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How Much Does It Cost to Develop an App?

When the average American is on their phone, chances are they’re using an app. Roughly 88 percent of mobile time is spent on applications, making it a prime opportunity for any organizations with an app idea. Users are constantly looking for the easiest, most convenient solution for their needs, which is why both mobile and web app development offers plenty of promise.

A good app can help organizations increase sales, educate consumers, and achieve many other goals. Of course, you’ll need an app before you can tap into this audience. That need leads to one simple question: how much does it cost to build an app?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so straightforward. The potential cost of your app depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. The average cost to develop an app can vary greatly – A simple app development project could be just tens of thousands of dollars, while a multi-feature application with ecommerce capabilities could easily cost more than $100,000 over the course of the project.

Because of the wide range of potential outcomes, it’s important to understand what goes into an app development estimate. To do that, let’s start by breaking down the various elements that impact how much it will cost to build your app.

Factors that Impact How Much It Costs to Develop an App

There are a variety of factors that have a direct impact in how much it’ll cost to build your app. Each of these elements will add different complexities, added labor, and other costs to your project. Here are some high-level factors that will dictate how much it’ll cost to create a custom mobile or web app.

  • Ecommerce features and other third-party integrations
  • Design and content requirements
  • User management capabilities
  • Application testing
  • Reporting capabilities
  • Ongoing updates

Custom features or third-party integrations

Depending on the complexity of your app idea, you may need custom-built features or third-party integrations. Certain functionalities like ecommerce capabilities, remote data storage, and other elements are complicated features for any mobile or web app. An app developer can custom design these features around your specific business rules, but the time and effort it takes will quickly add to your overall project costs.

Another route is to utilize third-party integrations for these types of functions. There are a variety of available services that drastically cut down on the time and effort to it takes to add payment processing and other key functions to your app.

Integrating third-party services can still be complicated – especially for ecommerce platforms that deal with shipping, taxes, and more – but it can require a fraction of the work compared to a custom-built solution. That means that you’ll end up paying for just the integration costs and recurring platform-based fees instead of committing to a major upfront cost.

Design and content requirements

As you may expect, your exact design requirements play a major role in how much it costs to build an app. There are multiple factors at play when it comes to developing an effective, attractive app. These include:

  • The visual design
  • User experience (UX)
  • Content
  • Branding

In short, more custom app design and content requirements will lead to higher app development costs. A completely custom design will cost more because it’s simply more work. If you can utilize templated designs, that will help drive down the time it takes to create the visual design of your app.

You’ll also need to weigh how much time and effort you want to put into the user experience of your app. This process can take time, as you’ll want to test how users engage with your app. You'll also want to identify any potential bugs and issues, as well as optimize certain experiences to make your app an easy, enjoyable experience.

The more features your app has, the more this process can cost. For example, you may want the app to send out emails after hitting certain steps like completing an order. Those emails are great UX touchpoints, but it will cost more to build those processes into your app.

Finally, your app likely isn’t going to do very well if there’s no content or ways to identify your brand. If you don’t have those resources internally, it will add to the total cost of your app. Even if you do, you’ll want to identify just how much time and effort it would take to create content or develop new branding internally. There are plenty of reasons why it’s more cost-effective to hire a copywriting expert, so you’ll need to determine whether cutting the upfront costs is worth the time and effort for your team.

User management capabilities

Your audience isn’t the only group of people who need to access your application. It’s important to think about how you and the other owners of the app can manage information. The ability to add users, provide refunds, and other administrative efforts are a major component that will add to your project costs.

In order to add the proper user management capabilities, you essentially need to build two applications – one for the front-facing audience and another for you and other managers to run the main application. This second application allows you and your team to update the main application once it goes live. However, the time and effort it takes to make this management application will add to your overall project costs.

Application testing

While it’s not a major cost, it’s important to invest in user acceptance testing (UAT) during app development. A developer can set up a testing site so that you and other users can test out the progress of the app for yourselves. Anyone with access to this testing environment can pull up your app on a laptop or phone and play around with the current state of the app.

There are a few major benefits to building out this testing site. First, you can use it to test out how it works and looks so that you can provide feedback. Does something not work the way you thought it should? Will the process or flow of the app require too many clicks for the user or be confusing? You can let your developer know and they can adjust accordingly. It’s not uncommon for priorities to change or new ideas to come up through app testing, so this environment gives you the ability to make sure your app works as it should.

