How much does an app cost to develop, really?
With 85% of shoppers preferring an app over a website for online shopping and the UK being recognised as the most lucrative mobile app market in Europe, now is the time for businesses to get on board.
Budget-wise, it’s getting to the point where not having an app may be more expensive than the cost of developing one.
If you’re missing out on the millions of users who prefer apps over websites, you’ll be left behind by your competitors.
Let’s look at this frankly: app development is as expensive as it needs to be. We’ll give you some accurate projected costings in this article, but it all comes down to one factor.
There are, of course, cheaper solutions available on common freelancing platforms, but for those with any level of complexity or user need, only a bespoke app that maximises user experience will suffice.
If you’re working with an agency, you’ll usually pay in one of two ways: a fixed price based on the entire project from start to finish, or a ‘time and materials’ price that focuses on getting ‘X’ thing done over ‘X’ time. The latter option is much rarer but can be useful for businesses who have no in-house resources and want the agency to continue maintaining the app after completion.
So with these things in mind, where do our app project prices come from?
Navigate this guide:
The main factor in app development costs
As with most projects, the main cost associated with app development is that of time. But that’s an oversimplification, really – it’s actually about the team who are producing the app. These are your UX designers, developers and project managers – the people without whom the app would remain a concept.
There are an array of time-related factors that feed into an app development journey, each increasing the burden on this resource. As your ‘resource’ is, in this example, a team of trained professionals, their salaries or fees are directly related to the cost of your project.
The more of their time you take up, the more it will cost. Some facets such as user workshops can improve efficiency and decrease the time and complexity of the project – but most add new burdens that increase the timescale and therefore, the cost.
There are also hidden costs associated with app development that most people never consider. These are the individual skills, experience and qualifications of the delivery team – but also the organisational elements that lead to better app development.
For example, a project that is overseen by a dedicated project manager who has Agile experience will be more time-efficient and deliver a higher quality app than one without, which again adds to the cost.
Of course, you could try and build an app in-house and decrease the costs by using paid tools and freelancers. But in reality, the gulf of experience between a skilled app team and a new one can lead to project delays far in excess of any normal project cost.
How long does it take to build an app in the UK?
As we’re trying to show here, the ultimate cost of an app comes from the time and resources it takes. But without context, it’s virtually impossible to give an accurate time frame.
A ‘simple’ app could potentially be created in a single week – but that’s only if all of your ‘resources’ (production team) are free to work on it full time.
In the real world, app development timeframes have to be based on the factors (both visible and hidden) that impact production. This is everything from the actual features of the app, the UI/UX design through to more invisible time like strategy, research, testing etc.
Why the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is your Most Valuable Player
While it’s not always easy to give you a clear timeframe for a complex app, there’s an easier benchmark you should aim for. That’s the MVP – the stage at which an app reaches its minimum viability and can be launched – or in human language, the part where the app is ‘good enough’ to do what it needs to do.
Building an MVP should be your priority for several reasons. It expedites the launch time frame, allows you to start gathering feedback and gives data that lets you start making changes.
Most crucially, in terms of costs, is that an MVP gives a clear and definite project timeline that offers an initial ‘cost’ benchmark and then shows you how much more it will cost to continue development and add new features/functionality etc.
But to build an MVP or any app, you need a plan that accounts for the time and effort it will take. Let’s talk about scope.
How scoping your mobile app avoids poor price estimation
When an agency gives you a price, there should be no secrets around where their figure came from. Some might try to disguise them or obfuscate the facts, but the reality is that almost all app development projects are cost based on time and demand for resources.
‘Scoping’ is the term used to describe how a project leader will define the loose requirements of your app and then translate this into estimated time. This can happen in a few ways, including:
You already have an idea for your app and have discussed it with your stakeholders to define which features you need.
Pros: you’ve done some initial research and can help guide the scope
Cons: you may be already causing ‘feature-bloat’ by thinking of features rather than user needs.
You’ve got an idea and have already built a prototype/progressed the project in some way
Pros: you may have documentation, user research or other beneficial insight at hand
Cons: you might have buggy code, poor documentation or work that has to be retroactively fixed (which means added time).
You’ve got an idea or need, but have yet to take action
Pros: with an open mind, your app’s scope can be built to suit real user needs and realistic time frames rather than trying to pin it to specific features or prior work.
