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How much does it cost to build an app?

The cost to develop an app can range from thousands to millions. Here’s how to get started.

I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times. I’ve built mobile apps for over a decade with millions of downloads and I’m going to give you the formulas that developers use from the worlds leading mobile agencies to figure out what an app costs.

Whether you’re building an MVP for your startup or you’re building a polished product for a Fortune 500 company, the cost of an app can ranged in price from thousands to millions of dollars and how you design and architect your product can impact that price a lot!

When building an app most app developers will break down the work required into three core parts.

  • The front-end
  • The back-end
  • Design work

The front-end is all the work in developing the mobile app itself. This is what you use on your iPhone or Android device and the Back-end is the work that needs to be done on your server to store files, images and other information for your app to work.

To figure out what it will take to develop your app the requirements or the features of the app are broken down for both front-end, back-end, and design features. Engineers and designers will run estimates for each feature to come up with a high-level estimate.

Each app development firm or team will do this slightly differently but generally they will end up with an estimate of the number of hours, days, or weeks for each feature. More experienced firms will factor in time for handling edge cases, supporting a wide variety of devices and testing across a wide set of scenarios.

Here’s a hypothetical example for a very basic app:

FeatureFront-endBack-endDesignTesting
Login2 days4 days1 day1 day
Display Profile2 days1 day2 days1 day
Take photo1 day2 days0.5 days0.5 days
Total573.5 days2.5 days
Sample app adds up to 18 days of work.

In this basic example we would have 18 days of work. Each development team may do the estimates differently but it’s typical to get an estimate in terms of weeks of total work.

Once you have this estimate you multiply it by the hourly rate that the developer or firm charges This can vary by firm from $20/hour to over $200. This is why some of the ranges for how much an app costs can vary so widely. Even for this simple app that would take just a few weeks to develop you could see prices from $2800 to $28,000.

FeatureNative on-shore mid/senior engineersNative off-shoreHybrid off-shoreJunior
Hourly$180/hour$80/hour$40/hour$20/hour
Total$25,920$11,520$5760$2880
Example Costs

Quality of the app experience

The quality of the app and its success in the marketplace is often driven by the quality of the engineers and the details that are in-place in the design work. Spending more on great design can reduce complexity in engineering and keep your end-users happier in the end.

Technical Choices Impact the Costs

One of the key considerations for app costs is the technical architecture that you choose for your engineering. Most larger-scale mobile apps are built separately for iPhone, Android, and web experiences. This means that these larger firms often have to triple the engineering costs for the front-end of the product. As you can imagine this can triple the costs too. For well-established firms, the trade-off is worth it and well-built apps and web experience provides for both smoother experience for all users and a more robust code-base

Some engineering teams, however choose to use a cross-platform technology such as ReactNative by Facebook or Flutter by Google. These technologies allow you to more easily develop one core code-base and deploy across multiple platforms such as Android and iOS. These technologies are a good option for reducing initial costs but they come with tradeoffs in the user experience and on the maintainability of the code.

Ongoing Costs

Now so far we’ve talked about the initial costs of building an app but most successful apps are thought of as long-term and annualized investments. While many people think of apps as things, successful apps tend to be core and critical to a larger business. Because of this, these apps have to be updated, enhanced, and improved on a month-to-month basis. If your app is tied into a core business you should consider budgeting for an annual expense that’s related to the size of your engineering and design team.

For smaller startups, the initial engineering and design team can be as small as two people but often mobile teams are 5-10 people. Larger corporations will often have dedicated teams ranging in size from a dozen to hundreds of employees.

Because these teams are operational year-round their budgets are also annualized. Larger companies can do this because they think of their mobile teams as a profit center that’s core to their business, rather than a one-time cost.

While the price of an app can range wildly the impact that an app can have on a business is similarly large. Mobile apps can drive significant revenue for larger businesses and as more people are getting comfortable installing and using apps, the mobile-first trend will continue to grow.

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