The cost to build a mobile app depends on your choice of platforms, features, integrations, design, and more.

mobile app user

“How much does it cost to build a mobile app?” is a question we’re asked frequently.

Many people have ideas of apps they would like to have built. Sometimes the person will be an executive at a large company who needs to build an app for their customers or employees. Other times it’s a budding entrepreneur with a big idea.

Regardless of who it is, we love it when others approach us to help them bring their mobile app to life.

But mobile app development can be a complicated process and one of the key factors in this process is the cost of building an app. 

And while there is no exact formula, we’ve mapped out the key components that contribute to the cost of building a mobile app.

The costs we provide below are just approximations. Every app is different and we go through a cost estimation process for every proposal we write.

Here are the 10 primary questions to consider when you’re wondering how much it costs to build a mobile app.

1) For what smartphone platforms are you building your mobile app?

The first big determinant of the cost of building your mobile app is on what smartphone platforms you’d like to develop.

It’s natural to want to build for every platform so you can reach as many people as possible. But that’s easier said than done. And it won’t be cheap.

With the different design standards for each platform, it’s difficult to nail the user experience perfectly when building all at once. So it’s smarter to start with one platform, get it right, then move on to the next operating system.

But which platform should you start with?

The primary native smartphone operating systems are iOS and Android.

iOS has 33.6% market share in the U.S., while Android owns 62.8% of the American market. Android further dominates internationally, with almost 85% of the world’s smartphone users on its platform, as opposed to iOS’s 13.1%.

Gartner mobile market share

Mobile OS market share – courtesy of Gartner

Windows Phone and Blackberry together only account for about 2% of global smartphone users and shouldn’t be considered at this time unless you’re targeting a very specific audience.

You also should take into account the psychographics and behaviors of your audience in conjunction with the type of app you would like to build.

While the population of Android users is much larger, iOS users are more affluent and spend more on paid apps, in-app purchases, and mobile retail transactions.

So if you’re looking for pure reach, Android makes sense. If you’re looking to monetize immediately, iOS might be the better option.

Another consideration is whether your app can be built as a hybrid application.

Hybrid applications are those that leverage responsive website screens that are displayed in iPhone and Android app wrappers.

While the hybrid approach can be less expensive, it should be saved primarily for brochure apps that are primarily used for content delivery and have a minimal feature set. You can find more about the pros and cons of this approach here and here.

The components of this initial cost include a discovery phase where the app features are discussed and finalized, a design phase where wireframes and mockups are created, and a setup phase where the foundation of the app is developed.

Approximate cost:

  • Native: ~$8,000 per platform
  • Hybrid: ~$5,000-6,000 per platform (~$15,000-18,000 total for iOS, Android, and responsive web)

2) Do you need to build your app for tablets?

Once you’ve decided on what smartphone platforms you’d like to build your app, you should consider whether you need to build your app for the iPad and Android tablets.

Again, the best approach is to start with one platform and device and get it right. But you’ll still have to think about tablets as a possibility.

The operating systems are the same for tablets and smartphones, respectively – iPhones and iPads both use iOS, and Android tablets and phones both use the Android operating system.

But the sizes of the devices differ, and thus changes to the form factor must be made to accommodate these differences.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$8,000 per additional tablet platform

3) How will users log in to your mobile app?

Most mobile apps will make users create an account to log in for user authentication and data capture purposes. The way you ask your users to log in will impact the cost of building your app.

An email address and password combination is a straightforward method of user authentication. Some apps ask the user to create a username as well.

Social login, where apps leverage your login information from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google, is very popular also. This saves the user time by not forcing them to create another account, and they won’t need to remember yet another password.

 

Spotify login screen Android

Spotify login screen on Android

If you’re very concerned about security, multi-factor authentication is an option to consider adding to the authentication options mentioned above.

Multi-factor authentication enhances security by adding more steps, in addition to entering the email address/password combination, for users to log into your app. The most common methods of multi-factor authentication for mobile apps is to deliver a code via SMS to your mobile phone or an email with a link specific to you so you can confirm your identity.

These codes typically expire after a short amount of time and can be reset by the user. Because they are constantly changed, these dynamically-generated passcodes are safer than email and password combinations.

Approximate cost:

  • Email / password login: ~$2000 per platform
  • Social login: ~$3000 per platform
  • Multi-factor authentication: ~$4000

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4) What are the features and functionality you want to include in your mobile app?

