How Much Does It Cost To Build A Mobile App?
A Definitive Guide to Mobile App Development Costs
How Much Does It Cost To Make An App?
An Introduction To Cost Factors
This question is top of mind for many, from entrepreneurs and founders to the enterprise C-suite. And it’s a complex question, because the cost to develop an app depends on a huge variety of factors ranging from project size to technical complexity to your choice of development partner.
This guide is going to give you a better picture of mobile app development costs by looking at factors that affect the cost of developing an app. It will use typical North American costs, and will not include offshore or in-house development options. At the end of this breakdown, you will have a much better understanding of what your budget range should be if you want to have your app developed in North America.
2.1 The App Itself
- Size Of The App
- Platforms and Devices
- Backend and Services
- What Are Your Options?
- Large Development Firms
- Specialist Development Firms
- Independents and Small Development Shops
- Cross-Department Involvement
- Maintenance and Continuous Delivery
1. How Much Does It Cost To Make An App?
A Breakdown By Product Size
Using typical North American development costs, the following section provides a budget range based on the size of the product. These are estimated ranges, but if you are able to accurately assess the scope of your product, they will give you a fairly good idea of your mobile app development cost. Note that these are polished apps with industry standard UX/UI design: this chart does not include proof of concepts or app prototypes which cost less and are smaller in size.
- 1 Platform
- 2-3 Functions/Features
- 2-3 User Flows
- 2 Platforms | 1 Platform
- 3-5 Functions/Features | 5+ Functions/Features
- 3-5 User Flows | 5+ User Flows
- 2 Platforms
- 5+ Functions/Features
- 5+ User Flows
Small apps are ones that are typically built for a single platform and have limited functionality and fewer screens. They typically don’t require login or user authentication. An example of this would be a weather app or similar app that comes preloaded on many smartphones.
In the medium app category, there can be quite a range in terms of the type of app. They can be either single platform with more features and user flows, or 2 platforms with less complex functionality. An example of a medium-sized app would be the Sotheby’s Apple TV app.
Large apps are complex, typically requiring a lot of backend development and offering more features. Many e-commerce platforms would fall into this category, as would apps that require separate interfaces for employees and for customers. An example would be a large on-demand service app like Uber or Postmates.
2. Factors Affecting The Cost To Develop An App
The budget ranges we provided above based on the size of the app are useful as a high-level guide, but the reality is that the cost to develop an app is determined by a range of factors. Scope of the project is a very significant cost factor, but there are a number of other facets that influence complexity, difficulty, timeframe, and therefore price. Below are the ones that most significantly impact mobile app development cost.
2.1: The App Itself
Apps can vary significantly in terms of size and complexity. The bigger the app is, the more work required to develop it. An easy way to categorize is by dividing projects into small, medium, and large apps as we have done above. The scope of a project is always larger when you require more features and functionality, which affects cost.
Functions/Features and User Flows refer to actions users will take within the app, and what the app needs in order to facilitate these actions. Products with more features are typically more complex and more difficult to develop, and therefore increase mobile app development costs. It’s possible to de-scope the size of the app, go to market first with a minimum viable product, or roll out features on an iterative basis in phases to reduce upfront costs.
Platforms & Devices
How much does it cost to make an app for more than one platform? The number of platforms directly affects the cost of building an app – building for iOS and Android may double the effort involved, assuming you are building native apps (we included the platforms in the app size categories above to give you a better idea of where a multi-platform app would fall). Building companion apps for wearables or connected TV platforms will also increase total mobile app development costs, though usually not to the same degree.
Device support also affects the cost of developing an app, in two ways:
- The type of device: Phones, tablets, TVs, smartwatches, etc.
- The device generation: Supporting older devices with older operating systems requires more development effort
In the majority of cases, apps are built primarily for smartphones and tablets, and most development firms will ensure older generation devices (within a reasonable timeframe) are supported. If you expect your app to go beyond the common standards, the cost to develop an app will increase.
Recommended Reading: iOS vs. Android: Which Platform Should You Build For?
Backend & Services
The backend infrastructure and services integrations make up the majority of mobile app development costs. Before we dive in, we’ll break down backend components in more detail:
Backend infrastructure handles actions that cannot be done on-device. This includes things like user authentication, business integrations such as booking appointments, any notifications, messages, and much more. Many app features and functionalities require communication with a backend server. If you need these built from scratch, the development costs of your app will be higher.
Third Party Service Integrations
There are many third party services that already exist for specific functions like push notifications, mobile app analytics, user authentication, and more. Depending on what kind of services you choose, there may be available APIs that can be leveraged for your app. While these add to development costs, they are cheaper than having to build from scratch.
