When most people get an idea for an innovative or fun new mobile app, the first question they usually ask is, “How much will it cost to make it?”
And they’re often frustrated by the answer: “It depends.”
But knowing how much it will cost to create your mobile app is the foundation of your budget.
Keep in mind that the information below are merely guidelines to mobile application development costs; several factors can raise or lower your costs.
That said, let’s look at the factors that go into determining the cost of building a mobile app.
Average Mobile App Development Costs
To start, let’s talk about cost ranges. The sources that publish ranges don’t often agree on those costs, but they’re close.
For example, a 2017 industry survey by Clutch.co found that the median cost range is between $38,000 and $170,000, “but could climb up to $500,000 or higher.”
Another mobile app industry website, BusinessofApps.com, provided a breakdown based on that data:
- Simple app development price tag: $40,000-$60,000
- Medium complexity app development price tag: $61,000-$120,000
- Complex app development price tag: $120,000+
While 2017 data may seem a little musty, costs haven’t changed much.
2021 research by GoodFirms found a simple app costs about $24,000 to build, while developing a “sophisticated” app runs about $137,000.
Combining all three cost ranges, the average cost for mobile app development looks like this:
- Simple: $24,000-$60,000
- Somewhat complex: $60,000-$120,000
- Very complex: $120,000-$170,000 and up
Again, these are broad estimates. Several factors can influence costs beyond just the complexity of your app.
So the next question is, how complex is your app?
Determining Mobile App Complexity
The definitions of mobile app complexity vary from expert to expert. For our purposes, app complexity breaks down into these categories:
- Basic: An app for a single platform (i.e., Android or iOS) with one or two core features. Basic apps have just a few screens and no back-end or necessity for a network connection. For example, a calculator app would be a basic app. Most apps developed today are more complicated and need an internet connection.
- Simple: An app for one or two platforms (i.e., Android and iOS) with a simple design, custom UI features, and API integration. A mileage tracking app might be a simple app.
- Somewhat Complex: A professionally designed app developed for both platforms, with front-end and back-end features. A homeowners’ energy assessment app is an example of a somewhat complex mobile application.
- Very Complex: A fully custom native app for both platforms, involving professional front-end design, heavy back-end features, and several integrations. A property management app could be a very complex mobile app.
Knowing how complex the app you want to build is a start, but to get a more granular idea of the effort it takes, let’s look at where the hours are spent during development.
Cost Components and Drivers
When you partner with a mobile application development company, they’ll give you an estimate based on the number of hours it’ll take to complete the project. Let’s look at how projects commonly break down by phase and task, and the median hours per task.
Note, however, that every task below can take far longer than the median hours identified, depending on the complexity of the app and the mobile app development tools required.
Research and Discovery: 8-40 hours
While the usual range for this task runs between eight and 40 hours, it can take much longer in more complex projects. What adds time? A higher-than-average number of features and screens, new technologies, or proprietary APIs.
Scope Definition: 9-27 hours
Once they complete research and discovery, your development partner will document the scope or plan for the project. The larger and more complex the project, the more hours it will take to complete the scoping process. You may be able to pare these hours down if you can provide existing documentation, wireframes, or code.
Wireframing: 14-56 hours (based on seven screens)
A wireframe is a sketch of your mobile app that demonstrates the interface elements needed for key screens. Wireframing may take longer than usual if your app has more than seven screens, a higher number of features, a significant amount of detail on each screen, or more complex tasks or requirements.
Visual Design: 14-88 hours (based on seven screens)
This task involves creating your app’s images, iconography, and other artistic elements. The time it takes varies considerably based on the complexity of the screens and user interface (UI). It can take more hours if you have several custom-designed elements. You can reduce the time spent on this task if the designer can borrow elements from your existing software applications.
