Wherever you look, you see brands boasting about their latest mobile apps, publications citing statistics about the impact of mobile adoption and customers glued to their mobile devices.

All while you still rely on the website to generate brand engagement and sales.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, there is no other way to catch up than by launching a mobile app of your own.

And if you’re considering developing a custom mobile application for your business, then I have something really useful for you – a guide to mobile app development costs.

But first…

Why Exactly Does Your Business Need a Mobile App

You’ve probably heard about all the benefits of having a mobile app. In case you didn’t, let me run over that really quickly.

A mobile app makes you accessible to customers at all times. Today’s customers spend approximately 200 minutes on their mobile devices per day. And an app gives them a chance to interact with you at any time they please, without the need to switch devices.

It helps to engage customers. One of the biggest advantages of the mobile channel is that it allows to connect and engage with the audience in real-time, develop strong relationships and guide them through each steps to purchase.

It also increases brand recognition. The more customers see and use your app, the more likely they are to go and buy from you. Having  branded icon of yours sitting in front of them 200 minutes per day is a great way to keep your brand fresh in their mind.

Mobile app helps provide value to customers. Your mobile app could serve customers in a multitude of ways, from offering exclusive discounts or information to the ability to get instant support and feedback from the company.

And finally, it becomes another sales channel. An app could give customers the ability to do whatever they would normally on your site but without having to step away from the comfort of their mobile device.

With that out of the way, let’s look at everything that affects the price of app development.

Factors that Affects App Development Costs

Mobile applications come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and functionalities. There are a TON of moving parts at play, and every single one of them impacts the cost.

The primary factors influencing development costs include:

  1. Business Model
  2. Platform
  3. Functionality
  4. Design
  5. Developer

Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.

1. Business Model: What’s Needed?

The quest to build an app starts with your business plan and your business model for bringing in revenue. This model will be THE most important driving force in the costs required to build your app.

When creating your app, you are looking at your business plan and asking “What’s needed?”

  • Where are your target customers spending their time?
  • What devices and platforms are they using?
  • How you will monetize the app?
  • Will it be free to download?
  • Will you sell it for a fixed price?
  • Will you earn money via in-app purchases?
  • Will your app be used to advertise your own products or will 3rd party ads be a monetization method?
  • Does your audience care more about cutting edge visual design or practical functionality?
  • Is the experience you are looking to provide based on access to information or a unique experience?

Each of these factors (and countless others) will determine what your app needs to become and thus, influence the amount you need to invest in platform access, functionality, design, and development.

For instance, it’s easier to create an app that is simply sold for a fixed, upfront price. In-app purchases, on the other hand, take longer to implement and are thus more expensive. And if you are wanting a full-blown ecommerce experience, you can expect to pay out even more.

What you need to connect with customers and bring in revenue will be the most important force behind the expense of your app.

The iCardinalApps Solution:  Multiple templates available for almost every industry imaginable.  Just choose a template, make a few changes, and you are ready to publish!

2. Platform: Android vs Apple vs Kindle

Once you’ve determined what your app needs to do and who it need to reach, you will need to decide on a platform for its creation.

You can build an app accessible on a number of devices: iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Kindle, Windows Phone, the Web or all together. And depending on which platform you choose, the price of its development will vary.

When we are talking about mobile apps however, for most businesses the options are either Android or Apple.

As a general rule, iOS apps are quicker and cheaper to build. On average, leading developers report Android apps requiring 2-3 times longer to develop than the same app in iOS. Apple also tends to have a more engaged, free-spending user base, which is why many companies opt to launch iOS-only apps initially and then expand to Android later if the iOS version proves to be successful.

That said, Android has gained significant ground over the last few years, and some developers no longer feel there is a significant difference between the two platforms. From a marketing perspective, Android has wider market penetration and reach, particularly in emerging markets.

At this point in app history, the intended audience of your app will probably have the most impact on your platform decision.

For example, looking at the chart below, if your primary target marketing is black Americans between the ages of 20-30, it might make sense to go with Android.

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Or, for example, if your target market is located in Asia, Africa, or South America, Android is the clear winner.

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All things equal, it’s best to make your platform decision based on your target market, so the accessibility of both platforms is fortunate. Costs for both are a lot closer than they used to be, although as we mentioned before, Android still takes a bit longer to develop on average, which usually translates to slightly higher costs.

If you decide to launch to both platforms simultaneously, you can expect to pay nearly double what you would pay to develop on a single platform. There will be some crossover that lower the cost, but you’ll pay at least 75% more to launch to both platforms.