Cons: you may struggle to plan out an app with no prior experience or prototype to guide you
Our preference is always to work with clients who are flexible and open-minded, because the first two cases often result in having to retroactively fix buggy code, negotiate with stakeholders to reduce feature expectations or even see a project’s costs and timescales soar out of control due to repeated interference.
To prevent this, a project’s cost comes from a scope built on specifics. At KOMODO, we’ll use user research to build the plan of action by mapping features to real needs. We won’t try to sell you cross-platform if all your users are on Apple. We won’t try to add a fancy AR lens if your users need simplicity. The scope is about keeping things simple, feasible and on budget.
That’s important for everyone: both you, the client, and us, the agency. Why? Enter scope creep.
Scope creep in app development
Scope creep is a term we’ve discussed at length, but in terms of mobile app projects, it can be a real torpedo for your budget. Essentially, it describes a process where features and requirements ‘creep’ beyond the original scope.
If your scope had been, for example, to create an eCommerce app for Android phones with 3 features, but you have an internal stakeholder team who like what ASOS’ app has and must have one of their features, you’ll see scope creep.
Creep requires a decision: either action the new concepts or discard them. Actioning them adds to the project timeline and pushes it past the original deadline. When you’re working with an agency, it’s the original pricing agreement that will most likely dictate how scope creep is managed.
In a fixed price agreement, the agency must stick to its original scope as much as possible and dissuade you from asking for more. Otherwise, they’ll have to absorb the costs themselves and potentially miss the deadline.
In a more flexible agreement, some creep can be permissible if you and the agency have agreed to it and can factor in the time and costs it will add to the project.
For everyone involved, avoiding scope creep is usually the best route to keeping costs visible and holding projects to deadlines. But scoping is just one part of the app development process – so where else do the costs come from?
The app development process
There are approximately 6.6 billion smartphone owners in the world – or 83.96% of the population. Apps are a core part of the smartphone experience – but what is the process behind their creation and how does it affect the success of the app?
UK audiences are invested in the app ecosystem, with 23% of smartphone owners having 1-10 apps installed, 25% with 11-20 and 25% with 31 or more!
Despite the uptake of apps in the UK, the chances of your app staying on a user’s installed list are low. A full 25% of all apps are abandoned after just one launch.
The best way to mitigate this is through a great app development process that factors in user requirements and builds a project plan that focuses on success rather than flattery.
You should expect your agency to challenge your ideas and if they don’t, something may be amiss.
As you can see in the image below, there are lots of individual factors that add to an app’s timescale and resource demand.
While you may think that cutting some of these out will reduce the cost, the opposite can be true. Skipping user research, for example, may lead to app abandonment and therefore mean you’ve wasted all of your money.
The phases involved are so critical to the cost of your project that we’ll discuss them a little more here:
Before any work gets started on your app project, there must be good strategic work in place. This is a ‘hidden cost’ like we mentioned earlier – but it’s the strategy that defines the project’s chances of success.
If you’re working with an agency, their cost estimations are usually only given after some early strategy work has been done with you and your team. We need to understand what you think your requirements are, then help redefine this around what your audience’s requirements are. From there, we can perform user research to identify features and functionality, then create the scope and project plan.
Obviously, all of this work costs money – but it’s a cost that’s well worth the investment as, without it, you’re launching an app blindly and with no form of reality. The best app development strategies are created in collaboration with the client and the agency, so you might have to factor your own resource commitments for the initial planning sessions into the overall project cost.
The design of an app isn’t just ‘what it looks like’. Everything from the colour palette, button layout, animation style and transitions between each ‘page’ should all be designed by a UX and UI design team that understands your users.
Without great UX, a user will struggle to interact with your app. The design team’s job is therefore perhaps the most important in an app project – as it’s their thinking that leads to your app’s success or failure.
An app’s features are largely decided by designers. While a developer will assess the viability of how the feature might work, it’s designers who create the feature itself and how it will work. Functionality, however, is left to the devs.
This means resource drain in the form of user research to define how users interact with similar apps/your industry, what devices they use, how digitally literate they are, what accessibility features are needed etc.
Design teams do a lot of upfront work for the development team too, often producing prototypes in tools like InVision that a developer can take and replicate in a live environment.
Much of the costs of an app development project come down to the design phase: but remember that it’s not just a designer doing creative work – it’s a team and a process.
The ‘coding’ phase sees the app’s design translated into a working model for the platforms you intend to launch on. The team creates the backend of the app and works in sprints to code the functional aspects of the app. Multi-platform launches add to the timescale, but so do complex functionalities like AR, geolocation, NFC etc.
