If you’re like most people, at some point you’ve probably come up with an idea for an app. And if that’s the case, one of the first things you probably asked yourself is just how much does it cost to develop an app?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple.
It depends on huge number of factors including how complex your app is, whether you know how to code or not, and how you choose to have the app developed.
In this article I’m going to do my best to answer this question for you.
Keep reading to learn more about the different options you have for getting an app developed, how they compare when it comes to cost, and the pros and cons of each one.
Factors That Affect How Much It Costs To Develop An App
Let’s start by looking at what goes in to determining how much an app costs to develop.
Price is heavily dependent on the design of your app and your specific requirements.
In short, the more complex an app is, the more it costs to build.
The most basic of apps usually contain a few different screens with limited information. Navigating between the different screens is as simple as tapping on buttons within the app.
So what makes an app complex?
Here are a few things that will make your app more complex and therefore more expensive.
Dynamic content is content within the app that is updated from an external source.
This means that instead of always having the same information, the app can connect to the internet and update itself with new information on a regular basis.
Think of a news app as a good example of dynamic content.
Every time a new news article is published, your favourite news app connects to a database via the internet and downloads the new article for you to read. This is dynamic content in action.
Dynamic content adds complexity because your app needs extra functionality to be able to connect to the internet and sync with your server to get updates.
The fact that you also need a server to store your regularly updated content also adds complexity and cost.
Supporting multiple platforms
Want to support both iOS + Android?
That will cost you extra in most situations. This is simply because there is extra work involved in building an app that supports multiple platforms.
In fact, one company found that it costs 30% more on average to develop for Android.
Location-based functionality (or any other extensive use of your smartphone’s built in sensors)
Adding real-time location based features can be hugely appealing for mobile app owners. It is one way that a mobile app can really stand out against a web site.
But adding this type of functionality does come at a cost. It’s not going to dramatically increase the cost of your app, but it’s still going to result in an increase in cost.
Level of Security
This one is often overlooked, but if your app requires an extra level of security it’s going to cost you more.
If you need to encrypt data inside the app or between your app and your backend server, it’s going to add complexity.
Often these types of requirements come with apps that are used to make payments or use personal information.
eCommerce (accepts payments)
In addition to the security aspect I just mentioned, eCommerce apps are generally quite complex.
They usually also require dynamic functionality to update product catalogues on the fly.
It’s also common for eCommerce apps to use some sort of login functionality as well.
We’ll go into this more in the next point.
Apps that require users to register and login will also be more expensive to develop.
That login functionality will depend on some sort of backend. Even if you use something like ‘login with Facebook’, which will make things a bit easier, it’s still extra work to build this in to your app.
Of course every app is different and there will be other things I haven’t mentioned here that will make an app more complex and more expensive to develop. These are just a few common features that can drive up costs.
Methods For Getting An App Built & How Much Each One Costs
Now let’s look at the different option available for getting an app developed and the pros and cons of each.
The option you choose should depend not only on your budget, but also how much time you have, your level of technical proficiency, programming knowledge, and appetite for risk.
I’ll start at the cheapest option and work down to the most expensive.
Learn to Code (DIY)
The DIY approach means learning to code and developing the app yourself.
This method costs the least amount of money, but takes a lot of time, particularly if you are learning to code from scratch.
There are lots of free or low-cost options available for learning how to develop your own mobile app. Here are some great resources you can check out:
Ray Wenderlich – Ray has a ton of tutorials & guides available for you to use while learning to code. This is one of the best resources out there no matter which programming language you are looking to master.
Ray has written tutorials, video tutorials, a podcast, books, forums, resources to help you with graphics for your apps & games, and much more.
Price – Free or $19 / month for access to all video tutorials.
CodeAcademy – CodeAcademy is a free resource that teaches you how to code by giving you interactive lessons to work through. If you want to learn by doing, this is definitely a resource to check out.
Price – Free
Code School – Code School is similar to CodeAcademy in that you learn by working thorough a series of tutorials that build upon each other. I haven’t used this one myself but have heard good things and they offer a really wide selection of programming languages.
Price: $29 / month
Pros of using this method:
- Price – This method doesn’t have to cost you a cent.
- Knowledge – You’ll learn a ton by going through this process & gain skills for life. Even if you pay someone to build an app in the future, you’ll be in a much better position to do so with coding knowledge under your belt.
