. It's highly possible that a clone version of your idea exists, it's already published and its source code license sells at around £50–£150.
Note that one source code license allows you to publish the app only once – the alternative, a multi-license, will without a doubt cost a lot more. The app template will still need customisation according to your aesthetic graphic needs. If you believe you have the artistic capability to do it, it will come a lot cheaper than hiring a freelancer to do it for you.
Regardless, if you also want to change or add extra functionality in the source code, you will still need to hire a freelance developer to do it for you. It should already be apparent that this is a relatively affordable variant to the solution.
A few things need to be kept in mind though, and they follow as such:
- The more unique you want to make the app, the more it's going to cost you, which in retrospect is a counterpoint to the reason you would buy a template in the first place.
- The source code might be buggy, as most templates aren't developed by professional companies but by freelancers. This means that yet again, you will need to "choose your battles wisely" in order to get the best product possible at the lowest price affordable.
- If your idea is very popular, there will most certainly be other clones of it which will act as rivals.
For this variant of solution to succeed, you will need to make a good compromise between customisation and build in the source code template.
4. Buy an app template or a starter kit and learn enough about coding to customise it yourself
This variant to the solution of the problem places a strong emphasis on you investing time in order to save money (after all, the saying goes: "time is money"). I'm an experienced programmer and I can say with almost complete certainty that learning coding off the bat isn't going to be easy.
You will definitely need to set aside other things which take a toll on your free time, devote it to coding, practise as much as you can and maybe after a while this alternative will become a feasible option. But if you are willing to make that trade-off, regardless of why you are being budget-friendly it can really pay off.
Now, there are two ways to approach the learning curve issue:
1. Hire a programmer to teach you or attend classes (online or otherwise).
- This alternative will speed up the learning process as you will be taking an actual course for the job, but it will still require a little bit of money to do so.
This is a good alternative if you're willing to be budget friendly, yet let slip a few dollars in order to complete your task.
2. Attend free online classes, read coding manuals or watch YouTube guides.
- This alternative is really going to take a toll on your free time, but ultimately it will save you money. Learning coding on your own might be difficult, but if you're willing to put the effort into it your devotion will show merit.
Just remember that if you decide to go down that path, you are truly going to be trading time for money. Regardless, it is feasible and the most budget-friendly option presented so far.
5. Use an online App maker or App maker software
An app maker (or an app creator/app builder) is a piece of software or an online service which allows users to customise and build their apps inside the editor without requiring any previous coding knowledge. So it's basically an app which lets you make apps by directly interfacing the interface of the app instead of dabbling with the source code (its counter-intuitiveness makes me giggle a bit).
Naturally, the question follows: isn't this method too crude and rigid?
Sadly, the answer to that question is yes, but this option might be just what you need. Due to the fact that there are limitless opportunities when it comes to app building, app creators may narrow your path of options so you have an easier time managing the whole process, while others will provide you with more options at the cost of convenience.
Other app builders may offer a dizzying array of options and ways to configure it. The best way to find out if this is for you is to try it out. There are many types of app builders and all of them offer different opportunities for you to turn your idea into reality. This is why the prices vary so much – some app builders cost £10 a month while others come at a price of £5,000 for unlimited access. The app builder which you are going to choose (provided you are choosing this alternative) should depend on your needs, your budget and the whole balance of both.
As expected, there are also free app builders, but having already mentioned how rigid the premium ones are, you can guess how realistically non-functional the free ones are. At best, if still wanting to remain budget friendly, simply choose a cheap version app builder.
6. Learn mobile app development and make your own apps
If you want to make an app while spending as little money as possible, this is the option for you. All the information you need for app development is available on the internet for free. There's even Apple documentation for learning how to code. However, if you are willing to spend at least some money, purchasing a basic starter coding course for around £100 will help you save time, learn efficiently and give greater value to the time you invest in developing the new skill.
