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The true cost of developing your mobile App

How much does it cost to develop a mobile app? If you’ve asked any app developers how much it costs to develop an app, you’ve probably got few different answers, and I’m guessing you’ve heard “How long is a piece of string?” more than a few times.

Value, Benefit & Cost

Before we look at the costs of having an app developed for your business, it is important to remind you that, from a business perspective, it is always better to focus on the value of the service and the benefit to your business than to focus purely on the cost. Read our other blog post “What to look for from an App Developer” to get a good idea of the value that you should expect from an App Development Business.

OK, I’m sure you all understand the value of the service, and the benefit to your business, so lets look at the costs.

So, how long is a piece of string?

There are a number of reasons that app developers appear vague and non-committal when asked how much it costs to develop an app. Firstly, a large number of app developers feel the need to be very secretive about their prices, and secondly, it is difficult to provide a price without knowing the specific details of the app.

The type of app

The first factor in determining the cost of having an app developed is the type of app.

  • Data Driven App – this is similar to the simple app except that the data is dynamic, either stored in a local (on the device) database, or retrieving the data from an external source.
  • Games – have you heard of Angry Birds? That is a game. Apparently, there are other games too. Games can range from the simple “thinking man’s game” through to the very complex “action” games.
  • Device App – a device app is an app that makes use of the hardware to provide its core functionality, i.e. something based around the functionality of the camera, accelerometer, or GPS, etc.
  • Bespoke Functionality App – a bespoke functionality app an app that is designed to provide a solution to a specific need or problem. It would be an app that may include ‘data-driven‘ features, ‘device’ features, bells and whistles, but will also include very dedicated and specific features that will only be relevant to provide the solution to the defined problem. For example, if you wanted a Time Management style app, most of the features could be defined under the data-driven app type, but this app would also include very specific Time Engine functionality.

Design Costs

The overall production of an app is not just about the functionality that the app offers, the design of the user interface is also very important. A coder and a Graphic Designer will both have different opinions regarding which is more important, but essentially, an app that doesn’t have the functionality expected by the user, or an app that is not presented well, and therefore doesn’t engage the user, are both as bad as each other. The Design and the functionality of the app should be given equal importance.

How much you should expect to pay will depend on a number of factors:

  • Scale of the project – Obviously, the bigger the scale of the project, the more graphic design work will need to be done.
  • The number of device types – if your app is going to be available on more than one type of device, i.e. Apple, Android, Windows Phone, etc., there are different graphic requirements, and while there is some obvious design overlap, the production of the separate graphics for each device type will increase the costs.
  • The device types – Even within a single manufacturer device, there are different requirements between the individual devices, i.e. the iPhone 3gs and the iPhone 4 have different graphics requirements, there may be differences between the iPhone and the iPad because of differences in the app design. Similar distinctions exist on Android devices. Again, there is some obvious design overlap, but the production of the separate graphics for each device will increase the costs.

As a rough guide to the Design costs, you should expect to pay between €350 for a small simple app, through to €3500+ for a very large, complex and Graphic centric app. The graphics for a game are in a different league entirely and you could pay as much as $7500.

For additional device type, you should expect the costs to increase by 25%-50% for each additional device type.

Development Costs

Again, many factors will determine the Development Costs, however, as a rough guide, the details below show what you could expect to pay for each type of app:

  • Simple App – €1500 to €5000
  • Data Driven App – €5000 to €35000
  • Games – €7500 to €175000
  • Device App – €1500 to €175000
  • Bespoke Functionality App – €5000 to €175000


Total Costs

All of the costs associated with the production of your app will be covered within the Design & Development costs. The only other costs will be for creating the app store account ($99 for Apple apps, $25 for Android apps), and the costs associated with marketing your app. However make sure that you agree the warranty and maintenance terms with the app development business before proceeding.

Scale of the project

The scale of the project will have an impact on the costs; a small app project that can be entirely handled by a single developer will be cheaper than a larger project that will require additional resources, such as project management, and a team of developers.

Hourly Rate vs. Fixed Price

There is a tendency to attach an hourly rate to software development resources, which is fine when you are paying someone for their time as an employee, or suedo-employee. However, in the context of getting an app development business to produce an app for you, you are paying for the skills, knowledge, experience, and professionalism of the business to provide a valuable service, and you are more likely to be given a fixed price for the project rather than an hourly rate.

Depending on the scale of the project, the fixed price for a project will encapsulate a number of separate resources, designers, developers, project managers, marketers, etc… with each having a distinct role to play, each committing a different number of hours to the project, and each earning a different amount internally. On a smaller project, the same individual may actually perform many of these roles, but each role will be given a specific value and earning rate internally. This makes it very difficult to provide an overall hourly rate for a project.

However, we know the market rates for the skills utilised by app development businesses, so we can provide a rough guide to the overall hourly rate that you should expect to spend on having your app developed.

You should expect to pay between €75 to €110 per hour for a good app development business to produce a very high quality app for your business.

Things to watch out for

There are a number of things to be aware of when negotiating the cost of having an app developed, as there are some aspects to what you are actually buying that may not be as clearly defined as you might think.

Will you receive the Graphics / Source Code?

There are essentially 3 possibilities here.

Some app developers will keep all of the design and source code to ensure that you will have to go back to them for any fixes and changes, regardless of how good or bad the experience has been.

Some app developers will negotiate a lower fee and keep hold of the graphics and source code to ensure that you have to return to them for any future changes and/or amendments to the app.

The better app development businesses will automatically include the graphics and source code in the price you pay for the overall service and rely on the fantastic service that they have provided and the ongoing business relationship that they are developing with you to ensure that you will always be their first choice when you want something changed or added to the app.

If an app developer is suggesting that you have to pay extra for the graphics and source code, walk away.

Will your app be exclusive?

An app development business can only guarantee that your app will be exclusive based on the graphics and source code that has been developed by them for your app. There is no guarantee that someone else won’t copy the design and the functionality. However, some app developers will take the graphics and source code that they have developed for your app and resell it to another business, potentially to one of your competitors.

You should always ensure that you get a guarantee of exclusivity for your app from the app development business. If they suggest you will have to pay extra for exclusivity, walk away.

Warranty & Maintenance

An app development business can’t guarantee that the app will be entirely bug free, but they can offer a guarantee of what they will do when a bug is discovered.

You should expect the app developer to bear the entire costs of rectifying any bugs that have arisen as a result of their coding. You should expect the app developer to bear part of the costs for rectifying an issue that has arisen due to lack of detail or incorrect information in the initial spec, because this is something that a good app development business should have spotted before the development process began. You should expect to bear the costs any changes to the app that are required, either because of any features that you want added or changed, or because the underlying device operating system has changed.

Bargain Price

One last warning; If something seems to good to be true, then it probably is. If you are given a price to produce your app that is significantly lower than expected (based on the information in this article, and others like it), then you need to ask why.

There are some legitimate reasons that an app development business may offer you a lower price than expected, such as interest in associating themselves with a specific industry sector, to build up knowledge and experience in an area of the technology that they have had limited exposure to, or even as a favour to a friend, however they will be open about their reasons for offering a lower price.

If they are ‘just cheaper’, they will have to be making up the difference in other ways, such as churning out a high volume of mediocre apps, which is never beneficial to the client/customer.

Remember; focus on the value of the service and the benefit to your business, understand what you are getting for your money, and not just on the cost.

Guest post by Jez Harper, Head Honcho and Technical Directory over at Tús Nua Designs, an Irish based iPhone iPad Android App development studio.