How long is a piece of string. True, but not helpful!

This article will help you with thinking through the main factors which affect the cost of mobile app development.

After reading it, you'll be better informed, better able to prioritise what's important to you and make your project practical and affordable.

Let’s start with some questions:

Do you need a native App, rather than a web app?

The experience of using a fully native app will almost always be better than using a browser, on a mobile device. The app is installed on the device (from an app store) and has local storage and processing. It will swipe faster, load faster and there will be less tedious waiting for links and interactions to process on a remote server. It will generally behave better for complex things like GPS positioning, taking photos,  video or playing sound, but those things are all possible with a web site or app.

Potentially, you can avoid complexity by creating your website as an HTML app which will reduce the cross platform issues, BUT this won’t allow you to do many things implied by more complex requirements.


How many platforms are you targeting? IOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile?

This is an important decision. Often people’s first answer is “All mobile platforms” which is understandable but can multiply the required work and therefore budget. For native app development, your new mobile app must be written separately for each platform you target. Although doable, it’s ambitious to target all at once and for simultaneous launch.

Often, it’s easier, safer and generally better to start with one platform. That was the approach chosen by Vine and Instagram who launched on iOS initially.


Are you planning to launch multiple platforms at the same time?

Yes is fine, but will usually cost more. Yes means that you will need to have a project team for each platform working in parallel. The platforms are very different and keeping them progressing at the same speed is a project management overhead. Decide how much of a priority this is for you. Often the market is happy with launch on iOS and a follow up for Android, or vice versa depending on your demographic.


Are you looking to deploy a final version or improve it over time?

Although less of a factor which affects cost than the number of platforms, the iterative versus final approach can affect cost. Best seen as a cash flow rather than capital dilemma.


How complex is your app, functionally?

This is a tough one to answer. But it’s every bit as important as the number of platforms question because this is the main factor affecting the programming and development time which must be allocated to your app development project – in short the number of programmer salaries that need paying. The number of features and the complexity of them are both important.

If your app concept relies on one main feature there’s not a lot you can do, but if you have a list of ten things you want it to do, write a list and rank them in order of importance. If there are any that could be taken out without destroying the concept, call them optional. that will help you understand the real cost.

Compare a pencil with a swiss army knife. One does one thing, very very well. The other, ten things but none of them as well as a specialised tool. Which is your concept?


Does your app need to exchange data with a website?

Surprisingly often, mobile apps exist as part of a wider ecosystem. Facebook App, Twitter App, Natwest Banking App, Skype – all have external integrations or a website behind them. Typically, that’s where the database of users and most of the content will reside, and can fed into the  mobile app to keep it up to date and manageable by the app owner.

If you don’t have a website yet which does that, you’ll need to think about that in the budget. If you do, you’ll still need to look at how the app integrates with it.


Will anything need to be stored online?

Usually content and user data is stored online. Even if there isn’t a website related to the app, you might want to content manage the app and access user records. That can have hosting implications.


Is your app Free or paid? Will it be a pay to install or repeat "in app" purchases?

Free apps are perhaps simpler as they don’t require the complexity of payment mechanisms. Paid apps need more planning and thinking through. Each platform has different rules. As a rule of thumb, if you require a payment channel, this will increase your budget to some extent at some point.


What kind of ongoing support will you need?

“Fire and forget” is all well and good but if you would like support from your app developer, that means you’ll want to draw on their time and expertise and that means they will likely charge you. Paying upfront can sometimes help reduce costs.


Do you need to promote your app? How will you do that?

Strictly speaking, promo should be a separate budget line, so don’t forget to factor it in somewhere. If you need your mobile app to reach a large audience, don’t underestimate the cost to get to that market. It’s a big noisy world with many mobile apps competing for attention.

You should be able to answer these questions, they're important factors which determine the cost of developing your mobile app. The answers will help your app developer and will help you make good decisions on your app development project scope.

Most mobile app developers will charge for app development projects based on the amount of time it will take them to design and build your app. Complexity, number of mobile platforms and external integrations all mean programming time.


So what is the cost of mobile app development?

As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to start at around a few thousand for simple non native mobile apps.

For a simple native app, 2-30k per platform.

Complex apps usually run to 10’s or 100’s of thousands per platform.

You’ll want to factor in ongoing costs for support, hosting web systems, promotion and so on.

Once you've arrived at an estimate, you should be a little clearer about your app and what you'll need to budget. Perhaps this will help you determine scope effectively.

Remember, one of the best ways to focus is to deploy one platform first to stagger cost, spread risk and test the market.

Also, native apps are good for many reasons but remember that good responsive websites can deliver a very similar experience to an app, they're just not deployed in app stores or available offline.

If you would like to talk about a mobile app development project, get in touch, we’d love to help!


We thrive on a challenge. Tell us about yours.

Looking for the right digital agency to tackle your next mobile app development or web design project? Shall we meet in Liverpool or London?

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