The features that you want for your users will be the most important drivers of the cost of the app.

Features and functionality, combined with the user experience and interface, will define the value that the app provides to your users.

But you want to be careful not to pack too many features into your app, as they may confuse your users and give them too many options. In general, the simpler the better, as long as your users can achieve their primary objective.

Because every app is different, and there are so many possible features and different ways to deliver each feature, it’s difficult to account for every possible scenario. But we’ll do our best to mention the most common features and functionality that our clients ask for.

Here are the questions you should ask about features and functionality of your app:

a) Will your app’s users need to input their personal info to create profiles?

Most apps with a social networking or e-commerce component to it will ask users to create profiles and save personal information.

Some of this information may need to be secure, while other types of information may be shown publicly to other app users.

Regardless, the need for creating and saving user profiles will add a little bit of cost to your mobile app.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$3000 per platform

b) Will users rate, review, and comment on things in your app?

Rating, review, and commenting systems are important features of many apps.

Yelp is the quintessential rating and review app and wouldn’t exist without these systems. Facebook has Likes and comments. And many other apps have some component of ratings, reviews, and comments integrated into the user experience.

Yelp reviews on android

Yelp reviews on android

These are crucial features that increase app engagement by allowing users to communicate their opinions and have their voices heard.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$3000 per platform

c) Will there be social sharing on your app?

App users love to share great content and experiences with their friends and social networks. Social sharing functionality in apps makes that seamless and easy.

And by including social sharing in your app, you have the ability to create a viral loop, where your current users share content from your app to their friends, and those friends become users of your app.

Social sharing is an extremely powerful way to acquire new users without spending a dime, outside of building the functionality into the app, of course.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$1,500 per platform

d) Will users be able to purchase products and goods within your app?

Mobile commerce functionality is mandatory if you’re a retailer or e-commerce business and you want your users to be able to purchase your products and services from their phones.

Or maybe you’re building a “freemium” app, where users can purchase premium features within your free app, or a game app where your users can make in-app purchases, such as virtual goods and power-ups.

Stripe Apple Pay

Apple Pay integrated into Whole Foods app – photo courtesy of Stripe

In these cases, you’ll need to implement features such as a shopping cart and payment processing.

There are many different possible flavors and customizations that you can have with these mobile commerce features, but luckily there are a bunch of plugins that facilitate any kind of transaction you can imagine.

Mobile e-commerce solutions include Shopify, X-Cart, MobiCart, and many others. These tools provide shopping cart functionality, credit card processing, and much more.

Popular payment processors include Stripe, Braintree, PayPal, and others.

There still will be a cost to integrate and customize these plugins for your app’s specifications, though.

Approximate costs:

  • Shopping cart integration: ~$5,000 per platform
  • Payments integration / in-app purchases: ~$2,000 per platform

e) Will your app have features that need to integrate with other apps on your phone, such as the calendar, email, messaging, maps, or other?

Smooth integration with other apps on your phone, such as calendar, email, messaging, maps, and other important applications, can provide a lot of value to your users.

For instance, ride-sharing app Lyft integrates seamlessly with text messaging apps on your phone. After you hail a ride, Lyft sends you a text message that includes your driver’s name and car make, model, and color when your driver has arrived.

lyft text message

Lyft text message

Event apps like Eventbrite allow you to register for and effortlessly add events to your phone’s calendar with a couple of taps. These apps transfer information like event title, date, time, location and other data into the appropriate fields in calendar entries.

Local apps like OpenTable integrate with map apps to help you find directions to the destination of your choice.

When integrations with other apps on your phone is seamless, the user experience of your app is improved and the value of your app in enhanced.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$4,000 per integration per platform, depending on extent of integration

f) Will your mobile app leverage the hardware of your phone, such as the camera, accelerometer, or location/GPS?

Integration with the phone’s hardware, such as the camera, accelerometer, or GPS, is another important piece of your app’s user experience.

Apps like Instagram and Vine allow you to seamlessly access your camera to capture and share images, video, and audio.

Sleep tracking apps like Sleep Time and Sleep Cycle use your accelerometer to gauge how much you move around during your slumber to measure how well you sleep and wake you up at the appropriate time to maximize your rest.