Content Management System
Content Management Systems (CMS) provide configuration and content services – everything from app settings to menu details, images to text content, and more. A mobile CMS is important for mobile apps to ensure that your users are provided the optimal experience based on the unique needs and constraints of mobile content delivery.
Existing vs. Custom Built
For the majority of mobile apps there are two options for building out the back-end:
- Connecting with existing web services (infrastructure already in place)
- Mobile first web services (built from scratch)
Typically, building the back-end infrastructure from scratch is the most costly upfront and works to provide the best user experience. Using existing services will cost less but can hinder the overall mobile experience if they were not built specifically for mobile. The cost to develop an app that requires heavy back-end development is always going to be more than developing an app that doesn’t.
Technologies are key determining factors in the complexity and cost of developing an app. The more technologies required to make the app work, and the more complex they are to implement, the greater the project scope – and therefore mobile app development cost – will be. When we refer to technologies, we are speaking broadly about certain technical implementations, features and functionalities, for example:
The implementation of these technologies varies in complexity and cost based on factors such as whether they are front-end or back-end, whether they need to be custom built or can leverage third-party APIs, and more.
2.2: The App Development Firm
How much does it cost to make an app when you work with a specialist firm, a large firm, or independent developers? Your choice of development partner will also impact your mobile app development costs. We wrote in length about outsourcing mobile app development in another post; for this article, we will look at boutique firms, big companies, and independent developers/small development shops.
How Much Does It Cost To Develop An App Depending On The Type Of Firm?
Large Software Development Firms
- These are usually branches of large multinationals with diverse lines of business (think IBM) and sometimes larger technology companies. They have strong technical expertise and development capabilities, but may have disadvantages that include a lack of flexibility to respond to project needs quickly and an inability to ramp-up as fast as other development firms. Large firms, in the majority of cases, have the highest mobile app development cost.
Specialist App Development Firms
$100,000 - 400,000+
- App development firms in this category focus specifically on building mobile solutions for businesses. They bring a breadth of technical expertise and specialized platform knowledge, emphasize product strategy and design, and usually employ an agile development methodology. The cost of developing an app with one of these firms is lower than large firms and more expensive than using independent developers or small development shops.
Independent/Small Development Shops
$25,000 - 100,000+
- This category includes individual developers and small shops that consist of a handful of people. These are the cheapest (onshore) option for building your mobile app. Often, the development talent is there, but they come with significant knowledge gaps including UI/UX design competency, product strategy, business and market analysis, platform specialization, and other key aspects that ensure the app is successful – not just functional.
3. Beyond The App: Other Costs To Consider
Now that we’ve tackled the question “how much does it cost to make an app?”, it’s important to talk about other cost considerations that many companies often don’t account for. How will you attract users to the app? Who will be involved in managing the app within your organization? How will the app be maintained and updated? There are a wide range of things you should be thinking about when you are budgeting that are instrumental for sustainable, long-term success.
Any discussion about the cost of developing an app needs to include marketing. Driving downloads, user acquisition, and user retention requires a marketing budget. The app market is highly competitive; the chances of your app organically meeting your usage and/or revenue goals are slim. When you establish what your goals are, you need to ensure that you have a marketing budget that will realistically help you achieve them.
Recommended Reading: Choosing The Right Go-To-Market Strategy For Your App
Team & Cross-Department Involvement
Depending on the size of your organization and the business objective you are trying to achieve with your mobile app, you will need to account for the internal efforts involved with supporting and sustaining your app. In many cases, a variety of business functions – IT, engineering, marketing, sales – are instrumental to success. The involvement level is different for a large enterprise than for a startup, but the internal efforts and costs involved need to be accounted for.
Maintenance, Upgrades, and Continuous Delivery
The job isn’t done after initial launch. At the very least, you need to plan for the cost of maintaining your app to fix bugs and meet system upgrade requirements. But if you want sustained success, you need to have a longer term product vision that accounts for user demands; roll out product improvements or new features; and remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market. While it’s rare for companies to nail this down in their initial budgeting plans, it’s prudent to forecast the 6 month, 1 year, and even 2 year costs associated with maintaining and improving your product.
4. Mobile App Development Cost: The Breakdown
So, how much does it cost to build an app? If you’ve stayed with us this far, you know that there are a lot of variables to take into account. To answer this question more concisely, on average in North America:
While these ranges are good benchmarks, mobile app development costs differ on a case-by-case basis. There is a huge variety in the cost to develop a mobile app, with factors like complexity, scope, features needed, and even the type of firm used affecting price. Ultimately, the cost to develop an app depends on what the app is and what it needs to do.