How much does it cost to develop an app?

12 minutes to read • 16 November 2020 • App development

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    App development prices

    There are apps for almost every part of our lives, from shopping in-store on the go, to calming meditative apps to help us sleep. Developing an app may seem like a good idea, but what does it take to do so, and how much will it cost?

    In 2008, apps were in their infancy with a choice of only 500 apps. Fast forward to a decade later, and there are 2.56 million apps on the Google Play Store for Android. Over on Apple, the figure is similar.

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    The increase in smartphone and tablet ownership is the main driving force. Smartphone ownership globally stands at 2.7 billion and tablet ownership at 1.35 billion.

    We also spend a lot of time on our phones. One app developed to monitor phone use, RescueTime, found the average to be three hours and 15 minutes a day, although some users were four hours or more. 

    These statistics paint a picture of just how popular apps can be, which is one reason why you are probably thinking of investing in the development of one.

    But it’s a competitive marketplace. To stand out, it needs to do everything that users expect from it, with regular updates and bug fixes. But what is involved in the development of an app and is the cost prohibitive?

    Contents

    How much does it cost to develop an app?

    It’s difficult to pinpoint with accuracy how much an app costs to develop as there are many variables between one project and another. Prices can vary from a few hundred pounds, to tens of thousands of pounds.

    Why does the cost of building apps vary so much?

    Numerous factors influence the cost of an app, but the main two are time and complexity.

    Where should you start with app development?

    Market research is essential when developing an app, preventing you from wasting money on an app that is neither popular nor doesn’t meet the needs of its targeted users.

    What is the cost of marketing an app?

    You should have an app business plan in place, and it’s common to spend 5-15% of sales turnover on marketing.

    What app features add to development the cost?

    Complex features will add to the cost of app development, and examples of these include messaging, payment integration and third-party API use.

    What are the ongoing costs for maintaining an app?

    App maintenance costs depend on a lot on the technologies used to build the app.

    How much does it cost to make an app?

    It’s difficult to pinpoint with accuracy how much an app costs to develop as there are many variables between one project and another. Prices can vary from a few hundred pounds, to tens of thousands of pounds.

    Essentially, the cost is related directly to the complexity and the time, skills and expertise needed to build it. It will also depend on how much you are asking the developer to do too.

    For example, if they are managing the whole project, including market research and interface design, the price tag will be higher. Creating two versions of the app – for Android and iOS – will likely also incur costs.

    Once launched, there’ll be maintenance and updating costs to consider, but these tend to be fairly minimal if the app is well-designed.

    Complex apps can be £40,000 – £100,000, but even for simple apps, the cost can be thousands.

    That said, popular apps which are downloaded in high numbers will return the financial investment made in them. (See: how much money do apps make?)

    You also need to consider your app business model. Very popular apps have been known to make $82,500 a day from advertising revenue! Apps in the top 800 downloaded will return around $3,500 in advertising revenue. 

    A profitable app is one that has been thoroughly researched and tested, well designed and coded: a heady combination that places it above its competitors.

    Why does the cost of building apps vary so much?

    Numerous factors influence the cost of an app, but the main two are:

    • Time – in the majority of cases, apps take between three and sixth months to fully develop and test ready for launch. The longer it takes, the higher the cost.
    • Complexity – apps rely heavily on coding, a skill that is in big demand. Even the most ‘basic’ of apps can cost around £10k to develop. The most sophisticated apps can cost more than £100k.
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    Hence, the figure of how much an app costs to develop will depend on function, design, platform and changes to the development process along the way. 

    Factors that determine complexity

    One of the decisions you’ll need to make with app development is whether to develop it as a hybrid or native.

    • Native – this means that it will be built across two different platforms, iOS and Android. This often incurs greater cost.
    • Hybrid – these apps are built using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, coding languages that are used across numerous different forms of applications.

    If you are thinking of developing a gaming app, these are often more expensive to build. Gamers of today have high expectations of graphics and multilayers within the app which means that the coding and design will need to be sophisticated. Usually, gaming apps comprise of 3D graphics, AR support and social media integration.

    As well as gaming apps, and hybrid or native apps, you’ll also need to consider apps that require servers and stand-alone apps that do not require servers.

    • Apps without servers – these apps won’t store their data on remote servers. Once the user has downloaded the app from the App Store, everything is contained within the app.
    • Apps with servers – these do store the data on remote servers. These apps have functionality that depends on connecting to a remote server for reasons such as storage, or connecting to an API. This can take a lot more work and sophisticated programming, meaning costs will increase.

    When it comes to building your app, what do you need to consider?

    Where should you start?

    Market research

    Market research is essential when developing an app, preventing you from wasting money on an app that is neither popular nor doesn’t meet the needs of its targeted users.

    A great place to start is on Google Play and the App Store to check out similar apps and what the feedback is. What is it that they are complaining about? What suggestions are they making for improving the app?

    Be systematic in your approach, creating a spreadsheet that lists the app name, what features it has and doesn’t have, the cost (is it free with in-app purchases for example), the app publisher, the last time it was updated, ratings and reviews and the number of downloads.

    Listing the features of your app

    With market research in the bag, you can now start to tease the details from your initial idea.

    Consider aspects such as:

    • How users will sign up and log-in
    • The customer onboarding process
    • How the core functionality of your USP will be realised as an interface

    All these features inform the complexity of the app, and that means the final cost of the app will be affected too.

