So you want to develop an app? Do you have an idea that can disrupt the market? Or maybe you have a simple solution to make things easier for everyone?
Everyone has ideas, but few actually execute them. And if you’re reading this, you’re making some headway, albeit even if you’re at the very beginning.
Before we get into the costs of developing an app, let’s start with how they’re developed.
How Do You Develop an Application?
It starts like anything else- with an idea. What we want to know is how your app should function. What is it supposed to do? If it’s a simple app, such as one that calculates how much water you drink — you simply count the number of water glasses consumed per day. It’s pretty cut and dry.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to create something like AirBnB’s app or the next Facebook, you’re looking at something wildly more complex. And the more complex something is, the more expensive it’s going to be.
Okay, so let’s get to the stages.
This is on your end. This is where you (and your team) come up with your app and what you want it to do. In most cases, you can have a general idea of what you want, and your app developer may be able to help you flesh out the rest. But it’s a good idea to slim this down to the most finite function. The simpler the better. For instance, “my app counts the number of water ounces consumed.” Super simple and crystal clear.
What tools are used to ideate apps? There are tons. You can use a notebook and pen, Evernote, Google Docs, mind maps, or whatever helps you get your ideas out of your head. There’s no set way of doing this. It’s all about your preference. As long as you can clearly communicate your idea to others, you’ll have something to work with.
This is where you take your app concept and present it to a company like ours. And whether you take it to a company like ours or not, this work will have to be done anyway. This is a research and planning phase. During this phase, we help further distill what your app is supposed to do. We also research other apps on the market as well as get into the planning of user stories. We want to detail specific use cases for who your app will serve as well as what need is being met. With all the research, we create a requirements document, which will list all the requirements for your app—what features it must have, profiles, user stories, etc.
The goal with all of this information should be to create a minimal viable product (or an MVP). According to Wikipedia, An MVP is a version of a product (your app) with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product development.
Typical Questions You’ll Want to Answer in Your Discovery:
- What goals do you have for users to accomplish in your app?
- What will be the primary purpose of your app?
- Do you have sketches, wireframes, or app designs ready?
- Are you developing the app for internal or public use?
- Do you have any reference app(s) which work similarly to your requirement?
- What are the features or functionalities you’re looking to integrate into your app?
- Is the proposed application expected to integrate with existing applications?
- Will your app require a content management system so you can make edits?
- Who is the audience that will be using your app?
- Who are your target customers? What is their geography, gender & age group?
- Does the app have many user types/roles? If so, what are they?
- Are you considering the app to be multilingual and available in other stores?
- Will your app require in-app purchases, payment gateway integration, multi-currency support, etc?
- Does the app require mobile analytics integration for app usage tracking?
- Does the app require mobile app advertising management tools integration?
- What are the desired compatible devices & OS versions? Please provide required platform and OS version(Eg: iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows)
- Is the app expected to work in both Portrait and Landscape orientation?
- Would you like to have the app listed as free or paid?
- Can the app be used online (without an internet connection)?
- Would you need push notifications for your application?
- Would you like to integrate or use any third-party API services for your application? (Google My Business, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
Keep in mind, these are just the standard questions. When working with an agency, there will be a far more in-depth process to make sure questions like the above are answered as well as a plethora more.
This stage starts with information architecture. This process defines the pages inside the app and how they interact with one another. For instance, where do your users need to go? What screens or pages will they see when they get there? This can be in a user flow diagram or a traditional sitemap.
Next, we start wireframing. Taking what we learned in the discovery process, we’ll begin creating wireframes of the app. The wireframes are like basic blueprints. These will tell us where images and buttons are supposed to be as well as intro text. They’re not supposed to be pretty. I’ve even seen some of these created on the proverbial cocktail napkin. You should have wireframes for each individual screen your user would experience. Wireframes are designed in a myriad of different tools from Photoshop, Illustrator, Adobe XD and more. The tool doesn’t matter. What matters is the end result. [insert image] Once we have the wireframes we’ll begin designing the app’s interface. This is where we take your brand style guide and bring it to life. (If you don’t have a brand style guide, this is a separate step that would be added at this stage. It would include a logo, typefaces, a brand story, etc.) Taking the wireframes we add the images, text, fonts, and multiple facets of styling. There’s a bit of iteration with some back and forth during this stage, but it’s for the betterment of the final product.
Now that we have the designs handy, we can begin coding or programming the app. The programming language depends on a mix of the requirements and your developer’s preference or skillset. And there’s always a popular framework everyone’s screaming that you should use. Don’t listen to the hype. The top 5 programming languages as of the writing of this in 2019 are Java, Kotlin, Objective C, Swift, C++ (in that order). The development process can be as short as a week or as long as months. You should expect to see updates via a prototype or a web application so you can get a feel for your app prior to the beta launch.
So you’re ready to launch. This stage starts with internal testing. You want to make sure you and your team catch and fix most of the issues before you pursue any external tests or push it live. During this stage, you can also pay for user group testing where faux customers within your demographic can test your app for a small fee. This can provide feedback prior to your launch where they may catch things that you and your team may have missed.
Once you’re through with testing, now it’s time to launch. This should be exciting! All of the hours of hard work that went into creating this, and now it’s done. You get to release your baby out into the real world. But fear not empty nester; it’s not over. You now get to support what you’ve built. There will most likely be bugs that arise and constant maintenance and features releases and version updates.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of what it takes to design and develop even the simplest app, we can get into what you should expect to budget and invest.
