Mobile and desktop apps have become such an integral part of our day-to-day personal and professional lives that sometimes it can be hard to remember how we operated before they came along. It seems that everyone at some stage or another has had a “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-there-was-an-app-that-did… (fill in the blank)” moment! As the barriers to app development have been reduced, there has been an explosion of the opportunities available for apps, particularly in the business space. But how much does app development cost?

The decision to develop an app is an investment decision, which means you need to evaluate the benefits, such as revenue generation or cost reduction, against the costs of development. In this article we’re going to focus on the factors that affect the app development cost.

Complexity drives app development cost

The “what does app development cost” question is a classic “how long is a piece of string” question. There is a direct relationship between the complexity of the app and the cost of development. Increased complexity leads to increase development effort, which results in increased development cost.

As a result, it makes sense to think of app development cost ranges. Here are some indicative guidelines:

  • A simple app will likely be somewhere between $50k to $150k (AUD).
  • A medium complexity app may be somewhere between $100k to $300k (AUD).
  • Larger or more complex apps could cost $500k or more.

So, the key question you need to answer is “how complex is my app?”

Estimating the complexity of your app

If you cannot easily quantify the complexity of your app, the quickest and simplest thing to do is to give our team a call. A few simple questions may be all that is required for our experts to provide you with a ball-park figure to work with.

Obviously, the more complex the app, the greater the need for a comprehensive exploration to reduce the margin of error from the initial scoping conversation.

Let’s assume you’re trying to work out the app development cost for yourself. Here are some attributes that can affect the complexity of your app, and subsequently the app development cost:

1. Functionality

It almost goes without saying that complexity of development increases as the functionality of an app increases. Integrating with hardware, such as the camera, SD card, GPS, or Bluetooth, all take time to design, code and test. A simple app with 2-5 screens will be much simpler than one with more than 20.

2. Platform

Choosing which platforms your apps will be available on will affect the development effort. Each platform (e.g. Android, Apple or Windows) uses different native programming languages (respectively Objective-C or Swift/SwiftUI, Java and Kotlin, XAML and C#), have varying licensing costs and take differing times to get to market. If you want your app to be available on multiple platforms, the app needs to be developed natively for each platform.

At Built to Roam we prefer to develop using cross-platform technology like Xamarin or Flutter. These technologies allow a significant portion of the app to be developed once, with only minor customisations required for each supported platform. Not only do these technologies reduce the development effort, they also provide a more consistent user experience and feature parity across the supported platforms. This is all possible because you’re developing the app once, with both code and user interface being reused across each platform.

3. Design

In the case of mobile app development, ‘design’ goes beyond simply applying branding to individual elements, such as colour scheme, logos and icons. User experience and design can make or break your app. A bad design, or poorly structured workflow, may see your app overlooked in favour of others that look better and work more intuitively. The complexity of an app’s design can play a big part in the app development cost. You’ll need to find a balance between adding design features, such as adding drop shadows, gradients, animations between screens, and the additional development effort required to implement them.

4. Authentication.

Generally, some type of authentication service is needed to provide login capabilities to your app. This can be provided by a third-party authentication service such as having the ability to sign in to with your Google, Facebook or Microsoft credentials. In some cases it may be necessary to use a custom-built authentication system, which would increase the complexity of app development.

5. Security

With the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the not too distant past, users are much more sensitive to how their data is captured, stored and transported. App security and data encryption are important to get right, and can often result in a significant increase in the effort to develop an app, depending on the sensitivity of the personal data used by the app.

6. Data Capture

Apps often need to capture data from the user or from the device. There are simple ways to capture data, such as the user filling out a form, and more complex ways, such as taking a photo, scanning a barcode or reading a GPS location. Some of these may require integration with the device hardware, such as the camera or GPS. Others may require integration with a 3rd party library or service. Each integration point adds to the complexity of the app development. This may result in development taking longer and adding significantly to the amount of testing required.

7. Data Storage and Back-end servers

If you need your mobile apps to work offline, then you need to consider offline data storage or caching. Scenarios range from simply caching data so that it can be reused across several pages in the application, through to synchronising an entire dataset, so that it is all accessible when the application has no connectivity. Implementing an effective strategy for offline data caching is a significant investment due to the complexity and additional testing required.

It’s not only storage on device that’s an important consideration. Depending on the server-side architecture, it may be necessary to implement caching (for example using a CDN) or mobile-optimised storage. This would improve the size and speed of any data being transferred between the application and the back-end services.

8. Data Manipulation

Rarely are you simply capturing data and storing it, without the ability to manipulate and view the data. Most of the time the purpose of your app is to do something useful with the data. Displaying data within an app often requires complex data manipulation in order to present it in a format that’s easy for the user to understand. For example, instead of presenting a table of raw data, it may be necessary to apply an averaging function and then display the result in a chart that shows how the data varies over time.

Manipulating data within the application makes it easier for the user to understand and make decisions based on the data. However, there is a trade off between increasing the effort and complexity of development and the corresponding benefit derived by the user.

9. Integration

Integrating with third-party products and services is a great way to reduce development effort by leveraging components that are already available. However, there is still a cost associated with integration and maintenance (as third-party products and services release new versions, your app will have to be updated accordingly). There may also be licencing or subscription costs to integrate with other sites or apps. For example, if you want to use push notifications, in-app purchases, SMS or email capabilities in your app, you may need to subscribe to the relevant service.

What is your MVP?

It makes most sense to define what you consider to be the minimum viable product (MVP) for your app, that contains only ‘must-have’ features that you know for certain that people will use. Spend time researching and analysing your potential customers to determine what it is they need the most, and translates that need into the functionality requirements for your MVP app.

Many people who want to build an app spend a lot of time thinking about all the features they could build. However, they may not have considered the app development cost and how each decision can impact the development effort required. Hopefully this article gives you a starting point to consider how much your app would cost to develop.

Quicker to market

At Built to Roam, we strive to deliver the highest value features first in a minimum viable product. In other words, we’re agile – we develop a long-term roadmap for your app, then build a robust app as quickly as we can and get it to market. We’ll help you determine the app development cost for the MVP.

From the MVP the focus shifts to incremental improvements and progression over time.

This approach lets you see a quicker return on your investment while still leaving room in your budget for the development of new features.

Want to know more?

Talk to us today.

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