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How Much to Develop an App?

Here's an article all developer and engineers can get behind, addressing the age-old question, "How much does it cost to build an app?"

· Agile Zone

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So, how much will it cost to get my idea for an app designed and built?

I've been asked this a few times recently so thought it would be worth writing up a "proper" answer.

It's a simple question so it deserves a simple answer. Here you go then: 17 inches.

Hang on. That's the answer to "How long is a piece of string?"

The questions are roughly the same.

There is no single answer.
There's also no simple answer.
Like almost every question, the answer is that "it depends."

It depends because not every app is the same.

I think the press has done us all a disservice. Over the years, a big deal has been made of the fact that "anyone can make an app." The catch here is that not everyone can create the same app and not every app is the same. The other misnomer about apps is that the normal rules for a product or business don't apply, but they do.

Let's for a minute say you didn't want an app but wanted someone to design and build a house. Would you ask the question "how much will it cost to design and build a house?" And expect anyone to be able to just answer with a figure?

I hope not. There are lots of things that would influence the cost of designing and building a house. This would include:

  • How big should it be? 
  • What it will be made out of? 
  • Where will it be? 
  • Who do you want to design it? Someone merely capable or a renowned designer? 
  • What do you need in terms of the number of rooms, layout, etc.? 
  • What about how it looks from the outside? 
  • What about the grounds and landscaping? 
  • Is there a specific timeframe for the project? 
  • Any special requirements or laws that need to be considered? 
  • What external services and utilities are available at the site and/or are required? 
  • Any implications for the long-term management of the built house? 
  • Does the site have good access? 
  • And many more factors as well. 

These questions matter because not all houses are the same. A single-room building that sleeps a whole family, in a slum with no utilities and made from whatever materials can be found is obviously very different from a 10 bed, 12-bathroom mansion set in 15 acres of prime real estate and including tennis courts and swimming pool.

A similar extreme exists in apps. At one end of the spectrum, building an app means taking some pre-existing content and bundle it up into an app for side-loading on a small number of corporately owned and managed devices that are all of the same make and model.

At the other end, it means creating a custom backend, related services, an admin system and mobile client apps for multiple platforms and distribution through even more stores.

The variations in size and complexities make a single answer impossible.

What If You Have a Tight Budget?

Maybe you've read this far and are still waiting for me to give you a figure in the hope that it will be less than the one you plucked from the sky and have in mind.

You may achieve this but you need to find someone with suitable skills.

There are people in the world who will work for a few dollars an hour who may be able to build what you're after. There are other people who will charge several hundred dollars an hour. Price isn't always a direct indication of what you'll get back.

How good what they make will be, how easy it will be to work with them, and what it will be like to maintain and adapt in the future can all vary regardless of what you pay.

Some apps will require different combinations of skills and these may or may not be available from a single person or company.

There really is a very broad scope. At one extreme, I've built simple apps by myself for a few hundred pounds. At the other extreme, I've also worked on an app that took about 40 man years of effort and ended up costing several million dollars.

Some companies and developers are only interested in the original development of apps. Others will help maintain and support it in the future too.

I'm still, regularly surprised by how much some companies will charge and how little some people are willing to pay. The prices some companies charge seems very high based on what I know is possible--I've been doing this a while. That some people recognize the need for specialist skills to build something that will (hopefully) enable a profitable, long term business to be established doesn't correspond with how little they're willing to pay to make this possible.

Oh, you've got an idea for a business you claim will turn over several million dollars a year but you're only willing to pay a thousand dollars to build all the software to make it possible — yeah, something's just not right about that.

How Much Will It Cost to Build Your App?

Some people are willing to put a price on it and when they do, they normally say to budget around $30,000.

I say: It depends!

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Published at DZone with permission of Matt Lacey, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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