How Much Does It Cost to Develop an App?
The cost to develop an app is predicated upon the complexity of what you’re trying to create. For instance, in the stages above, if you’re starting from scratch, it takes more labor hours to map out your concept. On the other hand, if you’re developing a competing app (think Lyft vs. Uber), you have a framework to start from.
But let’s get back to the core question.
What does it cost?
Discovery – $5,000 to $50,000+
The cost of discovery starts at about $5,000. And remember, you get what you pay for here. With the average billable hour around $150, this will get you approximately 33 hours worth of work. But don’t skimp here. This is the foundation. And if you have multiple stakeholders and different types of users, this number can skyrocket.
Design – $5,000 to $500,000+
Design is hard to give a specific number because of a lot of the variables. But to make this a little easier, I have to break it up.
- App Branding – if your app doesn’t have a brand kit or brand style guide, you’re going to need this. At a minimum, this would include your logo. But don’t look for the cheap way out here. It’ll only lead to additional costs and headaches down the road. You should go for the full package and have a professional branding agency provide the logo/brandmark, fonts, heading styles, usage rules, and brand story. That is if you’re really serious. The prices for this would start at $1,500 on the low end to $35,000. The variance in price is based on the experience of creatives working on your account.
- App Design – If it’s something simple, the price can be as low as $5,000. This would include the wireframes and designs for one or two stages using a brand style guide as mentioned above. But let’s be real. Not everyone has a brand style guide. They thought they could cut in line or take a shortcut. If this is the case, there would be more iterations using the logo as we frame out the brand via the app designs. In this case, expect to pay about double for the same amount of work. So instead of the $5,000, it would be $10,000 to design the app because we don’t have a style guide to pull from.
Development – $4,000 – 50,000+
The cost of development is tied to what was designed and the devices your app will be used on. For instance, if we’re sticking with the simple app where the design was for $5,000, you can expect to pay around $5,000 to have this app developed. This is barring there aren’t any integrations or wild complexities or anything like that. This is simply having your app developed for iOS and added to the app store. On the other hand, if we were to do just a web app, and this is where I recommend you start, you can expect to pay about $4,000. So there’s a small saving.
In fact, I recommend that everyone starts with a web app. This way, you have control and you’re not tied to iOS, Android, or any of the other frameworks.
But this is the low end. The top end doesn’t stop when it comes to app development costs. The reason is when you incorporate music, multiple profiles, API integrations, different languages, etc. the features take time to build.
As you can see, pricing the investment necessary for your app has wide ranges. This is based on the labor involved and the complexity of what you’re trying to execute.
How to Find the Best App Developer for Your Project?
If you’re looking for an app developer for your project, let’s start with what you look for in your developer.
- Prior experience. You want to ensure this isn’t their first rodeo, or hell, their 2nd, or 3rd. You want to know that they’ve done this before. And this goes for all the stages mentioned above. I’ll say it again, you get what you pay for. If you think you can hire a kid straight out of college, go for it. Or hire a foreign developer- same thing here. To make these types of hiring decisions, there are nuances you can’t begin to understand. And how do you check prior experience? References, baby! Get 2 to 3 good references from past clients. And look at their portfolio. But keep in mind, there are agencies like ours that do work for agencies all over the country and we can’t portfolio our work because of NDAs.
- Culture fit. You’re going to be up close and personal with your developers. Whether you meet them in person, have video conferences, or phone calls, you can expect a lot of interaction. Make sure their culture is similar to yours. For instance, is it a happy place to work? Do they respond to emails immediately or do they wait until the end of the day? Neither is right nor wrong. It’s about what you prefer. Also, do they mind phone calls? Some agencies hate them. I think you get the point. Make sure you like these folks before you pick them.
- Process. Processes shouldn’t be overlooked. Your developer should be able to clearly articulate their process from start to finish. Now, this may get a bit confusing when they start throwing out acronyms and initialisms. For example, there are different types of project management methods that are all the rage right now. We have SCRUM (which just sounds terrible, doesn’t it?), Agile, Crystal, and the more traditional Waterfall method as well as a myriad of others. In any event, they all have their benefits and drawbacks. Some are more expensive than others. For example, you can rent an entire team for a week using Scrum or Agile. Either way, make sure the method fits your timeline, budget, and personal expectations.
- Location. If it’s important that you meet your developers in person, this may be limiting or costly. Limiting if you live in a rural area or market that doesn’t have top dev talent. Costly if you want to fly in or fly them in to meet you. We’ve done both and can speak from experience. On the other hand, if you don’t need to meet your team in person, I highly recommend video conferences.
Now that you know what you can expect from a developer, where do you find one? There are a number of websites and directories that offer verified reviews.
Take Clutch.com for instance. They verify the claims of the app developer by having one-on-one conversations with clients. There are also other sites like DesignRush.com which is a directory of app developers and other digital agencies.
But the best way is always a referral. Sure, it might be old school but nothing beats having someone you already know and trust having pre-vetted the company you’re about to work with. And if you can’t get a referral, make sure to ask the app development agency you plan on working with to provide a couple of references for good measure.
Before You Go
I hope you liked our article and if you have any questions or need any help with your app, we’re only a phone call or email away. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions, even if it’s to review a proposal from another firm.