In addition, timescales and costs increase based on the integrations you require. If you have an existing CRM or ERP system and need the app to integrate with it, you can expect costs to increase – but how much will depend on the complexity of the integration.
Want to skip costs by reducing your testing process? Wave goodbye to your users.
88% of users abandon an app if they encounter bugs. Testing is a crucial part of the development process and is worth its weight in gold.
Without a good QA tester, you have no real way of knowing how the app will be received when live. QA tests go beyond identifying bugs – they’re also about general usability.
Once your MVP is live, your investment in testing can drop as users will begin unknowingly testing for you – but until it is, you simply cannot afford to launch an app without strict testing.
Costs, up to this point, are based on resources – how long will the whole project take, how much of X expert’s time is taken up by X feature, how will X integration impact launch?
Once the MVP is ready, you can theoretically cut the costs and launch the app. But in reality, the MVP launch is just the beginning. From adding new features, fixing bugs, maintaining the app through software updates and security issues, the ongoing improvement of an app is what helps it reach its potential.
Imagine if AirBnb’s first app had never evolved past its first iteration – we certainly wouldn’t be using it globally.
How platform choices affect the cost of building an app
The process above is also guided by the choice of platform you’re building on. For some apps, sticking to a single system such as Android or iOS is beneficial as it cuts down on complexity and therefore time. However, with the advent of new cross-platform tools and frameworks, this is becoming less of a factor. Let’s take a closer look:
Native app development
An app is ‘native’ when it’s developed for a single system such as Android. Native apps mean you know your app is going to function well on the devices you’ve built it for – which is especially useful when you’re launching an app for say, a survey team who are all equipped with the same Android devices.
Unfortunately, once you’ve committed to native development it means any desire to launch on new platforms means creating a new codebase and taking more time. It’s actually quite common for people to want apps built natively for multiple platforms, but this means higher pricing as you’re basically asking for specific development for two separate systems.
Cross-platform development uses a programming system such as React Native that allows an app to function across multiple systems such as iOS and Android. This means the development team can develop a single codebase and deploy it to both platforms, saving time and increasing cost-efficiency.
However, cross-platform approaches can also lead to issues on certain platforms if you require specialist, niche functionality so that must be factored into the decision.
App Developers Cost in the UK
So if we recognise that every factor of app development, both the visible, billable hours of ‘work’ on the app itself and the stuff that happens behind the scenes is all down to the team, the costs become apparent based on salary. It’s all a matter of how much time the app takes, how many roles it involves and how productively that time is managed.
Of course, every project is bespoke and will require different resources depending on the scope, requirements and objectives. However, let’s say a project is staged in two phases over the course of a year – it’s probably going to require the following resources:
1 project manager (agency side)
2 software developers
Taking these salaries into account, you can expect these resources to cost in the region of £100,000. That seems like a when you say it out loud, right? But it’s all a matter of perspective. Apps are a high-value investment. But with the right business plan and monetisation strategy, investing in top-quality technology will pay dividends.
An agency will charge based on the resources you’re using up with your project. But by bringing in a proven product studio, you’re getting much more than just bums on seats. You’re getting industry expertise, with seasoned pros who live and breathe digital products.
Alternatively, you can compete for top tech talent and recruit in-house – but that means salaries, pensions and other full-time staffing commitments.
Cut the bulls%$t: how much does it cost to make an app?
If you’ve made it this far, you’ll know that we’re not going to state a price. It’s not because we’re shy about costs – just give us a call and we’ll happily try and estimate once we know more about the project.
It’s because there’s no real way to give you a price for an app until you know more about it. The idea alone is never enough: you need to get to the scoping stage to have any hope of knowing how much the app will cost you. But thankfully, the ‘cause’ of the cost should always be clear: it’s about the resource commitment and timeframe. Any agency that won’t show you where your costs are going is hiding something.
Of course, you can always develop the app in-house. But that means recruitment or repositioning existing talent from their current role (which means added training). Thanks to this, no matter what price an agency might give you, the cost of doing it in-house is always greater in the long term.
So if you’re serious about getting an app developed that will engage users and serve your business, why not get in touch with us?
You now know the process – so let’s talk about getting your idea into a scope and what your MVP might look like. After all, if you’re spending money you should have a good idea of what it’s going to get you.
Contact KOMODO today for real-world app development costs that are focused on success, value and delivering exactly what you need.