Real estate apps like Zillow and Trulia leverage the GPS on your phone to provide homes for sale or apartments for rent near your current location.

zillow app

Zillow map – courtesy of Zillow

 

Leveraging your phone’s hardware provide your users with relevant data and allow them to execute tasks easily.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$4,000 per integration per platform, depending on extent of integration

This list of features and functionality isn’t comprehensive but it addresses a high percentage of requests that we see from our clients. If you have questions about the cost of other features, feel free to email us.

5) What kind of back-end integrations are necessary for your app? 

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that power mobile apps’ features and functionality. Most users don’t even know what’s happening, and that’s a good thing. But the back-end integrations are extremely important and are key to many apps’ great user experiences.

Here are some of the important back-end integrations that you may want to include in your mobile app.

a) Will your app need to sync data across multiple devices?

We all own multiple devices, and it’s expected that all of our data will sync seamlessly and be accessible anywhere and anytime.

For instance, note-taking app Evernote does a great job at syncing data across all platforms.

I might start writing an agenda for an upcoming meeting on my Evernote Mac desktop app. Once I’m at that meeting, I’ll need to access that agenda on my Android phone to add comments from attendees and other ideas that might arise.

 

Evernote sync

Evernote syncs across devices – courtesy of Evernote

Syncing data across platforms is a standard feature nowadays and should certainly be included in your app if applicable.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$4,000 per integration per platform

b) Will the app need to connect with other back-end software tools, such as your website, a database, or customer relationship management software?

Many times mobile apps will need to be connected with existing back-end systems to power some of the functionality of your app.

You might have to segment your customers to deliver pertinent information, create, edit, and display content, moderate forums and comments, or administer other features.

For instance, let’s say you’re a car insurance provider who is looking to build an app so you can communicate coverage plan changes to your customers, help them submit claims, and answer their questions.

You will need to connect your mobile app to your customer relationship management (CRM) software or some kind of back-end database via an application programming interface (API) to be able to segment your audience and deliver different information to those with different coverage plans.

This CRM integration will also be important to track your interactions, such as claims submitted, questions asked, and solutions provided, with your app’s users.

Additionally, you will have to integrate your app with some kind of content management or message delivery system to facilitate the delivery of these coverage plan updates.

There are many types of existing back-end software that can help power the functionality of your mobile app, with a wide range of costs to integrate into each of them.

Approximate cost:

  • Widely ranges depending on type of back-end software and level of integration, but approximately $2,000 – 8,000 per integration, per platform

c) What kind of administrative features will you need for your app that can’t be provided by existing back-end software?

If existing back-end software won’t suffice in managing and powering some of the features of your mobile app, you’ll need to develop some custom software to do so.

You may need specific content management software, enhanced reporting tools, user administration functionality, or another type of software to facilitate some of your app’s features.

The cost of development of custom software depends on a few factors:

  • The features that the software will administer – more complicated features may require more complicated custom software
  • Your business’ processes and workflow in administering these features – the software may need to have administrative rights, security, and other features to fit into your workflow
  • The expected number of users that will use your app – the more users of your app, the more data will come through this custom software, which will need to built to handle all of it.

Approximate cost:

  • Widely ranges depending on type of back-end software needed, but approximately $5,000 – 10,000 per custom software build

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6) What types of communication will your app have with your users?

You want to make sure that your users are engaged and return to your app often, and in-app communication and push notifications are a great way to encourage this behavior.

In-app messaging and notifications occur when the user is currently using your app, and there are plenty of tools to facilitate this.

Software packages like Intercom, Xtremepush, Apptentive, HipMob, UserVoice, and many more can be integrated into your app to allow you to deliver offers, garner feedback through chat and surveys, message your users about new features, provide customer support, and more. These tools can help you better engage your users, give you a pulse of what your users think about your app and how it can improve.

xtremepush on iPhone

Xtremepush in-app messaging – courtesy of Xtremepush

Push notifications are sent when users aren’t actively using your app and help retain users by notifying them about feature updates, when other users interact with them, and other important  app events.

For instance, if you run an E-commerce business that sells sneakers, you can manually send a push notification to your app users notifying them of a new deal on Nike running shoes.

There are tools that allow you to manually deliver push notifications and provide a nice clean interface to create messages, segment users, and create automated programs. These include Urban Airship, Kahuna, Leanplum, and more. See this article for a nice overview. These manual push notifications are relatively easy to set up in your app.

In addition to manual push notifications, you can set up your app to deliver automated push notifications. For instance, Facebook’s mobile app sends push notifications to you when your friends comment or like your post.