The iCardinalApps Solution:  When you create your app, you can “copy” it to the other platforms quickly and easily and then publish to the other platforms without having to build the app for each platform from scratch.

3. App Types & Functionality

Now that you’ve decided on the platform, it’s time to actually dive into building the app. The type of app you’re aiming to build and its technical specifications will be the single biggest factor in its cost.

Apps continue to become more and more dynamic, and there is virtually no limit to what can be produced. For the purposes of this guide, we’ve broken app types down into the following four categories:

  1. Table/List
  2. Database
  3. Dynamic
  4. Games

Let’s take a close look at each type.

Table / List Based

These apps are designed primarily to display a relatively simple collection of information. In general, they present information to a user who can in turn select from available options and be redirected to additional materials on the topic. In other words, it functions very similarly to a simple, mobile-optimized website.

Database Based

These are more complex apps, designed to allow users to find, sort, and display data from very large data sets. Database apps often connect to a website or other online web service to retrieve information, making them more complex to develop than their Table based counterparts.

Dynamic Apps

These apps are similar to database apps, but instead of simply connecting to an online server for information, they need to cooperate with other platforms and software via APIs. For example, a 3rd party Twitter app would need to be integrated with Twitter’s API in order to import import tweets and other data. APIs vary in quality and complexity, so this addition to app development can range from a relatively small cost increase to a massively expensive undertaking.

Games

Lastly, the hardest app type to develop is that of app-based games. Simple games can be more on par with a dynamic app in terms of difficulty and pricing, but more complex games with 3D environments or advanced physics engines can be substantially more expensive than any other app type.

While these 4 categories do a good job of incorporating most app types and functionalities, apps these days are tremendously varied and hard to categorize.

The most important thing to understand is that every app’s unique functionality requirements will carry a corresponding cost. Some types of functionality might seem simple yet be very expensive to build, while other functionalities might be surprisingly affordable.

You won’t know for sure until you’ve actually solicited quotes from multiple developers.

The iCardinalApps Solution:  Remember the templates and how easy they are to pull up, change the basic information, and then you can make it unique according to the company and their requirements!

4. Design: Average or High End?

When it comes to app development, the design can matter as much as the app’s functionality.

Customers buy with their eyes. A catchy icon can attract their attention. A breathtaking design makes them want to use the app more and more. (In fact, many app designers create apps to be so visually pleasing that they deliberately prevent users from putting their devices down.)

To look great, your app will need an icon, a splash screen, interface elements like tabs, buttons and many other design features that entice users to engage with it.

But a great design typically comes at a cost. While you can find winners and duds at any point in the prices spectrum, there is usually an obvious difference between a $300 icon and its $1,500 counterpart. If you want compelling design to work in your favor, you should be prepared to shell out some serious cash for a proven design team with an eye-catching portfolio.

At this point, it becomes a matter of budgeting and prioritizing based on your target audience. If your intended market is very design sensitive, it’s probably better to lower your ambitions in the functionality department and divert that money towards high end design. If your audience is far more UX or info driven, you will still want to ensure that your design is competitive with the market standard, but you don’t need to shell out for something cutting edge in the looks department.

Choosing your designer leads into the final factor affecting development cost: choosing which type of developer you will hire.

The iCardinalApps Solution:  All of our templates are high quality with amazing features and an almost endless resource of incredible and cutting edge functionality.  All of this with no programming or coding experience required!

5. Developer: Freelancer vs Agency

Everything we have described thus far has dealt with the app itself and how you want to create and market it.

The business model driving your decisions, the platform you choose, the functionality you need, and level of design your require are all baked in costs that can’t really be manipulated.

Let’s call these the “objective” costs of mobile app development.

Unfortunately, there is also a “subjective” side to app development costs, and this side deals with who you hire to design your app and what they charge.

There are 3 basic categories of developers you can choose from:

  1. Freelancer
  2. Small agency
  3. Large agency

There are a number of benefits and tradeoffs to each type of developer, let’s take a closer look at each one.

Freelancers

Freelance developers are typically the cheapest option you can find for developing an app, and really, their affordability is the ONLY reason you would hire a freelancer as opposed to an agency.

When you are hiring a freelancer, you are ultimately just hiring a person and all the risks that come with that. If the freelancer is unskilled, you could end up wasting your money. If the freelancer is slow, late, or uncommitted, your project could drag on indefinitely.

Furthermore, a freelancer will have a fairly limited range of expertise. It’s very rare for more complex apps to be successfully built by freelancers, and eve if your app is relatively simple, it’s unlikely you will find a single freelancer that can execute an entire app at a high level. If you go the freelance route, you will most likely need to hire a handful of freelancers, each of whom could cause problems and delays for your project.