Another advantage is that a testing environment also gives you a means to show your app off to business partners, investors, and other key individuals. By having a testing environment and a code repository baked into your project costs, you’ll have something tangible that you can show people along the way.

Reporting capabilities

It’s always important to not only track the success of your application, but also have the means to report key information. Reporting measurables such as how many users signed up for your app and statuses for products are essential. Of course, the capabilities to provide that reporting isn’t free.

App developers can equip your app with several reporting capabilities. However, you want to make sure that you pay for resources that will be useful in the future. The more reporting features you request, the more it will cost to add those features. If you don’t think you need something, you don’t have to pay for that until something changes in the future.

A good place to start is to identify which types of reports are essential from the start and go from there. You can utilize your testing environment to run reports and see if they provide value. Depending on your developer, they can work with you to add reporting capabilities based around your needs, whether you want automated emails or something you can export and store offline. App developers can often leverage certain features of integrations to get reporting data instead of writing this code from scratch. These capabilities can help you get the reporting you need while cutting out some of the costs.

Ongoing updates

Your investment in a mobile or web application isn’t over once initial development is complete. It’s crucial to maintain regular updates on your app for a variety of reasons.

  • Design updates
  • UX improvements
  • Cybersecurity measures

No matter the reason, you’re always going to want to your application to be as up to date as possible. Of course, those updates will require additional project costs.

These future fees are well worth the cost, however. The last thing you want is for users to have a bad experience or to allow your app to become unsecure. As such, it’s important to keep future update costs in mind when you plan out your total estimated investment in a application.

Pricing Models for App Development Costs

While a project estimate certainly plays a major role in deciding which app developer is right for you, it's not the only factor to consider. You should also evaluate how different developers charge you for building an app. Pricing models can vary drastically, which can make one style of pricing a much better fit for your needs than another. In general, app development companies typically use one of the following pricing models.

  • Fixed rate projects
  • Sprint-based work

Fixed rate project

The traditional pricing model for app development is to create an estimate based on the requirements of a set contract. In this agreement, the developers agree to deliver an app for a set price. That price will only change if the scope changes during the evolution of the project. In that case, you would likely need to sign a new contract to cover additional expenses not listed in the original agreement.

The advantage of this pricing model is that you’ll know exactly what you’re paying for and the exact investment up front. If you get an estimate for $30,000, the app developer should hit the requirements you set and deliver an app within an agreed-upon amount of time.

Conversely, ideas come up and priorities can change once you test your app. You might not think something is important initially and learn that it’s not worth the investment after playing around with your app. It’s a lot harder to stop or pivot with fixed rate contracts.

That contract can also cause developers to be hesitant about showing progress throughout the project. Fixed contracts typically don’t account for your feedback, so this style of pricing is usually a more buttoned up process designed to deliver an app based on your initial criteria.

Sprint-based work

While fixed contracts set an expectation for the entire project, sprint-based work is built around flexibility. A sprint is a set block of time that typically lasts around two or three weeks. That block of time is used to plan objectives, work on those objectives, and present a demo that delivers the work completed in that time frame.

When you have a custom application, you don’t necessarily know how it’ll function. The functionality of your app can completely change after user testing and going through the process. Sprint-based work allows you to put your money toward the most important work instead.

This process starts by gathering information on the MVP – Minimum Viable Product. The MVP covers the basics around what the app needs to do, how it needs to integrate with other platforms, and other details required to get the app out and start onboarding users. A sprint-based app developer can then give you a roadmap for everything you need and how many sprints it should take based on those requirements. That estimate will give you a baseline for cost expectations, except that you have the flexibility to adapt.

The sprints give you a lot of control over what’s being built and what you want to focus on next. At the beginning of each sprint, you and your developer can figure out the biggest priority. You can also focus on new ideas, cut out aspects of the app that are no longer relevant, and adapt as necessary. That uncertainty admittedly makes it so that it’s hard to determine the exact final cost of the project, but it gives you the flexibility to keep the MVP in mind and stay in scope.

Find the Right App Development Company for Your Idea

App development is a great opportunity for any business trying to automate or solidify any in-house processes, or to provide your expertise as a service. Of course, it’s essential to work with a company that can bring your custom business application ideas to life.

Fortunately, Aztek Web is here to help. Our application development team works with you to think through all the details, bake in the necessary business logic, and stay flexible enough to deal with new opportunities and other 'what-if' scenarios along the way.

Ready to invest in a custom mobile or web application that can help you grow your business online? Contact us today to see how we can help you grow your business online!