Every day it seems like there is a new statistic on how many people around the world are using smartphones and downloading apps. Since 2011, the time smartphone users spend using apps per month has doubled. App development cost has increased to an all-time high. And by 2020, Ericsson predicts that there will be over 6 billion smartphones in circulation.

For many, these stats are enticing. Especially when companies like Slack are showing off their 9-billion-dollar evaluation. More and more people are trying to get in on the latest tech trends and for many, the place to start is with an app.

However, as the world creates more and more powerful apps, the barrier to entry for not only creating an app, but one that meets Apple and Google’s standards, has become increasingly high. For those out there who may be wondering, “How much does app development cost?,” we are going to break down a typical app development budget and show you how much it is realistically going to cost you to turn your idea into a reality.

Where do you start?

Before we break down the factors related to app development cost, we first need to figure out where to begin. The first step is to understand a formula created by Codementor that looks like this:

App Development Cost = Development Time x Hourly Rate

A fairly simple formula, but a life-saver for anyone looking to create their own app. Now, just like you did in middle school algebra, let’s figure out the variables.

Hourly rate is something that has increased significantly in recent years. If you look at the salary positions for programmers compared to other members of a start-up, you will understand. To help comprehend what these hourly numbers look like, take a look at this graph.

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As you can see, developing an app in North America costs somewhere around $150 per hour, whereas in somewhere like India it is closer to $30 per hour. This isn’t going to be the same for every person or every company that does app development, but as you can see with such a high hourly rate, planning and budgeting are of upmost importance.

Now we need to figure out the next variable of the equation: development time.

Learning from the best

Development time (features x time) is going to rely on answers to a few different questions. First, what kind of app are you looking to create? Most features found on some of the world’s most popular apps can be used across many different mobile apps out there, so it might be helpful to take a look at what those apps are.

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By understanding what features you want in your own app and comparing those with the app development cost for some of the big players, you should have a better understanding of how much it will cost for your own purposes. Let’s take a look at a few of these top apps and see how they work.

Instagram

While Instagram is a fairly complex app to build and develop, the features found within the app are used across a multitude of different applications – account authorization, messaging, social media integration, etc. But how much time do each of these features take to develop? According to Codementor, the breakdown would look something like this:

  •      Account authorization: 70-75 hours.
  •      Creating/editing profile: 50-55 hours.
  •      Messaging: 140-145 hours.
  •      Settings: 100-135 hours.
  •      Photo Customization: 140-400 hours.
  •      Search in parameters: 25-50 hours.
  •      Push notifications: 65-70 hours.

This brings our total hours of development to around 650-985 hours. However, there would also need to be an admin dashboard built out (60-80 hours) and time spent on UI/UX design (150-200 hours), bringing our total closer to anywhere from 835-1220 hours.

Using our formula, the cost of building an app like Instagram in North America would look like this:

App Development Cost = 835-1220 hours x $150 per hour

If you don’t have a calculator on you, that total is anywhere from $125,250 to $183,000. This might sound like a lot of money, but remember that Instagram was bought for 1 billion dollars by Facebook. You don’t need a calculator to know that that is an enormous return.

Complexity

Now that you have a better understanding of how to calculate the total cost of an app like Instagram, let’s talk about other apps with less complexity and what it takes to build something with a smaller budget and smaller goals.

Complexity of apps is usually the reason it is so hard to estimate what app development will cost. No two apps are going to cost the same, so let’s take a look at some basic features and figure out, based on complexity, what it will take to develop them.

Apps without web servers

Apps with basic table functionality and no access to web servers are the simplest to design and have the lowest app development cost of any apps we have mentioned. Typically these apps have dropdown menus with different lists, sometimes containing additional menus and lists. The overall depth of these apps is pretty low.

Examples of apps like this include email or calendar apps and they usually end up costing anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000.

Apps with web servers

Differing only slightly from apps without web servers, apps with them tend to have a slightly higher app development cost. Not only does adding a remote web server require more sophisticated programming and an API, but it also usually has some sort of search function which is an additional layer of complexity.

These apps tend to cost anywhere from $8,000 to $50,000.

Gaming app

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Apps with gaming capabilities are incredibly difficult to put a price tag on due to their variability. For example, a simple game like Pong obviously is much different than a flushed out racing game. But what does the actual app development cost look like?

Something on the lower end, like say Flappy Bird or some other novelty game, might take 40-50 hours and cost around $6,000 to $7,000. While on the flipside, a game that utilizes a gyroscope with higher definition graphics like Need for Speed might cost anywhere from $125,000 to $250,000.

As you can see, there is enormous variation in app development costs just amongst gaming apps, but they also often can become very addicting and present opportunities for additional profits past the original download. Let’s take a look at some additional features.

Additional features

There still remains a few additional features that you might want to utilize for your app that we haven’t reviewed. These are often important to the functionality of your app, and we want to make sure you have a fair idea of what you will be spending.

  •      In-app purchasing: $1,000 to $3,000
  •      Web services: $1,000 to $5,000
  •      Game center integration: $1,000
  •      Social sharing: $500 to $1,500
  •      SDK or app-trackers: $50-$200

Who is going to create your app?

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Not everyone who has an idea for an app also has the technical capabilities to make that app a reality. With this in mind, we are going to take a look at a few different options. Keep in mind, this is something we have explored in further detail before (and plan to explore more in the future), so check those links if you want a more in-depth look at finding the right team for you.

In-house developers

While having in-house developers is ideal for larger companies like Instagram and Facebook, it’s not always the right choice for everyone. Start-ups with the proper funding and understanding of how they will grow their app can definitely benefit from hiring a developer, but for others the cost almost never makes sense.

Unless you have concrete, longer-term goals for your app and the money to pay an in-house development team, this option may not be for you.

Hiring freelancers

Partnering with freelance developers to bring your app development cost down is an affordable solution for the companies I mentioned earlier without the proper funding for an in-house developer. However, hiring a freelancer often comes with its own series of complications, including:

  • Inexperience: Whether you are working through a freelance platform like upwork.com or hiring the kid next door to create your app, the variation in design experience can often leave you out the money you paid them without significant results to point to. Be careful when selecting who you will work with.
  • Lack of project management: Most freelancers and freelance companies do not have a project management software in place. This often leads to frustration with your freelancer as it’s hard to get in touch with them, make sure they are on schedule, and ensure they are not wasting your money.

Freelancers can be a cheaper alternative, but don’t forget that sometimes you get what you pay for.

Development agency

A middle-ground between freelancers and having your own developer can be found by hiring an app development agency. These agencies are great because they have teams of designers, developers, and project managers who typically come with a package deal.

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Platforms

The final step in the process is figuring out which platform you are going to put your app on. The debate over Androis vs. iOS has been going on for years, but what are the differences when it comes to app development cost?

Turns out the answer is: not a whole lot, at least on a per-hour basis. The cost per hour for developing iOS and Android apps is pretty much the same. However, something to note is that there is a wider variety in the screen size of Android devices. What this means is that they have a higher level of complexity, often leading developers to spend 2-3 times as long on an Android app over iOS.

At the moment, it is less expensive to make an app in iOS, but Android is still a huge market share so don’t write it off completely.  

Wrapping up

As we wrap up, remember to keep these few things in mind when considering your app development costs:

  •      Complexity
  •      Features
  •      Human resources
  •      iOS vs. Android development

There are more factors to consider outside of these 4, but this should be your starting place. Once you have examined these and you think you are ready to take your app to market, you will need to consider advertising and marketing costs, hiring more staff, and cost of hosting or support.

We look forward to seeing your app in stores soon!

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