How much will your mobile app development cost?

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In this and follow up articles, we will walk you through the key aspects of mobile app development cost and processes. You will be prepared for your conversation with app development professionals and have a clear vision of what you really need and why.

So, you want to wow your users with a new app feature or amaze your market with a new mobile app solution? Yay! Congrats on starting this wonderful and exciting journey! I can see you right now, ready to climb that mountain with a great idea and unique vision, feeling the excitement build as you think about the major impact your mobile app will have on your users and your business.

But wait a moment. Let me guess… One of the first questions that springs to your mind is surely “how much will the mobile app development cost?”.

No worries! In this and follow up articles, we will walk you through the key aspects of mobile app development processes and pricing. You will be prepared for your conversation with app development professionals and have a clear vision of what you really need and why.

First, imagine a fellow visionary, Bob. He wants to create an iOS food-delivery app. Bob decides to hire the “Mobile App Development” company for this project. Note that software development companies often have different rates for different services and levels of professionals. For example, management hourly rates may be higher than those for developers. However, to keep the following example and calculations simple, let’s assume that the agency has a fixed $50/h rate for all types of services.

By breaking down the development cycle into its different stages and deliverables below, we can see how they affect budget requirements.

  1. Technical requirements document. This initial deliverable describes the functionality and is one of the most important parts of the project. Together with the sketches (see below), a good and detailed technical requirements document is a major project success factor. It should give you and the development team a clear view of the product and optimize the development process substantially, helping you to get the best results possible for the optimal amount of resources spent. In Bob’s case, it took the software development company 60 hours to complete the technical requirements document. With an hourly rate of $50/h, the cost to Bob was $3,000. 
  1. Sketches. These are visual schematic layouts of the user interface (UI) for the app. Together with the technical requirements document (see above), sketches allow a relatively detailed design of the future application. You can test your assumptions and ideas at an early stage, while avoiding unnecessary costs for changes at later stages of development. It took the software development company 90 hours to create the sketches for the project. The cost to Bob was therefore $4,500.
  1. Design. This stage covers the development of a complete set of UI design layouts. It is important for working out the general style of the app, colors, visual effects, the remaining details of the interface, its behavior, user story and its various states. Getting the design right can also save you time and money during the development phase. Design took 90 hours, costing Bob $4,500.
  1. R&D (optional). If the app development process requires the creation of some new technology, algorithms or approaches (e.g. AI/ML algorithms), it could be necessary to define a separate R&D stage. This stage allows time to delve into the required technologies in more detail, and test hypotheses and ideas for future development. It also means better preparation for the estimate stage below. For Bob’s app, no R&D was needed (the cost here was $0).
  1. Estimate. The result of this stage is a detailed estimate of the amount of budget and time required for the project development, including an assessment of all modules and options. The more detailed the approach is, the more accurate the vision and plan will be for the product and the development needed to make it. In addition, you can make an informed decision at this stage about which modules and functions you want to be developed first, and which ones are to be left until later. It took the agency 16 hours to do the estimate with a total budget of $800. In Bob’s case the agency offered to do a free estimate if the client chose to do the development with them, so this stage cost Bob $0. 
  1. Development. The largest part of the project is typically the development. The development stage for Bob’s project took 500 hours, costing $25,000.
  1. Quality assurance (QA). A quality product requires proper testing. Each hour of a QA specialist’s time spent identifying bugs early in the process can save you several hours if the bugs are only discovered later, for example, at project launch. With a specific testing methodology for mobile applications and the right QA approach, the product can be thoroughly tested, minimizing the probability of any undetected error appearing afterward. QA for Bob’s project took 100 hours for a cost of $5,000.
  1. Licenses and programs. At the technical requirements document stage, it is important to draw up a detailed list of the third-party software to be used in the project, with information on their licensing terms and cost of use. Some licenses may be acquired for a one-time or zero fees (for example, GPL and open-source software). Other components like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications may have a monthly/annual cost that must be included in the project support budget. For Bob’s project, no licenses were needed, so this part cost $0.
  1. Launch – One of the most important stages. It includes setting up the production infrastructure (servers, services), deploying the back-end software and the application to AppStore and/or Google Play, final testing, filling in all the application info for the AppStore and/or Google Play and preparing attractive screenshots, publishing the privacy policy and terms of use, passing Apple’s and/or Google’s review, and many other details. It requires the time of software developers, designers, managers. In Bob’s case there was only the iOS application, with no Android application. It took the company 40 hours to do all the setups and launch the iOS app in the AppStore and cost Bob $2,000.
  1. Support. Security (SSL certificates, updates), upgrades for additional features, and operational costs (platforms, hosting, domain name, Apple developer account, etc.) must all be considered. In the design stage, a strategy and a budget should be defined for ongoing support and development after the launch of the first version. Without this planning, there may be no budget left to ensure that the application continues to run correctly and securely, or to enhance it with new functionality to gain more users. The estimated costs for Bob’s project are $2,000 a month for support, updates, additional features, and recurring additional costs.

A quick calculation shows that the mobile app development cost for Bob’s application will be $44,000 for making and launching the app and $2,000 per month ($24,000 per year) for support.

Of course, your mileage may vary. While the estimates above for Bob’s mobile app development cost are realistic, the different factors can mean wide-ranging overall costs according to different project requirements.

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