User Experience Design: 7-28 hours
User experience (UX) is closely tied to your app’s UI. UX design focuses on making your app easy and enjoyable to use. In other words, it ensures your app has logical screen layouts and a similar look and feel to other apps on a particular operating system or device. Some partners fold this step into wireframing or feature design, so it’s not unusual if you don’t see this as a line item on the estimate.
The most variable cost component is the number of features in your app and the complexity of those features. The Clutch.co survey noted some features that could be drive costs up if they prove to be particularly complex.
The features identified include:
- Native Device Features (features that interact with device hardware)
- User Engagement (SMS, email, push notifications, social media)
- User Login
- Use of Location Data
- In-app Payments
- Sync Across Devices
Mobile App Infrastructure
Initial Setup and Basic Controls: 5-20 hours
Initial setup shouldn’t take much time. However, if your app has many controls, an integration with a back-end system, or lots of customization, it will increase the hours required and thus cost.
Data Storage: 6-40 hours
An app’s data storage solutions can become more costly if the dataset is more complex. The method of storage and security level can also increase the cost.
Third-party API Integration: 8-50 hours
API integration may or may not be a line item on your mobile application development company’s estimate; many include it under “features.” Apps often need APIs to integrate with third-party functions or data sets efficiently.
Access to Enterprise Data: 22-100 hours
The range of hours for this task is broad because it’s hard to know how long it will take to set up access data from a proprietary API. It depends on several factors, including the API, the data, and the system to be integrated with.
Data Encryption: 10-40 hours
The complexity and size of the dataset and the level of security and encryption required determine the number of hours needed.
Scalability/Large Number of Users: 24-130 hours
Scalability refers to your app’s ability to handle a rapid increase in users. The server-side or back-end that supports the app—not the app itself—needs to be able to take a sudden increase in load. The more users you need to support can increase the number of hours. Flexible third-party libraries can help keep the hours down.
Performance Management and Analytics: 8-20 hours
This task refers to building the infrastructure for managing and measuring your app’s performance. Analytics help you understand your user’s behaviors and assess the app’s performance. The more detailed and specific you want this tracking to be, the more hours required.
Web Portal or CMS to Manage App: 35-120 hours
If your mobile app needs a web application to manage users, drive content, or perform other functions, you’ll probably see this task on your development partner’s estimate. The hours and cost of a content management system (CMS) or web portal depend on how complex it needs to be.
Internal, User, and Deployment Testing: 30-160 hours
The greater your app’s complexity, the more hours you need for testing and quality assurance. Every feature and screen needs to be thoroughly tested. If your app is an interactive game or requires a high level of security, that also adds to the testing time.
Licensing and Packaging: 5-11 hours
Licensing and packaging involves submitting your mobile app to the appropriate app store (Apple’s App Store or Android’s Google Play). It’s a small but essential task that’s necessary to get your app out to the public.
Maintenance and Support
Technically, development ends with deployment. However, there is another cost you should budget for: maintenance and support after your mobile app is released.
Most mobile app development companies include a cost for support in their estimate. Your development partner will perform bug fixes, emergency maintenance, code optimization, and other tasks to ensure app stability and performance for the contracted maintenance period.
They may also help with scaling up your app, updates for new versions of the operating systems, and developing new features. What’s included should be spelled out in the estimate.
According to GoodFirms, the per-year cost for this phase averages out to 25% of the development cost.
Who’s Your Partner?
Ranges and estimates give you a good idea of what your app will cost to build, but there’s one more aspect to consider: the mobile app development company you partner with.
All mobile app developers differ in pricing and quality, and a high cost doesn’t always mean high quality. You may get equal or better quality from an off-shore or near-shore software development partner as you would from an on-shore company.
Be sure to check reviews when shopping for a company to build your mobile app. Review sites like Clutch.co, G2, GoodFirms, and others give you insight into how a company has treated its customers. You can also get an idea of each company’s hourly rate from some review sites.
When you have an idea of your app’s complexity and know what activities go into building it, you can get a good idea of how many hours it will take to create. Pair that with a mobile app developer’s rates, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ll pay to build your app.