    Design mock-ups

    Apps need to be simple and intuitive to use. This means creating a design that meets the users’ needs. You should consider making a prototype.

    Design tools are many and varied when it comes to app design and build. That said, relying on a specialist with the skills to create yours may be the better option in terms of both the time and the quality of the final product.

    Interface design

    Like other products in your brand’s range, you need to interface design to create the final product. The UI – user interface – and UX elements combine to create the experience that impacts on how well the app is used and received by users.

    • Opt for professional graphic design – it may add to the cost but getting the right design means more downloads and better feedback
    • Opt for a designer with app design experience – with such a small screen; you need to be confident your design has all the elements users need to see and interact with
    • Consider ready-made design templates – why re-invent the wheel when you can use a template? You can then your design over the top.
    • Do it yourself – if you time and a strong artistic flair, designing your own app could be an option
    • App marketing plan – read our app marketing guide

    You’ll need to market your app simply to let people know it is there. Read our guide to app marketing funnels here.

    Whilst your app is in the design and testing phase, you can start to create a marketing plan that will get it noticed.

    See also →  Which technology stack should you use for your digital product?

    Within this marketing plan, you’ll also need to make yourself aware of App Store Optimisation (ASO). Just like you optimise your website, you need to optimise your app so that as many people as possible find it.

    Don’t forget, there are over 4 million active apps across major app stores, and you need to hustle your app to the top of the list.

    Build the app

    There are several options for building your app:

    Development OptionWhat it meansCost benefits
    Do it yourselfLearn to code and build it yourself. In terms of cost, this is more or less discounting your time spent learning to code, applying it, correcting it…Free apart from hours and hours of your time.
    Hire a freelancerCoding is an in-demand skill, and so you could find a freelancer to build your app.Varies (as do results). Anything from £1000 upwards.
    Hire an app development company (like us!)With more in-house skills, if you want an app with more complexity, hiring a company may be the better option. They project manage the whole thing from start to finish too.Easier to keep track of costs. Also, any quote is for your project and can be a far better way of controlling spend on the project.
    Buy a template and customise it yourselfSites such as Squarespace and Wix offer this service when building websites, and there are equivalent ones for creating apps.Usually a one-off cost from £100 – £2000.
    App builder product
    E.g. Thunkable, AppyPie and BuildFire.
    If you want to do it yourself without learning to code, this would be the ideal option. If, however, you want a complex app with many layers, you may find the lack of coding an issue.Works on a monthly subscription basis around £30.

    Submit your app to stores

    Submitting your app to stores means going through a process:

    • Make sure your app meets their guidelines.
    • App metadata need to be created. This is the app title, description and so on. You’ll also be able to load small snippets of video as to how the app works.
    • Review your app once it is on the store and make sure everything is as it should be.
    • Wait… it can take two to three days for apps to be approved, and when it is, it’s time to celebrate.

    What is the cost of marketing an app?

    Marketing is an important consideration in the process of building an app because people won’t find it automatically on the App Store or Google Play. You need to let people know that it is there.

    Marketing expertise can work magic on any project, but when it comes to app marketing, you want to be confident your project is in the right hands. 

    This means knowing your audience or, more accurately, the marketing specialist you have hired to know your audience. They also have the specialist skills to perform in-depth marketing research too, essential for pushing your app to successful heights.

    But again, this is an additional cost to app development and one that needs to be taken into account. You should have an app business plan in place, and it’s common to spend 5-15% of sales turnover on marketing.

    What app features add to development the cost?

    The cost of building an app is dictated in part by the features that you choose to include. Some are more difficult than others to include and – you’ve guessed it – will come with a higher price tag as a result. Deciding what features to include will inform the final cost. 

    Examples of key features could be:

    • Messaging – many apps have a chat feature, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, for example. It takes a lot of time to build this feature into an app. It could be a basic feature such as short messaging service (SMS) or something more sophisticated such as group chats, emojis and so on. Adding this feature can be an additional 80 hours of developer time.
    • Payment integration – not every app will need this, but clearly, if users will be making purchases within your app, you’ll need some kind of payment integration. Options include Google Pay, Apple Pay or PayPal, and there are many others besides. These can be easily integrated but becomes costlier when payment processing is added, and well as security for protecting user data.
    • API usage – some apps need to connect to external web servers in order to make sure of APIs for their functionality. This dependance on third party features can often add to the development cost.

    What are the ongoing costs for maintaining an app?

    With the app completed and live, the costs don’t stop there. With your app on Google Play and/or the App Store, there will be maintenance that needs completing to keep users happy.

    Attitudes and demands change, and that means your users will expect revisions and updates to improve the app over time. There will need to be bug fixes and even emergency maintenance from time to time. 

    Users also want updates and fresh graphics too, and so the re-design and updating process of your app never really ends. The goal is to retain users and attract new ones. By doing so, all the costs associated with your app will be recouped. 

    The cost of building and maintaining an app

    Good apps are not made overnight. They take time and skill. Working with an agency to develop your app will see your project in good hands, with them having access to the skilled developers as and when the project demands it. They will also project manage it from start to finish.

      Get prices for app development

      Check costs from our team of specialist creatives

      Get prices for app development

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      What services do you need?

      App development (make an app)App designApp marketing or PRWebsite designGraphic designSEOSocial media managementSomething else

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      When would you like to get started?

      Now1-3 months3-6 months6+ months

      Good news! We can help with your requirements

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