There are fantastic freelancers out there, and if you can manage to find a few great ones, you can potentially get a great app made at a very low cost, but you are just as likely to end up with no app and no money.

Small Agencies

Small app agencies are typically a collection of 3-10 creatives focused on creating a specific class of app. Each member in the agency is there to meet a specific need in the app creation process, allowing the agency to be a one-stop shop.

If you can find a small agency that builds apps in a similar category to what you are looking to build, you will benefit tremendously from their past experience. Having a team working on your app usually results in a greater degree of quality assurance, consistency, and timely delivery. And while they tend to be a good bit more expensive than freelancers, they still provide a tremendous cost savings as compared to large agencies.

On the downside, small agencies are often unequipped for highly complex apps and still have the potential to manifest the downfalls often associated with freelancers, although to a much lesser degree.

Small agencies as a whole provide a very attractive middle ground on price, quality, and consistency.

Big Agencies

Big app agencies bring large teams, heaps of experience, and a big brand guarantee to the table. Hiring a big agency to build your app is the closest you can get to a quality guarantee, but you will also be paying a significant premium for that assurance.

If your app is highly complex, a larger agency might be the only development option cable of bringing it to market. The larger the agency, the more likely they are to have expertise for any problem that might come up during development.

At the same time, there is no such thing as a guarantee. Multi-million dollar companies can still fail to do right by their clients from time to time. You are putting your trust in the brand, but agencies (particularly higher end ones) are usually very dedicated to upholding the reputation of their brand.

The type of developer you choose will have a big impact on the amount you pay for your app, and as you will see in the next section, that amount can vary wildly.

So How Much Does It All Cost?

So much is this all going to cost you?

Frankly, it depends on who you ask, and development projects are notorious for having a fairly ridiculous range of potential pricing. Present the same project to 5 different developers, and you are guaranteed to get wildly different pricing from each one.

According to the report by Kinvey, organizations spend an average of around $270k to develop an app.

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And the whole process typically takes the majority of organizations around a year from getting the go ahead to launching a complete app.

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Otreva, a mobile and app development company offers statistics indicating the average cost for a full-blown business app to be in a region of $130k.

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In a third opinion, after surveying representatives from 12 leading mobile development companies, Clutch established the cost of building an iOS only app to be between $38,000 for low functionality to $171,000 for a high spec app.

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(image source)

Here’s the breakdown of costs for different stages of the development cycle:

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And finally, OSX Daily reports development costs for a simple iPad app to be in a region of $3,000 – 8,000. A more complex app (typically developed by brands) can cost anything between $50,000 – $150,000.

As you can see, it really depends on who you ask, but all in all, the above examples indicate that if you’re looking to develop a mobile app for your business, you typically have to be prepared to spend some serious cash on development.

How To Price Your Desired App

Given the numerous amount of factors that affect app development, it’s understandable that finding an “average cost” is so difficult.

Fortunately, the average cost doesn’t really matter to you anyway. Your desired app will have a unique list of requirements, most of which will have a somewhat consisting method for pricing.

Understanding this, many mobile app development companies built cost calculators that could help you assess how much it would cost to develop your app.

Here are a couple of them you can check out to get a feel for your unique project’s pricing. These will obviously be estimates and won’t account for a given developer’s specific method for charging, but they will give you a good ballpark range of what to expect.

Otreva Calculator

A very thorough app that allows you to provide a host of details for a more accurate estimate.

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Imason Calculator

This is another thorough estimator that allows you to specific the exact features you’d like to see in your app.

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How Much to Make an App

This is a rather basic mobile app development calculator that allows you to specify only the most general aspects of your app. However, it’s ideal if you’re not entirely sure about the exact functionality of your app but would like to get an idea how much building it could cost you.

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What If You Can’t Afford to Develop an App?

As we’ve seen today, developing a mobile app can be incredibly expensive. So what can you do if your business needs a mobile app, but you don’t have the budget to develop it?

The answer (and one that thousands of business have begun using) is to use a custom app builder.

App builders like iCardinalApps allow you to create a mobile apps.  Now you can start your own mobile app development company at a fraction of the cost, use the templates available to you instead of paying high-cost developers, and pocket the money for your work!

The simplest of information based apps will cost a minimum of $25,000 when sourced by a small app agency, but with a platform like iCardinalApps, you can create, publish, and sell the exact same app for any price you want to charge and pocket the money for your business!

If you are interested in skipping the hassles of hiring a developer, click here to try building your own app.