This type of automated notification is called a server-side push notification because it depends on changes in data on the back-end server of your app.

Server-side push notifications need a bit more work by your developer to create the business logic and connect the notification service to your server. These push notifications are delivered by services like Amazon SNS (Simple Notification Service), Google Cloud Messaging, Apple Push Notification Service, and others.

Approximate cost:

  • Manual in-app messaging and push notification services: ~$2,000 per platform to integrate, then a monthly fee to the push notification provider
  • Server-side notifications: ~$5,000-10,000 for initial setup (dependent on complexity of business logic), then ~$3,000 per additional platform, and additional cost based on number of messages delivered

7) What level of analytics do you need in your app?

You can learn a lot from your users with app analytics.

Mobile app analytics software like Google Mobile Analytics, MixPanel, Localytics, Flurry, and many others allow you to understand how your customers use your app, which screens they visit the most, how they flow through your app, and many other behaviors. All of this data can be leveraged to improve your app’s user experience.

These analytics packages vary on how in-depth the user data is that they provide and how complicated they are to integrate into your app.

And at times you may want more custom analytics for specific use cases, which will need to be developed from scratch.

Approximate cost:

  • Integration of third-party analytics packages: ~$500-2,000 per platform, depending on the extent of the implementation, plus monthly fees to analytics software companies
  • Custom analytics: ~$3,000-10,000 depending on complexity of analytics

8) What level of security does your mobile app require?

Mobile app security is often overlooked by users but is a crucial part of the development process. Ensuring the security of data and systems is of paramount importance to develop trust with your users.

The level of security necessary for your app depends on the type of app you build, the business that you run, and the systems that you use on the back end.

The first line of security defense is the user authentication method that you chose in section #3. Multi-factor authentication will be more secure than typical email / password login and social login, but will cost a bit more.

There may also be some features of your app that require a higher level of security. For instance, if you facilitate payments in your app, you’ll have to make sure none of your users’ credit card or other payment data is stored on the app itself and that data is encrypted.

Many times this level of security is already implemented by the software plugins that you use to facilitate the feature. For example, payment providers Stripe and Braintree have all the security you’ll need for your app to accept payments. 

That’s a good thing, as building data encryption into your app can be very costly. Just make sure the security standards of the plugins you use are up to snuff.

You also have to think about the security of the APIs that you use to connect your app to your business’ back-end systems, such as CRM software, ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, or any other business software. You’ll have to make sure hackers and unauthorized users can’t access your systems for nefarious uses.

Here’s a great article that outlines the top mobile application security risks.

Approximate cost:

  • Multi-factor authentication (already accounted for in section #3): ~$4,000
  • API and back-end security: ~$5,000-10,000 depending on type of back-end software

9) How custom do you want your user interface to look?

User interface design is very important, as a beautiful look can differentiate your app from the millions of apps available.

Each operating system has minimum set of design standards that you will need to conform to; Google has Material Design for Android and Apple has its iOS Human Interface Guidelines. But you can certainly include custom buttons, fancy transitions, and unique gestures to make your app stand out.

Google cards

Google’s material design cards – courtesy of Google

iphone6s weather app

iOS weather app – courtesy of Apple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t get too carried away with these customizations, though. You need to make sure that these custom changes add to the user experience and aren’t distracting to the user.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$5,000-10,000 per platform, depending on extent of customizations

10) Do you need ongoing maintenance and updates?

Launching the app isn’t the end. Rather, it’s only the beginning of a long journey.

After you launch your app, you’ll need to maintain and improve it as you receive feedback and feature requests from customers.

Do you have internal resources that can address issues and add improvements to your app? If not, you’ll have to enter into an ongoing maintenance contract with your app developer to continue to update your app.

Approximate cost:

  • ~$1,000+ per month, depending on level of maintenance

Conclusion

Building a mobile app can be a complicated process. Every app is a unique combination of features and functionality, and everyone will have a different vision of the app they want to build.

Because of this, determining the cost to build a mobile app can be complicated as well. It’s much more art than science, as envisioning how features work together and what needs to be built to get everything working smoothly can be difficult.

While the cost estimates that we provide in this article are just approximations, we hope they help you understand the primary factors that are involved in developing an app and the cost that comes along with it.

If you have any questions about these estimates, or if you’re interested in building a mobile app, please contact or email us.

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