Once you've learned the basics you'll be able to get started, and if something is in the way, "uncle" Google is there to assist you. Tutorials, guides and articles are abundant and will be able to help you with any kind of problem you might encounter. However, to understand these tutorials and guides first you need to learn how to read code and app development language so you can utilise them.
When learning anything new, we are bound to encounter problem after problem. Only with dedication can we learn how to overcome them in order to achieve our goal. The point where you are stuck and, in a way, having your resolve tested is called "The Hump" as in a hump on a camel. The Hump is the point where you're at the most pressure and you're seriously thinking about giving up on whatever you're doing and seeking alternative solutions.
But by realising this we can strengthen our resolve and use this information to overcome The Hump. After overcoming The Hump and the emotional and intellectual burnout it brings with it, the sky is the limit. After that, our new hobby or skill becomes easier to practise, learn, and eventually master. It's a simple matter of knowing this and realising that we have truly failed only when we have given up.
7. Partner with a developer to create your app and split the profit or equity in the company
Unless you have a truly genius idea or (most likely) are friends with a programmer, this isn't really a valid option. This is why it's last on the list. The vast majority of programmers won't be open to this kind of a deal unless one of the previously mentioned criteria is met, because there's simply too much risk in working with a random stranger.
Remember how we talked about the risks involved when you work with a freelancer compared to a company and your requirements are at the stake?
Well this time it's the programmer whose requirements are at stake, as he's doing the work and losing precious time which he could be spending on paid jobs. Unless the idea is truly unique and invaluable, you probably won't get this kind of a deal going on.
The stakes for the developer are simply too high, so if this is the alternative you wish to choose I would advise you to seek out developers who are willing to make a name for themselves and don't really have a previous working background, but then the quality of the product is going to be questionable and so forth.
You can see the contradictions and complications.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, TO PRESENT YOU WITH A SUMMARY
If you have read carefully so far, you'll understand when I say that there's no clear blueprint on how much it costs to develop an app. It can add up to thousands of pounds, either invested in a company to do the job for you or in personal education, or it can cost less than £100 if you're willing to utilise pre-constructed templates or free guides and tutorials on the internet. It's all about finding the correct option for you and measuring how much you value your time against your money.
Although don't take the last statement as granted:
There's no clear winner in the list, nor is its purpose to propose one. It simply serves as a guide and a source of information so you can make the correct choice for you in order to achieve, yet again, what YOU desire. I hope that this article has proved useful to you, the reader, and has put things in perspective with all the alternatives and variables it has presented, discussed, deducted and summarised so that you may judge more objectively how you want to approach the issue. Regardless of your budget availability, if you truly have an idea which you are passionate about, using the information provided in this article I am not only, but almost certain that you will be able to achieve what you desire.
Having gone over the variables that relate to the procedures for making your own mobile app, now we will discuss why you should integrate it into your business, as well as the reason it is so expensive, yet profitable (a funny, conflicting duality which makes the following statements even more interesting).
1. Improves accessibility
It's estimated that on average today's mobile market spends approximately 200 minutes in app usage. A mobile app would make your business much more accessible without the need for what are now rudimentary switch devices.
2. Enhances customer engagement
A quality customer experience, convenience and ease of use are important factors.
Mobile apps allow just that, thus building a stronger, more reliant and flexible customer-provider relationship.
3. Improves brand recognition
It is no secret that the name is half the product. Having your brand placed on the interface of any mobile device will improve brand recognition which is good in all aspects of business.
4. Improves value proposition
Customers can use your mobile app to get notified when discounts, support and other useful information need to reach them.
5. Presents another avenue for business
Having an app which provides the convenience and ease of making purchases on the spot will put you ahead compared to a competitor who only has a website, for example.
Another thing to note is that it has been proven statistically that people use apps more than websites for information, purchases and even entertainment.
The app which you will be creating to help promote your business needs to do so accordingly.
As such, there are several types of business apps to consider.
