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So you need an app?

The cost to develop an app can surprise you.

It’s been six years now that we’re into building smart and beautiful mobile products… And the question “how much does it cost to develop an app” tops our list of most common and, probably, the toughest questions. First things first: a proper trustworthy answer should and could only be given after a professional mobile app estimation (check it out, we’ve described the whole thing step-by-step). Anything else is merely an educated guess you probably should not take to the bank. That’s exactly what this article is.

TLDR: Because there are so many different variables, the price for a mobile app could range anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000; however, the price range for a quality mobile product, from our experience, will typically be somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000. Consider your priorities, business goals, and overall product strategy for a sensible investment.

Apart from a number of semi-serious DIY options like using an app builder online, drag and drop app constructors and similar services, there are basically two ways for a business to build a well-performing app: hiring a development team to build a custom app in-house, or turn to a mobile development service provider.

Fast-Cheap-Good

There’s a saying in the software industry: “Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.”

Custom app development prices vary, too, depending on the required set of features, functionality, and geography.

Here’s a more detailed walkthrough around the cost to develop an app, and what affects it:

Geography

This one is key. The location of your future development company partner has a dramatic influence on the cost and the approach. Fairly enough, the more client-oriented a company is, the higher are its costs. Usually, the prices are based on hourly rates. Here’s a breakdown of cost to develop an app by geography: (updated April 2016)

Designing the initial app and mockups, for an average project:

  • USA: $20,000 to $40,000 and more.
  • Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic): €5,000-€10,000+
  • Western Europe (Switzerland/Norway/Germany): ~€20,000+
  • Asia (India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam): no reliable recommendations, dut around $800-$1500.

The mobile UI/UX design is a thing of its own, so here’s a detailed article on how much it costs to design a mobile app.

  • USA: the average rate is $100-150 (the majority of mid-sized agencies under 50 people) but can go up to as high as $200 per hour in some cities (like Chicago).
  • Eastern Europe: $25-150, with an average of $35 per hour.
  • Western Europe: ~$50, it depends on a number of factors like company size and specialization.
  • Asia: anything between $10 and $75 per hour.

Scale of the app development project

Naturally, the more analysis, efforts and integration will be needed – the more expensive the app development will get. Creating complex client-server architecture for an app like Uber will substantially affect the development time and cost, while limiting the it to the latest versions of Android or iOS will substantially cut the cost, but require more bug fixing and app optimization in the long run (more expenses).

Development company or freelancers?

Hiring an individual freelance app developer will usually cost you between $5-15/hour in India, Pakistan and China, $30/hour in Eastern Europe and Latin America, ~30EUR across Western Europe, and up to ~$150/hour in the US and Australia.

If you have a decent level of tech knowledge and are able to control all the processes and workflow – hiring a freelancer is a viable way. In every other case risking the success of your project just isn’t worth it.

Partnering with a professional mobile app development company will give you an edge of experience, rid you of any possible copyright violations, guarantee the project completion and a level of care about your project. Companies offer full lifecycle mobile development and hiring staff (lower risks of losing staff, more control).

Outstaffing or project-based work?

Outstaffing is somewhat similar to freelancers with the pleasant exception that your developer will not abruptly leave the project to have a six-month-long vacation at Goa. This guarantee will cost you 2x what you’d pay to a freelancer. The reason is that you pay a company fee, ensuring top-notch infrastructure, processes, retention, and much more.

Project-based work. The pricing still depends on the hourly rate of the professionals working on your project at any given stage. The company is responsible for every process from design through wireframing and prototyping all the way to development, QA and bug fixing. An app like Tinder would cost you around $15-20k in India, $35-50k in Europe, and $100k+ in the US. That’s for just a clone, without all the backend magic and app architecture.

Native app or cross-platform?

If you tend to create a winning mobile app with a business focus, you should be ready to invest in mobile UI/UX. Some app development studios may charge you extra for your app design and graphics, so make sure to partner with one that includes design cost into the project estimate! Your future development partner should ideally have expertise with both user interface design AND user experience development. However, you’re free to turn to a number of different providers for those two services.

Write once – run everywhere does not always work. Don’t expect to get a double economy from that. There are a number of cross-platform tools using various languages and technologies like the HTML5-based PhoneGap and Ionic, C#-based Unity and Xamarin, C++ based Cocos2DX, and the new RubyMotion based on Ruby.

Here at Reinvently, we have a methodology on this: if 50% of your project is UI you want to look native – use native SDKs. Otherwise (>50% of business logic, complex calculations, game engines) – go cross-platform. 2 native apps make 2x the cost of 1 app. Making the same app cross-platform ideally gives you only 1.5x cost, which is an economy of 0.5x, not 2x.

Oh yes, about how long it takes to make an app… To put you in context: the Official Barack Obama app was developed in about 20 weeks. This is nothing but a basic listing app with info and news about Obama.

Artem Petrov

CEO at Reinvently

Artem is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO at Reinvently. His background in applied mathematics, software development, and interface design spans 15 years of experience in building better businesses with mobile tech.