Whether you wish to create a new revenue stream, enhance an existing service or craft a branded experience for customers, an app makes the perfect solution for your business. The growth of the app market has been rapid; even faster than that of the Internet back in the 90s. The volume of apps hitting the market on a daily basis is phenomenal, and this means two things; popularity is high and competition is rife. For this reason it is necessary to develop an app that offers high-level value and/or enjoyment to the end user. To do this an appropriate budget must be set in order to realise goals and meet expectations.
Contrary to popular belief, the process for the development and design of an app is very different to that of a website, and in general, depending on the technicality involved, requires a higher budget. Before you go any further with your planning, it is important that you fully understand how app development works. This article has been created to give you a point of reference for planning the development of your app. The document is by no means definitive in terms of costing, but will provide you with comprehensive information to help you better understand the development and design process, and to obtain an approximation of what your app will cost.
There are apps for pretty much everything, but one thing the best-selling apps all have in common is that they provide great user value and/or entertainment. On one end of the spectrum you have popular game apps like Angry Birds, and on the other end you have apps that assist existing popular web platforms like Twitter and Facebook. You also have information-based apps such as news apps and up to the minute sport apps, and apps that provide additional functionality to an existing online service.
Android and iPhone
There are a number of app platforms, namely Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. However, Android and Apple are the two main players, and with that in mind we will use these platforms as a reference for this article. App development for an iPhone is different to that of an Android phone, and the same applies to iPad and Android tablets. In short, an Apple app is not compatible on an Android device and vice versa.
The Apple app market has become the dominant force, and when we say “app” usually it’s the iPhone that springs to mind. However, the Android app market is huge too, and therefore when developing an app you should consider adapting your app for both markets. You should also consider whether you want your app to function on the iPad and Android tablets. Adapting an app for tablet use requires new functionality and adjustments to design.
A key consideration of the type of app you want to develop is the level of support you are prepared to provide. For example, do you want a fully functional app that requires periodic version updates, or an app that will require dedicated daily content updates. You will also need to consider whether your app requires an external service to function such as a data feed, as this may incur an on-going fee.
Free or Paid
To be successful in the app market you need to do one of two things, either produce something completely original, or better an existing popular app by delivering a heightened user experience. You will also want to think about whether you intend to develop a free or paid app. Remember that very few apps in the market that charge a download fee are successful, and often the best strategy is to launch your app free, build its visibility and popularity, and then charge a fee when a demand is created. There are, however, other ways to monetise an app, and we shall discuss these in the ‘app marketing’ section.
The Concept You may already have a concept in mind, but even so, you will want to research existing apps in the marketplace and identify similar ideas and functionality. Conduct a competitive analysis of existing apps in your field to identify the optimal feature set and business model for a strong market positioning. Consider how you can evolve your idea to provide better value and greater appeal to the consumer. Then think about virility and marketing. Apps such as games can easily go viral with a simple, unique concept, yet information based apps don’t generally have the same appeal. In this respect you need to consider how your app will appeal to the masses and become a leader in your market sector. It is extremely important to consider USPs (Unique Selling Points) before you begin development because these attributes will formulate your foundation for success.
Before considering cost, we should consider how costs can be kept to a minimum. This is all in the planning; a well-planned project will prevent unforeseen development expenses. Even the simplest app will have many steps and push button functionalities, all of which need to be mapped out clearly for the developer. Start by creating a screen-by-screen picture board of your app detailing the user experience. Doing this will assist the development team in fully understanding your vision. It will also ensure all functionality is covered.
Design and development are two very different aspects of the app building process. Unlike a website where it is possible to find combined designers and developers to minimise costs, building an app requires a team people with specific skill sets. The team will consist of a project manager, a developer for each specific platform (Android, iPhone, etc.,) and a designer. The designer is given a comprehensive brief of the requirements once the programming and technicality has been defined. Remember; don’t skimp on design because it is just as important as the development. The design is the first aspect of your app the consumer will see, and can make or break an app. Look at the most successful apps and you will see they all have a great icon, awesome splash screens, user-friendly tab icons and dozens of other assets that have been tied together by an experienced designer.
Assessing The Variables Asking how much an app costs to develop is an ambiguous question. It’s a bit like asking how much a car costs; generally you get what you pay for, and when it comes to the hugely competitive app marketplace you don’t want a substandard build. The last thing you want is to be lumbered with broken code and poor project communication. Broken code equates to dysfunctional operation, and the cost of fixing this will depend on how easy it is for a competent developer to decipher the work conducted by the original developer.
While you don’t want “cheap” you don’t want overpriced either. There are many companies overcharging on basic app development because of reputation or because there are too many unnecessary cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. It is important you identify what you are paying for and each person’s role in the development. To use the car analogy again; on higher end cars the cost of servicing is driven up by the maintenance of fancy showrooms, and where apps are concerned the price can be hiked unnecessarily by corporate bloat.
The average US-based developer will charge approximately $100 an hour, so you can see how even the smallest app project can tally up quickly. Developer fees do vary from country to country, and outsourcing will help to cut costs considerably. Remember though that not all app companies were created equally. You will pay more for experience and have the added security of dealing with a professional company that knows what’s required for a successful development.
