How much does it cost to make an app in 2020?

May 29, 2020

Sush Mobile

The short answer is, it depends. The price of an app product can vary from $70,000 to $350,000 and more.

How much does it cost to make an app in 2020?

On top of this, the ongoing infrastructure and maintenance cost can vary from 2,000/month to 30,000/month.

After more than 10 years in the mobile development business, the question we’re asked more than any other is how much the build will cost. Here we’ll explain the main factors that define the price tag for an app to help you understand the process and plan your project.

The way we calculate the cost of developing an app is to first understand the scope and the features it will have, and from this evaluate the resources and time it requires. Before getting into the build, we also encourage our clients to validate the customer problem and test riskiest assumptions with targeted research or a minimum viable product (MVP).

In our view, while the cost of building an app can vary greatly, understanding the processes and how these fit with your own project means you can plan for your budget and spend only what you need to.

Identify the type of app you’re building

The nature and purpose of your app significantly influences the cost of development. For instance, developing an app that integrates features or functions pre-installed on devices such as a calculator, stopwatch or timer makes for easier development as it requires only basic programs.

However, more complex social media or gaming apps involve a great deal more work, so the cost increases. If your app has to complete functions such as syncing with the internet, linking with other app users or using real-time GPS, it’s going to be more expensive to build.

Once you have identified the type of app you’re developing, you need to stick with it. A $10,000 app can end up costing closer to $50,000 when you start adding features and repurpose elements that change the direction of the project.

Apply lean start-up principles

Once you have understood the nature of your app, think about developing it like running a business. You need to have a plan and, more importantly, you need to follow it through.

There are numerous benefits, both in terms of cost savings and the potential usage rate of the app, in applying lean start-up principles. In simple terms, the lean start-up concept is based on eliminating waste wherever possible and being as close to your customer as soon as possible.

This is achieved through customer development, creating MVPs, measuring, running split tests and continuous deployment. A MVP is useful not only because it lets you test out the market, but it saves you from potentially spending money on components that your target user base may not be interested in. Your MVP can be as simple as a mock-up website or a video that shows the idea of the app, so long as it can be used to see how customers react.

In other words, the sooner you roll out your app, even as a very basic version of what you’re working towards, the sooner you can start getting valuable customer feedback and further develop your app to meet your customers’ demands.

Apply Lean Startup Principles

Now, understand what affects mobile application costs

For bespoke development, there is no rate list for the apps. Everything depends on the following key factors:

  • Features and functionality
  • Interface complexity - visual design
  • Supported platforms
  • Quality Assurance and Continuous Integration
  • Integration, Backend, APIs and Infrastructure
  • Maintenance and support costs

Features and functionality

The extent of the functionality offered by an app and the complexity of certain features dictate the extent of development. A form-based interface with many screens could end up costing as much as only a couple of screens with very complex tasks. The amount of logic required to display the information on a screen also plays an important role.

An example of this is the sales dashboard app built by SUSH for BAT, that provides critical client information to the field workforce. The app solves the problem of having to navigate through complex excel sheets to find required information while discussing with customers. It has most of the functionality contained within a few screens, however it contains an unprecedented amount of logic and processing in order to analyse the required information.

Interface complexity - visual design

The complexity and uniqueness of visual design also has a significant impact on overall cost. While it may seem economical to cut back on the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design this is not always the best option, nor is it always necessary. Using Operating System (OS) supplied components and standard UI elements is one way to cut back on costs without sacrificing important visual elements.

Our thought process with visual design generally goes like this:

  • Is the app very dependent on visual design, for example a game? In this scenario it’s important to invest in the visuals. However, to ensure your investment doesn’t go wasted we test the game idea with simple storyboards or prototypes.
  • Does the app solve a problem that is already addressed by other solutions in the marketplace, making visual design a crucial differentiation? In this instance we test the visual design with prototyping and are very critical of any customisations. Once your assumptions are validated, you can go back anytime and iterate on visual design.
  • Does the app solve a problem that no one seemingly solves? In this case you can use standard elements wherever possible to compile the app experience and move onto testing the need of the app. It’s crucial to note that using standard elements isn’t synonymous with providing a bad or sloppy experience. Regardless of whether the app is for B2B or B2C, design plays a massive role in solution adoption. It’s simply that the degree of customisation can be minimised to keep the design process as straightforward as possible.
Interface complexity - visual design

Supported platforms

Google Android and Apple iOS are the two key platforms in the mobile app world. While in many scenarios businesses are required to support both, in our opinion it isn’t always necessary unless there is a valid business case for it.

For instance, an enterprise may decide to build an app to better enable their field workforce. They could choose to use Android tablets, as there are plenty of affordable device options available, and as such only need to support Android OS.

