How Much Does It Cost To Build An App? (A Breakdown)

How much does it cost to build an app? It costs anywhere between £20,000 to £50,000 (and up to £500,000 or more). There are a lot of factors that affect the cost of building an app. These include; the number of features required in the app and how complex they are. The development approach and technology used also influence the cost of building an app. App development costs vary depending on whether you are taking a project-based or product-based approach to building the app. This article aims to go deeper into these factors. It also looks at how one can get the best value to cost ratio for building an app.

Factors Influencing App Development Costs

Building an app is similar to building a house. The size of the house, number of rooms, and material quality all influence the cost of building a house.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cost of building an app. One of the biggest factors that affect the cost of an app is the number and complexity of features required in a the app. It goes without saying that the more features you want in your app, the longer it will take to build. It will also cost more. Complex features would typically take more time to build than simple ones. Complex features may require more third-party integrations and hence more levels of complexity to deal with during development.

An Example

Let’s look at an example. At Intellectual Apps we build login features for almost every single app we have built. Depending on the app, this feature may cost less for certain projects and more for others. It costs less to build a login feature that only has a username and a password. And it would cost more to build a login feature with username/password, and Facebook, and Google, and Apple. The reasons for this are as follows:

  1. It would take more time to build 4 login features than it would to build one login feature.
  2. Developers with specialised skills would be required to integrate Facebook, Google, and Apple login workflows.
  3. It would require more test cases and testing, simply because there are more possible points of failure.

Now this is just for one feature, logging in. Almost every feature built into an app has multiple options. Which option works best depends on the app itself and the needs of the sponsor. So this makes it very hard to determine the cost of an app without some initial discussions and discovery done. At Intellectual Apps we call this the Imagination phase. You can book a call here.

That said, this article dives deeper into what these cost-affecting factors are and breakdown the costs of app development even further. We also examine how the approach taken to build an app affects the cost. We also look at the impact technology and team skill level have on the cost of building an app. Furthermore, we also talk about the hidden costs to consider when deciding to build an app.

Other Factors That Influence App Development Costs

In addition to the factors listed in the section above, there are other factors that influence the cost of building an app. These are:

  1. Technology Platforms Supported: Will the app only target a single mobile platform such as Android or would it also target the iOS platform as well? Building an app targeting each platform (i.e. separate codebases for Android and iOS) would cost more than if a cross-platform technology such as Flutter is used. In addition to the mobile platforms, building a web-based admin console to support the apps would certainly incur additional costs.
  2. The number of third-party integrations: Apps often require the services of already existing pieces of software. These services won’t need to built from scratch. For example, sending emails and text messages, social media integration, biometric identity verification, image upload, and payments. The number of such third-party integrations required influences the cost of building the app.
  3. Rich User Interfaces: The richer the user interfaces of the app needs to be, the more it would cost to build. This is mainly because it would take more time and effort to build such user interfaces. Custom components may need to be built in some cases. 
  4. Hardware Integration: An app that needs to integrate with hardware components on a mobile device such as the camera, GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer tends to cost more to develop.
  5. Support Services: Your app will spend more time in support than it would in development. So the nature and type of support required for your app would influence the overall cost of the app. 
The Nature Of App Development Costs

App development is an on-going process. Once you start building an app, its development just goes on and on. This is why it is worth thinking about the app development approach that works for your business, and its situation. The approach chosen also has an impact on the cost of building an app. There are mainly two ways to approach building an app, these are:

  1. Project-based approach: With this approach, the goal is to define the scope of the app development project right from the start. And to determine the cost and timelines based on the scope. This approach clearly sets a project end date, and costs are typically fixed. This is generally the implied approach when outsourcing app development to an agency. 
  2. Product-based approach: This approach aligns more with an on-going development approach and it is more agile. This means it is more flexible and responsive to changes in scope during the development of the app. Scope and costs are not fixed. This is the common approach taken when building an app with an in-house team.
Development Approaches and App Costs

So how do these development approaches affect the nature of the cost of building an app? When an app is built it continues to evolve. So if you take a project-based approach to building your app then you would have several projects over the lifetime of your app. It also means you can determine the cost of building the first version of your app and benchmark it against the tangible feedback you get. If you take the product-based approach then it means you are optimising for flexibility and not necessarily for costs.

At Intellectual Apps we offer both the project-based and product-based development approaches.

Development Technology and App Costs

The type of technology used to build an app also affects the cost of building an app. The table below gives some more details.

TechnologySpeed of DevelopmentCost
Hybrid🐢🐢££
Native🐢🐢🐢🐢££££
Cross-Platform🐢🐢🐢£££
App development technology, speed of development, and cost.

Learn more about the pros and cons of Native, Hybrid, and Cross-Platform app development

Development Phases and App Costs

App development is continuous and so are the costs. If you are building your app for the first time then your goal is to release the first version of your app (the Minimum Viable Product). The app development phases and cost breakdown below is for understanding the costs of developing and maintaining an MVP using the project-based approach.

