How can you estimate the development cost of your app in 2021?
18.01.2021 | 7 min read
If you’ve got an idea for an app, one of the major questions that you’re likely to have is how much it will cost to build. Apps come in all shapes and sizes, and the development cost will largely be down to complexity which is closely linked to the amount of features that you want to include and the functionality that you need. It goes without saying that an app which requires multiple machine learning algorithms and the ability to process payments will be more expensive than a simple single page app, which is used solely for the purpose of displaying information.
In this article, we aim to go through all of the key factors which influence development costs, in order to help you make a better self-estimate of price before you even start looking into potential software houses.
Aim to create an minumum viable product (MVP) first
Our experienced mobile team always encourages startup owners to create a minimum viable product first, before launching into an all-singing, all-dancing version of your app. Why? There are many great reasons, but one is linked to cost - an MVP enables you to save on development costs associated with features that your users will not end up using. It enables you to test the most basic clickable prototype of your app and to make improvements accordingly. If you’d like to read more about MVPs, you can do so here.
Understand more about development costs
There are a number of key factors which have an impact on the cost of development.
1. App Complexity
As mentioned above, this is perhaps the most important of all factors. Apps can generally be grouped into simple, medium and complex. Below, I’ve given you more detail on the types of digital products that fall into each of these categories.
- Simple - On the whole, these consist of just a few screens, and usually don’t have third party API integrations or require backend development. The types of apps that fit this category are: note-taking or calendar apps, to do lists, quiz apps, photo and film gallery-based apps, all f which tend to use standard components. At 10Clouds, the development of such an app is likely to cost between $30k and $70k. Most such apps are likely to be completed by a development team within 3 months.
- Medium - Apps of medium complexity usually require third party API integration and have one or more additional features, such as a chatbot or additional payment features. They are also very likely to require a backend server. Examples of medium sized apps include simpler social-media style apps, a meditation apps or a currency exchange app. At 10Clouds, the development of such an app is likely to cost between $70k and $190k. Most such apps are likely to be completed by a development team within 5-7 months.
- Complex - These apps feature a range of advanced functionalities within a well-developed user interface. They are likely to include custom design (which might feature animation), audio and video content, real-time data synchronization, in-app purchases and more. The backend will be highly advanced and they might even features some Machine Learning solutions. At 10Clouds, the costs of developing such an app begin at around $200k and will be higher depending on the complexity of your features. Most such apps are likely to be completed by a development team within 6-12 months.
2. Labor costs
A highly important factor to consider is exactly who will develop your app. Development costs will vary widely depending on whether you hire a freelancer, an in-house development team or whether you decide to outsource the entire project to a software house.
There are obviously benefits and disadvantages of each, but some of the factors below might help you to make your decision.
Freelancers: Freelancers are definitely a cost-effective way to create a simple app and you’re likely to find a range of highly-rated freelance developers who are able to begin your project right away. Good places to search for them include: upwork.com and peopleperhour.com.
However, you must bear in mind that most freelance developers will not necessarily be skilled in design, animation or UX. That means that if you’re not an expert in any of these areas yourself, you’ll have to hire separate professionals to cover each of them.
An In-house team: If you’re looking to build your own in-house team, you should be pretty certain that you will need ongoing support for your digital product, or perhaps you’re already planning a digital product pipeline? In order to get the maximum efficiency out of your team, ensure that you’ve covered all of the key roles. Apart from software developers, you’re like to need a project manager, a UX designer and a QA Manager at the very least.
Outsourcing to a software house: If you’re planning to go down the route of using a software house, it’s best to start doing some research into the top mobile teams out there. We have a whole guide on how to choose the best software agency partner, which you can take a look at here.
Of course, cost shouldn’t be your only driver here - it’s primarily worth looking into the experience which each potential partner has with project similar to yours, how they’ve been rate on comparison sites, such as Clutch, and whether they’re a good cultural match for your company.
But - if you do want to look at cost specifically, a lot of this will come down to the location of each agency. To give you a very rough idea of the development costs per country, take a look at the below breakdown from Imaginovation:
Scroll down to the bottom section of this blog post to find out what a typical estimation process looks like in a software house.
3) Operating systems
As you will have noticed in the table above, there are differences in cost between iOS and Android developers. Are you looking to build your app for iOS, Android, or both?
iOS: Note that when building on iOS, your app will need to support both current and at least one past version of the operation system, which will mean greater development cost. However, it’s worth the investment because iOS users are more willing to pay for apps and make in-app purchases.
Android: Arguably, this platform has a deeper market penetration and is most popular with users who like free apps. If you’re looking to reach a broad audience, this is your top choice - and note that you can always finance your product with the use of advertising. Remember, that unlike iOS Android is supported by a wide range of devices.
Cross-platform solutions: Building an app for both platforms will naturally enable you to reach as many users as possible.
Cross-platform frameworks such as Flutter and React Native work hard to deliver on their main promise, which is to provide a single codebase which can be used in multiple places. With the new wave of mobile frameworks, we can finally make this happen, and it has proven very effective. Using a single codebase for both platforms, significantly reduces development time and improves app maintenance - releases can be done simultaneously on iOS and Android. An added benefit is that it is likely to lower your development costs. If you’d like to find out more, take a look at our article about Flutter.
Using a single codebase for both platforms, significantly reduces development time and improves app maintenance - releases can be done simultaneously on iOS and Android.
4) App maintenance
Every digital product owner knows that a key to an app’s success is a great user experience, which leads to buy-in and growth. But there’s one key element that is essential for all of these things to happen and that is maintenance. An effective maintenance team will monitor the performance of your app, ensuring that users are getting upgrades at regular intervals, that there are no glitches and that users are being provided with a seamless experience. Therefore, it’s important to factor in the maintenance costs that you’ll need for your app after launch. As a general rule, you’ll probably be looking to spend about twice the cost of your initial app development on maintaining it over a period of two years.
What does the estimation process look like in a software house?
If you do decide to go down the software house route, we thought it might be useful to outline to you how the estimation process works at 10Clouds.
Information received: We receive information from the Sales Department on a prospective client’s mobile project. We analyze this carefully and then go back with any questions that we might have related to the scope of the project, the features, or any additional requirements.
The first estimate: The Estimation Owner provides the cost breakdown of the project. If this is the first estimate, it is most often Ballpark - a rough estimate with only the most important elements listed.
Revised estimate: The estimation team (formed of internal staff with the right expertise for the given project) comes together to provide feedback on the first estimate, and this is then revised accordingly.
Estimate given to client: The revised estimate is then used by the Sales Team to put together an offer for the client.
Things to be mindful of
Note that estimations are just that - they’re never exact, and unfortunately they are burdened with some degree of error. Ballpark estimates do not account for changes in the project further down the line, and particularly in more complex projects, they can be quite broad. Although we give three values (optimistic, pessimistic and most likely), we are not able to predict everything.
However, estimation allows you to open talks about changing the scope of the project. Estimators see what could be simplified or improved in a project.
Developing mobile apps may be a more complex process than you first anticipated and there are many factors to take into account. We hope that our summary of these has been useful to you and that you can approach your chosen developer with confidence, knowing roughly how much your digital project is likely to cost. Good luck!