The Essential Guide to Outsourcing Mobile App Development
Many organizations opt to outsource mobile app development rather than using an in-house team. As we discussed in our post on hiring an app development firm vs. using an internal development team, the reasons for this vary, but the decision is made to use a third-party. But even after the decision to hire an external team is made, there are still many options available when it comes to mobile app outsourcing.
This is a guide for companies that want to outsource mobile app development. It will go over the different routes available, the specific considerations involved with each avenue, and the associated pros and cons. At the end of this article, you will be able to make a more informed decision on which mobile app outsourcing option best aligns with your needs.
The Options For Outsourcing Mobile App Development
Companies that choose to outsource mobile app development will find during the vendor selection process that there are many options available to them. Below are the most common:
Boutique Mobile App Development Firms
Firms in this category, like Clearbridge Mobile, focus specifically on mobile app development rather than offering it as an ancillary service. These firms typically:
- Employ an agile development methodology
- Emphasize product strategy and UX/UI design
- Have strong technical capabilities and specialized platform knowledge
Even within this category, you will find a broad range in quality. Aspects including specific technical expertise, experience, proven ability to deliver, project complexity, team size and more will vary significantly.
Depending on the needs of your business and the requirements of your project, you may want to research aspects like the vendor’s past clients and projects; their experience with specific technologies or features similar to what you need developed; team size and location; and the complexity of projects that they have delivered.
Big App Development Firms
These firms are typically branches of large multinationals – think IBM or Accenture. The majority of technology and software companies offer mobile app development as a secondary service to other core business functions. Their strengths include:
- Consultation and product strategy
- Strong technical expertise and development capabilities
- Often employ an agile development methodology (though not always)
These firms, while highly capable, have disadvantages which may include:
- Lack of responsiveness and flexibility needed to meet client needs
- Inability to ramp-up quickly, which is a key consideration for companies with time-sensitive projects
- Less attentiveness to clients than you would find with smaller firms
The big development firms also typically charge the most, which is another factor companies will want to consider when outsourcing app development to a third party.
Mobile is in high demand, and there are plenty of talented developers out there. Independent developers typically have strong technical skills, and many of them even work at firms that build mobile products and freelance as a side job. They are typically significantly cheaper than alternative options, with the exception of offshore firms.
However, if you outsource app development to an independent developer, you will typically find gaps that can affect the overall quality of your product, including:
- UX/UI design competency
- Product strategy/discovery
- User and market research
- Platform specialization (typically, but not always, independent developers will specialize in only one platform like iOS or Android)
- Ability to leverage knowledge/experience of a team to fill knowledge gaps
For small businesses or cash-strapped entrepreneurs, independent developers may turn out to be the strongest mobile app outsourcing option – particularly if they will need to focus the majority of their budgets on marketing their product.
The decision to outsource mobile app development to an offshore firm is generally made due to budgetary constraints. These firms are significantly cheaper; however, there are many caveats that come with the cost savings. Offshore firms tend to fall short in a number of significant areas, including:
- Technological and design standards
- Overall quality of work
- Ability to actually deliver
- Adequate security and IP protections
- Cultural understanding to successfully build for target markets outside of their region
- Responsiveness/communication due to large time differences
Opting for an off-the-shelf solution is quite a bit different than any of the options we’ve mentioned so far, and typically isn’t grouped in with mobile app outsourcing per se. These aren’t custom solutions, but rather out-of-the-box platforms that can sometimes be white-labeled. E-commerce is a great example of an area where off-the-shelf solutions have seen widespread use. And they do come with a number of advantages, such as:
- Quick deployment
- Typically lower upfront costs compared to custom app development
- Built-in maintenance, or ability to purchase maintenance
However, opting for an off-the-shelf solution for your mobile app outsourcing needs also comes with a number of downsides, which include:
- Difficulty customizing the solution to meet your particular needs
- Unnecessary features and functionality – you’re paying for features you don’t necessarily need
- Vendor lock-in, since it’s typically expensive and time-consuming to transition away from these kinds of solutions
- Standardized UI/UX
- Inability to adapt quickly to changing business or market needs since you need to wait for the solution to make updates
Which Option is Right for Your Business?
Outsourcing app development is a decision that needs to be informed by your organizational goals and the requirements of your project. Determining what these are will help you eliminate some of the options that don’t fit your needs, early in the process. Other things you will want to consider include the amount of risk your organization is willing to take on; your budget for mobile app development; how important it is to customize your solution given the expectations of your customers and your competition in the market; how polished your product needs to be; whether you need a more consultative engagement on top of development, and more. Once your company is able to determine the best route, you can begin researching and narrowing down vendors that tick the right boxes.