- Fun – If you enjoy a challenge and like to create things you might just find this a lot of fun.
- Time consuming – This will take you a long time to learn and even longer to master.
- Can be frustrating – If you don’t enjoy the process it can be insanely frustrating.
So how much does it cost to develop an app if you do it all yourself?
You really could teach yourself to code using only free resources and build your very own app.
Assuming you used free graphics or created on your own, that would mean your costs stay at $0. As I mentioned, it’s the time investment that is significant with this method.
Online App Builder
The next option I will cover is the use of an online app builder to create your app.
These allow you to create a mobile app from a web interface.
Basically you log in, select the components / functionality you would like to have in your app, select some colours and upload a few images like logos etc. and boom, you’re done.
They are easy to use and you can have an app on the store really quickly.
Depending on the service you choose, they may provide native or html based apps. I won’t go into all of the details of what that means here, but you can read more on the topic in this article on Forbes.
Here are some examples of online app builders:
Bizness Apps – One of the most popular services out there at the time of writing this article. Plans start from $29 / month for a web app and $59 / month for a native app.
Apps-Builder – These guys offer both native + html apps and have cheaper options if you’re creating multiple apps. Prices start from 49 Euro / month.
Goodbarber – Out of the 3 here, Goodbarber offer the cheapest plan at $16 / month. One thing I should mention is that this plan is only for really basic apps. Anything more complex will require one of their higher plans.
- Easy to use – Anyone can create an app using one of these tools. Even someone with no technical background.
- Cheap – These services are relatively cheap and some start from as low as $29 / month.
- Fast – You can build an app in a matter of minutes.
- Limited customisation – The apps created by these services have a limited level of customisation. There are only so many options you can choose from, so naturally you can’t build a complete custom app.
- Limited features and integrations – You can’t simply add any SDK or third party tool to your app. You are limited to those supported by the service you choose.
- Quality – It’s important to make a call as to whether the quality of app produced by one of these services meets your needs. This is about look and feel rather than actual functionality. Put simply, an app produced by an online app builder won’t look as polished as a custom app.
- Monthly fee – You must keep paying for your app to keep working. You stop paying and your app stops working.
How much does it cost to build an app with a web based builder service?
The cheapest I’ve seen is as low as $16 / month.
At the same time there are much more expensive options out there but I haven’t seen any over $100 / month.
Hiring freelancers is a popular way to get an app built. It’s often recommended as a cheap way to get into the app business.
Freelancers are independent contractors that you hire to build your app for you.
Generally hiring a freelancer looks something like this:
- Define your requirements
- Post a job ad on Upwork and/or Freelancer
- Screen applicants and shortlist some for interviews
- Interview candidates & request final quotes
- Hire your freelancer
Obviously it’s not a simple process and hiring the freelancer is just the beginning.
You need to define your requirements really well and be excellent at communicating those requirements to your freelancer.
With freelancers, you are responsible for managing the entire project. That means setting expectations, requirements, milestones, managing payments. The whole lot.
And most freelancers are really good at only one thing.
That means you might hire one freelancer to write the code for your app. But what if you need graphics as well?
In that case you need to hire a separate freelancer for graphic design.
That means you have to now manage 2 freelancers and ensure communication between them is excellent as well.
If you want to get a feel for what it’s like to have an app build using an offshore freelance developer, check out this detailed account of one entrepreneur’s experience.
Now let’s look at the pros & cons of hiring a freelancer to develop your app.
- Low cost – Hiring a freelancer is often the lowest cost option if you want to hire someone to build the app for you. It’s possible to find really talented people in countries in Eastern Europe, Asia or South America that are much cheaper to hire than talent in countries like the USA, UK, Australia or Canada.
- Custom – You can customise the app as much as you like. Because it’s being built from the ground up for you it’s possible to define everything about your app.
- You need to be able to manage the project – This is harder than it sounds, particularly if you have to coding knowledge.
- Language barriers – This may or may not be an issue depending on where your freelancer lives and how well they speak English.
- Some risk – Hiring offshore freelancers always comes with some risk. Sites like Upwork and Freelancer do mitigate this a bit, but there is always a chance that your project won’t be up to standard, won’t be completed, or just doesn’t work. There are also plenty of stories of freelancers just disappearing mid project as well. You need to be prepared to deal with these issues if you choose this route.
