How much does a mobile app cost to build?

Do you need a custom built app? Can you use a system or framework? What do you need to budget? You are most likely to go externally for assistance in building an application, after all your business is great at what you do, but bringing in expertise to do the project in house can cause […]
  • Do you need a custom built app?
  • Can you use a system or framework?
  • What do you need to budget?

You are most likely to go externally for assistance in building an application, after all your business is great at what you do, but bringing in expertise to do the project in house can cause disturbance because this might not be what your business is good at. How much does a mobile app cost to build?

For the purposes of this, we are going to assume we are building an app for the fictional Blue Bananas Inc. A company that is the best at providing services around keeping bananas cold for transportation and storage, they know everything about bananas. They need a mobile app to keep their growers, supply chain, customers and banana fanatics up to date on their developments, the latest knowledge and thinking from their blog and contact details.

Let’s start by looking at platforms and developers.

Which phones to target?

Start by considering your process and needs. iPhones are different to Android which are different to Windows Mobile and each require their own design and code. Each platform can double the price of the build. Costs increase if the app integrates with an internal or external system (like a website or CRM) because that needs to be built as well (only once, each phone will talk to it in the same way).

Android is the market leader in terms of installs and units, but iPhones have a different demographic. Windows phones are out there, but are not a large market share holder. Blue Bananas think they need to cover iPhone and Android because they have a cross section of people interested in their services.

You would want a reputable and experienced application designer working on your project, someone with the knowledge and expertise to get it done. This person must have a good grasp of user interaction and graphic design. You are looking at someone with costs of at least $85/hr.

It is unlikely that your designer will also be the coder for your application. Both will appreciate the others role, but people with excellent skills in both areas are hard to come by and this is why agencies exist to bring the skills together under one roof.

How do you find a good designer and developer?

Here are some tips:

  • Find existing apps you love, or that are in your target and look for the developers details on the app store, then Google the application name and the words designer or developer.
  • Look at freelance sites such as oDesk and eLance and view the resumes.
  • Find a local development agency.
  • Use your business network to find a recommendation.
  • Seek out an out-of-the-box solution that meets your needs.
  • Get references and talk to previous clients.

Once you have found your guru’s, you will need to be prepared for the relationship in bringing your app to life:

  • Agree on your terms, which will involve an upfront fee to start work.
  • Agree on time frames and understand both of your workloads, and your designer’s as well.
  • Ensure you can all commit time to getting through the back and forth of feedback and updates.

Put some time aside, then double it

You should expect at least 80 hours of designer time for an app that contains 10-15 screens, and another 80 hours for development on each platform depending on the functionality. That’s somewhere close to $15,000 for a small application, on one platform, with no supporting systems.  Also remember that it’s your vision, and you will need to be on hand every step of the way to approve it and ensure its taking shape the way you want it.

Blue Bananas dont need a supporting system. Their information can be pulled from their website via RSS and other means. Because they need iPhone and Android, they are looking at a build cost of about $30,000.

Alternatives – frameworks

There are ways to reduce the time and complexity, but beware the trade off can come at a price. Performance and usability can suffer at the hands of efficiency and cost cutting in your build phase. You only get one chance to impress on mobile.

Development frameworks such as Appcelerator and PhoneGap and Marmalade provide ways to build code only once and deploy it across multiple platforms such as Android, Windows and iOS in one go.  They employ an abstraction layer between the code built and the devices native function to allow a developer to write code only once, but achieve the same result on both platforms. This works well for common functions and simple applications, but can be noticeable for design and speed against a native app on either platform.

Framework builds mean you may be spending your money more wisely, so our same application would cost in the region of $15,000.

Application systems and services

There are also other services where you can build your app online, such as SixFive’s Mobilizer, that provide a number of modules to complete a given task, and these can be joined together to build up an app to your requirement. This model has been established in many places before such as Shopify for ecommerce sites, and WordPress for blogging and building maintainable websites. These can be significantly cheaper and meet your needs, but they will not suit every application based on the functionality available.

These systems have one major advantage – you can build once and deploy on all devices without the fuss. These are usually native applications, so can use all of the phones features and look and work well – maintaing a great user interface and experience.

Blue Bananas can build on the Mobilizer platform for $2,000 getting an Android, iPhone and iPad app. They will also save because they get a mobile optimised version, saving effort and money on altering their existing website.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like some assistance in making your website work well on mobile, or creating and launching a mobile app for your business, drop us a line, we’d be only too happy to assist you.

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Duncan Isaksen-Loxton

Educated as a web developer, with over 20 years of internet based work and experience, Duncan is a Google Workspace Certified Collaboration Engineer and a WordPress expert.
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