This is the first question that almost every client asks, and rightly so. It’s an important question. It’s also far more complex than most realize.
Custom software development is not the same as buying software off the shelf (does anyone even do that anymore?). Off the shelf software has standard pricing options for certain features or upgrades for others. If you are going to develop a custom application, it is not so straight forward.
Another way to explain it is by building a house. You can ask a contractor how much it’ll cost to build a house, but they won’t be able to give you an accurate answer until they know how many rooms, how many bathrooms, the number of floors, and any number of other details.
Let’s dive into a few of the factors that affect the cost of developing your mobile app.
A common misconception is that because the idea is simple to explain, it must be simple to build. This is dangerous because it sets unrealistic expectations between the client and the developer. It is important to understand all the work that goes into building and managing applications behind the scenes.
The idea that if something similar has been built before then building it the second time will be easy is false. Sure, there may be some savings in that the concept of the application will be easier to understand, but you still must develop the code to support all the features of the application.
When developing a software application, like everything else, time is money. The more time spent on a portion of the project, the higher the cost. Designers, developers, architects, technical leads, quality assurance, and even project managers spend a lot of time on tasks that might not be readily apparent to someone that is new to software development.
The design phase can be more involved than you might think. Design is entirely dependent on your product and your tastes. It can take tens of hours to design every single screen for an application that needs to be consumer-friendly. Then come revisions. If you are more of a perfectionist, it can take multiple rounds of revisions until the designs are done. More revisions translate to more hours which leads to higher costs.
Design can go as far as you like. You can spend hours upon hours anguishing over the placement and shading of every element of the screen. Often, making an application look simple and clean can take more time than you might expect. The way things move and animations such as transitions and the like can also add to the time spent during the design process.
Behind the Scenes
If you are building a mobile application, it may be necessary to build a backend server to support the app. Backend development is only necessary for more complex mobile apps, not every app, but can be critical for an app to function properly. General users do not interact with the backend of a mobile application. The back end of a mobile application is hidden from users. It helps the administrators and developers manage the content of the app and the user activity.
With most applications, be they mobile apps, back office, or customer-facing web applications, you will need some sort of administrative console or user interface to manage the application. These admin panels enable you to manage users (suspend, activate, set permissions), content (such as editing or adding new content), or control other aspects of the application and the way it functions.
In an age where cyberattacks and hacks occur daily, Security is of the utmost importance. If your application collects any user information (passwords, credit cards, personal information) then it needs to be secure. Having multiple layers of security and encryption to protect your users (and therefore yourself) is non-negotiable and can be time-consuming to implement.
Architecture is critical for ensuring that your mobile app is able to scale. In order for your app to function properly no matter the number of users (from 10 to 100,000 or more), the architecture must provide a solid foundation. You would not build a skyscraper on a foundation meant for a single-family home, the same goes for a mobile app that needs to host thousands of users. It can take hours to understand the expected user activity and design a platform to support it.
In order to give users a great experience, the app must undergo rigorous testing before release. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so dedicating time to test your app and verify it is working as designed can help your launch go as seamlessly as possible. You can spend a lot of time doing manual testing or developing an automated test for a complex, custom developed application.
As you can see, there is more to building an app than just coding, and this is only scratching the surface.
If You Build It…
Development is done. Your app is deployed. Now you can just sit back and reap in the revenue, right? If you build it, they will come, right? Not quite.
Just because your app is deployed doesn’t mean that it’s done. There still are other costs to account for. According to a Forrester Research report, “the average amount spent on a typical customer mobile app (between $50,000 and $150,000) turns out to be just 35% of the true two-year cost.” The bulk of the costs doesn’t even include the actual development of the app!
These come from services that are required in order for your app to function, or for specific features within your app. They are usually ongoing, either monthly or yearly, costs that your app incurs. They include any service your app may need, from push notifications to SMS integration. The costs can vary from just a few hundred dollars a year to thousands of dollars a month.
Servers and storage cost money, and they are not always cheap. Sever hosting usually scales with the size of your app, so more users mean larger server costs. Same with data storage. Your user’s data needs to be secure to prevent leaks and hacks.
Maintenance & Update Costs
Even with proper testing, bugs can still appear, especially over time as more people use your app. Bugs are just a natural part of software. In order to keep your app running smoothly, you’ll either need to hire an in-house developer or outsource the maintenance to a development company.
While marketing has nothing to do with the cost of developing an app itself, it is a huge cost that should be considered when developing an app. No app will get millions of downloads overnight just after launching. In order to attract users, your app needs a marketing plan in place.
So What Will My App Cost?
That’s a great question. A complex question, and one we’d love to help you answer.
The costs of your application will depend on all the factors we have talked about here and more. We have a blog that discusses The Wild West of Software Development Quotes, including how the types of companies you talk to affects your quote. Like anything, the more information you provide to inform that estimate the more accurate the estimate will be. If you would like us to provide an estimate, we would be happy to work with you to better understand your idea.
Stuart has been working as a technology professional for about 30 years. He got his start working in systems operations/systems management and then moved on to software development. He has a diverse history with technology working with software applications and systems ranging from avionics, web applications, disaster recovery, license plate recognition, content management, and systems monitoring.