1. Basic functionality: main and sole function is to improve usability of any mobile device.
2. Database-driven functionality: helps organise files, programmes and other data.
3. Games: albeit their function is as simple as a form of pastime for the user, games usually involve some of the most complicated processes in app development.
4. Enhancement or modification: designed with a function to improve specific and usually targeted functions of the mobile device.
5. Fully dynamic: data-driven functionality dependent on external information.
6. Custom utilities: designed with a function that allows the user to format content in a specific, more optimised way.
Once you have settled on the specialty of your app, you will need to choose a platform: either Android or iOS. The cost of the app depends on a number of things, such as complexity. Simple apps can take approximately 10 weeks to build, with design accounting for up to 90 hours and backend development up to roughly 800 hours. Complex apps can take up to 28 weeks to build.
An EMM survey revealed that over 75% of enterprises budgeted over £250,000, with the remaining 25% budgeting as high as £1.5 million (for high-end apps).
As we mentioned, one of the key factors of an app is its complexity. Apps with server components and API integration are intuitively going to cost more when compared to their more simplistic counterparts.
Now we will debunk the prices even further in order to get an idea of the work that goes "behind the scenes".
A summary of what we will be debunking follows as such:
- The features, complexity and the platform decide the cost of the app.
- Apps supported by back end servers are more expensive.
- Simple apps for a singular platform will start around £25,000.
- The cost of more complex apps can hit 7-digit figures, going as high as £1,000,000 and over.
- There are also secondary costs such as budgets for updates, marketing, your own salary and so forth.
Jason Calacanistalks talks about the actual costs of building an app. He says that on average the first leverage of funding for the app building team should be around £750,000. This boils down to £120,000 of operational, legal, accounting and similar fees.
The remaining £630,000 is spread over 18 months (the average time for an app to be built), providing £35,000 a month for a team, which is very reasonable and almost standard for app building teams.
A prototype of an app takes around 4–6 months to be built, and once we do the maths it follows that a v1.0 form of an app should cost somewhere in the range of £140,000 to £210,000. In 2010, the cost of an app was around £250,000 for both iPhone and iPad. Since then their popularity has risen, therefore so has their demand.
Craig Hockenberry states the following:
Now if you want to build backend services for your app, that number's going to go up even more. Everyone seems surprised that Instagram chewed through £500K in venture funding to build a new frontend and backend. I'm not.
From his words we can derive the conclusion that apps are built for smartphones and tablets and have a complex user interface, or that they require significant backend development that can cost within the range of £250,000 to £1,500,000. Because of this, large app-focused firms and business entities will not even talk to you unless your budget is at least £500,000 – otherwise you'd simply be wasting their time. As the size and background working experience (and with that, product quality) goes down, so goes the price.
Here's following data to prove that point:
- Apps built by the largest app companies, the "big boys", likely cost anywhere between £500,000 and £1,000,000.
- Apps built by agencies without much background experience can cost anywhere between £150,000 and £450,000.
- Apps built by smaller shops, possibly with only 2-3 people, likely cost anywhere between £50,000 and £100,000.
Less complex apps without any server components or API integration can still be challenging to build. It usually boils down to how specific the app is and what kind of features it offers.To get an app of this type even by a high-end professional company is going to cost you around £25,000. Comparing Android to iOS apps, the Android apps are much harder to build (that is why the same app on the Android platform will cost more). That is called "the Android tax". This is why development companies, when building an app for an Android platform, still start on iOS for development and then simply move it to Android to avoid the "tax".
Avoiding the tax saves precious business work time and also has a customer convenience factor. It is essential to take into consideration the fact that an app will cost much more than its v1.0. The follow-on costs will include UX, design, development, project management and such. There are going to be extra expenses as well to cover updates and server costs.
As we can see, building a quality app is neither an easy nor a cheap process. It takes time, money and energy. If you want to have your app built, the data which this article has provided should prove useful so you may eventually, when the time comes, make the correct call when taking budget and quality both into perspective.