How much does it cost to develop an app if you’re hiring freelancers to do the work?
Good freelance mobile app developers from Eastern Europe, Asia or South America can be hired for between $20-$50 per hour.
When it comes to the total cost, this is where the question starts to get more difficult to answer. The truth is it really depends on how complex your app is.
To give you a short answer, most apps cost between $5000 and $25000 to develop if you’re using a freelancer to build something custom for you.
Of course, some very simple apps will cost much less than that, and large, complex apps may cost much more. This is just a guide.
For the purpose of this article I’m defining an ‘offshore agency’ as an agency in Asia, Eastern Europe or South America.
The reason for choosing an offshore agency is usually because the cost is lower than if you used a local agency.
There are lots of reputable, high quality mobile app development agencies across Asia, Eastern Europe and South America that can build your app for you at very reasonable rates.
By choosing an agency you mitigate some of the risks that come with freelancers. In theory the developers working for an agency should already be vetted as having the necessary skills.
If you’re developer gets sick or can’t complete the project, the agency simply assigns you a different one. No need for you to go through the entire recruitment process again.
You will also likely have a project manager to help you along the way as well.
Essentially what you’re hoping to achieve by using an offshore agency instead of a freelancer is a similar level of talent, while you accept a lower level of risk.
- Less risk – In theory agency staff are pre-vetted and have a reasonable level of experience. You also have the benefit of being able to leverage a team in case a single developer can’t solve a particular problem.
- Project management – Most offshore agencies will assign you a project manager to make sure everything runs smoothly.
- The cost remains relatively low due to lower costs of labour – Of course due to the structure of an agency the hourly rate will likely be higher than if you go directly with a freelancer.
- All skills in one place – Most agencies will have a range of staff with different skillsets in-house.
- Communication difficulties – This is unlikely to be a problem, but there is a chance you will encounter language barriers.
- Lack of face-to-face contact – Because you are located in different countries, your communication will most likely take place over email + Skype. This isn’t necessary a problem, but it might be a downside if you place a high value on in-person communication.
How much does it cost to develop an app using an offshore agency?
Cost is often slightly higher than the freelancer rate in the same country. This simply reflects the additional benefits you get by using an agency. Rates can generally be anywhere between $20 – $100 / hour.
One example of such an agency is South American based b7dev.com, whose rates for app development start at $25 / hour at the time of writing. That includes a project manager.
Using a local mobile app development agency to develop your app is the most expensive option out of all those I’ve covered here.
Using a local app development shop means you get to meet with them face-to-face. That may make the design & development process easier depending on how you prefer to work.
Most medium to large app agencies also have a range of skills in-house. This means they can handle everything from design, development, graphics, sounds, testing etc. all in one place.
Having everything in one place, as well as your own project manager can make life a lot easier for you if you aren’t a project manager yourself.
Let’s look at the pros & cons of using a local agency to develop your app.
- Face-to-face contact – This can make communication easier. Often this is valued highly by business/corporate clients.
- All skills in one place – This can save a lot of time and effort, but isn’t unique to local agencies. Offshore agencies also share this benefit.
- Peace of mind / low risk – Because you can physically go and visit their offices, this is probably the least ‘risky’ option for getting your app developed.
- This option can be very expensive simply because of local labour costs for skilled developers.
How much does it cost to develop an app using a local agency?
The ‘standard’ rates for mobile app development in the USA seem to sit between $100 – $150 / hour.
According to app development agency, Savvy Apps, apps built by ‘smaller shops’, with only 2-3 staff will likely cost somewhere between $50000 to $100000 to develop.
The same article from Savvy Apps also notes that it can cost anywhere between $500000 to $1000000 to have an app developed by one of the larger app development companies.
As you can see, not only is there a large variation in cost, but it’s also much more expensive than the other options we covered.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into determining how much it will cost to build your mobile app.
And on top of that there are also a lot of different ways for you to get your app built.
But I hope that by making it to the end of this post you’ve got a clearer understanding of how much it might cost you based on your individual app idea and the development option that you’re most comfortable with.
Got questions or want to share your own experience? Go ahead and drop me a line in the comments!