Without analysing a specific project it is impossible to give an exact cost of app development. It is possible, however, to look at statistics to obtain a cost approximation. For example, a TechCrunch survey of 96 mobile app developers cited the average cost of development at $6,453. But again, bear in mind the cost of an app does depend on a number of factors, including developer location, functionality and design work. An article on PadGadget.com suggested the development costs (excluding design and other costs) range from $12,000 to $150,000 or more. But let’s break this down further using our experience of previous app builds. A basic table-based app whereby you provide all the images, content and examples of similar apps you want to model yours on, will cost $1000-$4,000. The overall cost will be largely dependent on how interactive you want the app to be in terms of social media or GPS, etc. At the end of the day, it’s functionality that drives cost.
A database app whereby you provide all the content, images, writing and sound will cost $8000 - $50,000. The core build focus will be on the architecture and front end, with the backend driven an existing database. Of course the price is determined by function variables and the amount of coding involved.
A gaming app is the hardest app to provide a price estimate for because there are many variables depending on the complexity of the game and design work. For a very basic arcade style game, think Tetris, you could be looking at as little as $10,000 - $20,000. For something like Angry Birds, you will be looking at a $150,000 just for the coding.
As mentioned previously, an iPhone app won’t automatically work on the Android platform. If you want a multiple-platform app you will need to stipulate this in your brief, discuss costs with your development team, and budget accordingly.
Additional Functionality Costs
These are a number of additional functionality includes often overlooked by businesses in the initial planning stages. Even though these things are considered “added extras”, they are becoming increasingly standard due to such high competition.
In-App Purchasing - $1,000-3,000 - This function adds user-ability to buy new content or an upgraded version of an app. The cost is determined by the complexity of the purchasing process. In terms of cost efficiency, it is advisable to build this into the initial build rather than implement it post-build.
Share Capability - $500-1,500 - At the lower end of the price range this refers to simple Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest sharing, and at the higher end of the budget scale refers to higher-level integration such as WordPress integration.
Web Services - $1,000-$5,000 - This refers to storing your content at a remote access point so you can update your app via XML files rather than having to make raw code changes. It is essential to determine the change requirements you will need going forward before starting the app build process.
Game Centre - $1,000 - This is fairly inexpensive but essential for games. Apple has made this integration process fairly painless through its SDK software, which helps develop native applications for iOS.
The design of your app will be the customer “facing” representation of your concept. Users will download the app largely on the appeal of screenshots, the logo and branding. For this reason, investing a considerable portion of your budget in design is essential. App designs are usually ordered in a package, which will comprise the screenshots, logo and icons; basically everything the developer needs to string it all together. You will be surprised at just how much artwork is required for a basic app; the icon alone will require multiple sizes. Below are some examples of pricing based on iPad and iPhone design. Android design will be similar to that of the standard iPhone, and tablet adaptation rules will apply as stipulated for the iPad.
iPhone - $1000-10,000 - this will get you a basic package ready to send the designer for integration. Add 25% onto this cost to make the design work iPhone 6 Plus compatible.
iPad - Assuming the layout is similar to that of the iPhone, add 50% to the cost of design for the iPhone. Note that often an app will require different functionality for an iPad and this will in turn incur new design work.
Additional Design and Development Costs
There are no hidden costs to app development, only further costs to be incurred if architecture and functionality aren’t properly planned and communicated to the development team. Post-build costs will be dependent on updates, either version or content. Apple will charge you $99 to list your app in the App Store, and take 30% of any fee download revenue.
With hundreds of apps released every week, you need to think about your entire offering, not just development. Also consider that marketing your app will require a separate budget to development and design. What sets the app success stories apart from the underachievers are the marketing strategies that propel them to the forefront of an over-saturated marketplace. Discoverability is about marketing muscle, and therefore it is worth budgeting for an app marketing company to secure you high search rankings.
Your development team can handle this process for you, but it’s fairly simple to do if you want to cut costs. As mentioned above, for the Apple App Store you will need to set up an account, which is a one-time fee of $99. This will give you the ability to add new apps to the same account should you decide to develop more.
Listing Your App
App development and design and app marketing are entirely different processes. Some development companies also offer app marketing and PR, but it isn’t commonplace. The majority of businesses choose to employ an app marketing company to handle the app launch, but depending on your budget it is possible to handle this process in-house, although this will require the development of a dedicated marketing strategy.
When you list your app in the Apple Store, users will discover your app in the same way they find results in the Google search engine. The Apple App Store returns search results based on keyword relevance in Meta-data, which is found in the title and description of your app. Your choice of category listing is also essential in optimizing visibility.
A great place to start when considering your title, keywords and description is to look at existing, successful apps similar to yours. You can then assess the wording and adapt it to suit the unique qualities of your app.
Social Media Marketing
Listing your app in the marketplace won’t solely create the visibility you need to gain popularity, which is why it’s important to leverage social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to create a buzz. You should also target app related blogs and contact popular app review sites to secure reviews for consumer perusal. You should also create your own website dedicated to your app to enhance your search engine visibility. It isn’t only the app market place people search for apps, and there is an increasing trend where people search for specific app types in web search engines. The great thing about social media marketing is that it is free, and success is entirely dependent on the amount of effort you put in rather than the amount of money you have.
As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, many apps are initially launched for free, until such a time when they have gained enough popularity to warrant a paid download model. However, this is largely dependent on the purpose of the app, be it a moneymaking initiative or a promotional activity. Whatever the purpose, it is worth noting that there are other revenue models to consider. For example, many apps are given away free but make money by showing advertisements inside the app itself. Others give the user the option to buy further information or functionality once inside the app.
If you are employing an app marketing agency then you will be expecting a decent ROI. Whatever you do don’t part with a large budget based on hearsay. Many marketing companies now offering performance related packages where they take a fee or a commission depending on the success of the campaign, which is a far fairer option that encourages the company to work harder for your money.