At SUSH, we support the following three ways to build apps:

  • Native apps
  • Cross-platform native apps
  • Web apps or PWA

Native apps are developed using the native software development kits (SDKs) for iOS and Android, and the respective programming languages - Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android. Native apps have full access to the OS functions and offer the highest levels of performance.

There’s no apparent price difference in the cost of creating Android versus iOS native apps, but if the business case justifies the need to support both the platforms, it does take twice the effort to develop the apps and then to maintain them. 

Cross-platform native apps are those created with a third party framework to cater to both iOS and Android with essentially the same codebase. On the one hand, a cross-platform framework offers a high degree of speed and cost savings. On the other hand, the quality is compromised as developers can’t control specific aspects of the codebase and have to rely on the framework.

Our R&D team continuously scans the advancements in the domain of cross-platform mobile development. Over the years we’ve developed many cross-platform solutions using Phonegap, Appcelerator and Xamarin in the early days, and React Native and Flutter in recent years.

At present, we highly recommend and support cross-platform native development using Flutter, the platform developed and supported by Google. To know more about Flutter, please see our recent blog [include hyperlink].

Web apps or PWA (Progressive Web Apps) are written using web languages, which make it compatible with all devices and browsers. In our experience, this is the most cost effective platform for development so long as the optimal customer experience is maintained.

The web method relies heavily on browser capability (as opposed to OS capability) and as such doesn’t offer the best performance for mobile, with limited access to smartphone-specific functionalities including advanced camera functions or push notifications.

Even so, PWAs make a strong case for specific business problems, such as the RealMe web app we developed for the Department of Internal Affairs, which allows users to verify their identity online. In this example, the customer journey flows much more seamlessly with a PWA when compared to a mobile app.

Supported Platforms - Native, Flutter, PWA

Quality Assurance and Continuous Integration

Quality Assurance (QA) is a non-negotiable part of product development. A robust QA process provides tremendous value to the product, and incompetent QA can result in huge costs. If the user experiences any bugs, crashes, poor navigation, slow loading time or security breaches they will abandon the app.

The cost of QA depends on the scale and complexity of the product. At SUSH we’ll engage with QA engineers, who will thoroughly test the app throughout the product’s lifecycle. The engineers will check the application’s health and stability performing regression, load, smoke, and other types of tests. In addition, they will ensure the UI and app components comply with the specifications and recommended UX guidelines by Apple and Google.

Robust QA also demands that features which cause any minor change to another part of the application be retested, which can drastically increase the amount of work if handled manually. At SUSH, we balance QA strategies with a mix of manual and automated testing techniques. One good practice we’ve adopted is to supplement QA with Continuous Integration, allowing teams to integrate frequently and detect bugs early.

Integration, Backend, APIs and Infrastructure

Integration with the existing system or supporting backend is vital in making an app function and deliver value to users. Integration is also one of the most challenging aspects of the mobile product journey, as in many cases backend systems are old and as such don’t provide Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to retrieve or exchange data.

In our scope discovery sprint STRIDE, which is also generally the first two weeks of the app journey, we do a thorough analysis of the legacy architecture in place to understand the necessary integration requirements.

In order to achieve a complete business solution and not just a standalone app, often we develop a supporting backend and APIs to provide developers an environment to store or exchange data. The business case may also need an administration panel to manage app content, users and analytics, which involves additional development effort, and they may need to acquire cloud-based infrastructure to host the backend and supporting APIs.

Costs for this step vary depending on the complexity and extent of the functionality of the backend. At SUSH we apply best standards of Continuous Deployment and create cloud-native apps for seamless deployment and scalability.

Maintenance and support costs

Finally, you’ve got to think about the cost of maintaining the app product. Apps require maintenance even if there hasn’t been a great deal of change in the scale or functionality of the product. It may account for 15-20% of the original investment in the development.

The cost comprises of the following:

  • Ongoing bug fixing
  • Solution stability and performance checks
  • Ongoing code optimisation
  • Supporting the latest OS changes and versions
  • Fine-tuning and UX/UI elements
  • Supporting the latest versions of any third-party services

Technology does not remain static, and therefore at SUSH we provide an ongoing partnership with our customers to make sure the product we develop remains highly functional and continually engaging.

Conclusion

If you’re still asking yourself ‘How much does it cost to develop an app for my business?', remember that planning and setting a budget goes a long way. As does engaging in a dialogue with your development team, who can guide you towards rolling out the best, most cost efficient version of the app you want and need. 

A well developed app can produce a great return on investment. If you have an idea and can't wait to bring it to life, SUSH Mobile can get you started right away.