Distribution of App Costs Across Development Phases

When building an MVP using the project-based approach you’ll generally have the following app development phases and their associated costs:

  1. Discovery or Analysis & Design Phase: About 30% of the total cost of building the MVP will be spent here. The goal of this phase is to make your idea less intangible. This is achieved by documenting it in detail and also developing a prototype. A protoype gives you a look and feel of your app without actually getting it developed. 
  2. App Development Phase: 50% of your app development costs would be invested here. This phase is where the app is created by app development engineers.
  3. Support Phase: About 20% of costs will go into supporting the app once it is built. The cost may vary depending on the level and duration of support entered into.
Strategic Choices in App Development: Project-Based vs. Product-Based Approaches and Cost Considerations

When outsourcing your app development you are most-likely to go with the project-based approach. You could still go with a product-based approach when outsourcing but this means your costs would be based on time and the app development process would continuously cycle through the app development phases above. At Intellectual Apps we offer both development approaches but the project-based approach is more common as it allows our clients to have a fixed cost and a defined scope. 

There is another option to build in-house which allows for more control over the app development process but requires hiring and managing a team plus it costs much more. In some cases building in-house could cost 3 times more than outsourcing. Outsourcing with us allows you to get a quality app while relatively spending less on building your app. 

What Are The Hidden Costs Of Developing An App?

A large portion of the cost of building an app goes into labour. There are other costs that are involved in building an app that may not be obvious. These are:

  1. Infrastructure costs: A lot of apps require software to be running on servers. These servers and other closely associated costs such as backup storage and network bandwidth carry costs. Data storage is another major cost contributor. Depending on the development approach you may need to pay for more than one set of servers. A common approach is to have staging servers and production servers. 
  2. Third-party services: if your app relies on other pieces of software in order to carry out certain functions then there would usually be additional costs for this. For example, integrating SMS into your app’s user experience would come with additional costs. In some cases, services would be required to store user profile photos and that comes with a cost too. 
  3. Images and icons: Images and icons drastically improve the look and feel of an app. In some cases free images and icons may not meet your requirements. In such cases, you may need to pay for image/icon licenses. Alternatively, you could pay for them to be custom designed. 
  4. App distribution: There are fixed costs associated with setting up accounts on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. 
  5. Marketing costs: Though not directly linked to developing an app, marketing costs are to be considered, especially if your app targets the wider public. In such cases not spending on marketing may mean no or slow downloads/users.
How To Minimise App Development Costs

The more features you want in your app the more it would cost to get your app built. So here are some ways you can reduce the cost of getting an app built while maintaining its quality:

  1. Prioritise features: An easy pitfall is to try and get all the features you can think off built into your app. This is generally a recipe for failure. You need to list out all the features you desire and prioritise them and only build the most important one first. This makes up your Minimum Viable Product. At Intellectual Apps we seek to achieve this with our Imagination phase (discovery phase). 
  2. Seek to move fast but do not be in a hurry: Speed kills. And that applies to building an app as well. When you put pressure on an app development team to build in a hurry, they cut corners and skip on essential things that need to be done. Being in a hurry may seem to work well at first but it only becomes harder to add features later on and you app either fails or costs skyrocket in trying to get the right thing done. 
  3. Make sure team really understands what you want to build: Spend some little more time in explaining and communicating your idea with the app development team before the set out to develop the app. This is vital if you are taking a project-based approach. Otherwise you will lose money in building the wrong thing. 
How Much Does It Cost To Maintain An App?

The cost of maintaining an app generally depends on the cost of building the app. It usually costs about 20% of the cost of building an app to maintain the app. Another name for app maintenance is app support. Supporting an app involves fixing bugs (i.e. features of the app that are not working as expected). It also involves keeping the app up to date with the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store requirements.

Can You Build An App For Free?

Building an app that functions in the real world requires a lot of skilled professionals. It’s like making a movie. Majority of the cost of building an app goes into paying for a team to design and build the app.

To drive the costs down, you could use some no-code tools or learn to build an app by yourself. But such apps would generally be trivial in nature.

Outsource App Development or Build In-house?

Outsourcing is relatively cheaper when compared to building in-house. The key with outsourcing is to find an agency that can build what you want while maintaining high app quality standards. This is where we can help. 

Building in-house gives you full control over all processes but it costs more. You also have to hire and manage a team and you also need to have at least one senior technically skilled team member to lead the others. 

Summary

It is hard to tell how much it would cost to build an app without also knowing, in detail, the features required by the app. The cost of building an app is influenced by a number of factors such as the number and complexity of features, the level of richness required for the user interface, the third-party services required, and even the app development approach used. 

There are a number of things that one can do to reduce the cost of building an app but it is important to not sacrifice on the overall quality of the app. 

If you are looking to build an app and need help figuring out the best approach to take then let’s talk. Get in touch.