How much does it cost to make an app?

“How much does it cost to make an app?” As a developer, this is the most common question I am asked. This is like asking “How much does it cost to build a house?” Following the house analogy, are you looking for a mansion or a shack? Do you want a house made of straw, sticks, or brick? Do you want a custom home or a tract home? Just like a house, the variables in developing an app are endless.

Develop a Storyboard

The first place to start is defining what you want your app to do. I normally recommend our clients storyboard their app (the technical term is wireframe). The wireframe is like the blue print in the house analogy. The goal for developing a wireframe (or storyboard) is to capture functionality and flow. This is not the time to worry about the actual aesthetics yet. It’s important to start from the beginning though, when a user first launches your app. Think about what’s the first thing they will see? On the home screen, if they tap the first menu selection, what happens next? And so on.

To create our wireframes, our designers use a design tool called Sketch.  When I wireframe, I personally use PowerPoint.  My wireframes are ugly but effective.  I send our clients a PowerPoint template where they can either use PowerPoint’s drawing tools or they can even print it out and hand draw it.  My general recommendation is to use a graphics program that your’e comfortable with.

Other Factors

Beyond the storyboard, other factors that will impact the development and cost are:

  • Integration to an existing backend / Development of backend: Most of the apps we develop now either need to talk to an existing backend or we have to create a backend to support the app.
  • Integration to third party vendors: A lot of features that typically used to be expensive to develop can now affordably be added by leveraging third party vendors. Examples are push notifications and mobile commerce.

In addition to the wireframe, if you’re app requires extensive integrations to third party vendors, you may need to put together an architectural diagram.

Getting a Quote

For the most part, a developer should be able to provide you a quote to develop your app based on your wireframe (and architectural diagram). You can find reputable U.S. based developers at thumbtack.com and theymakeapps.com.

You can also find freelancers and offshore teams at upwork.com and guru.com.  Just beware. I’ve talked to clients that have used developers from these sites and it’s a mixed bag. I’ve talked to a few people that have had good experiences and I’ve heard of some horror stories.

If you feel like your app concept is the next Uber, it’s okay to ask the developer for an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) or to ask them to sign your NDA. When you go through this process, you’ll find a vast range for the quotes. My recommendation is to look at other when selecting a developer.

(Shameless plug – we also would, of course, be happy to provide a quote for your project. Just visit us at Apptology.com)

Alternatives

App development, like most technology has become commoditized to some extent. If you have little budget for app development, you may consider DIY (Do It Yourself) App services like ibuildapp.com or seattlecloud.com. There is also a middle ground where a developer can create a robust but cost effective solution based on templates. Apptology offers a cost effective app development solution using templates (called ReadyBuilt). Mobile Roadie is another developer that uses template. Apps based on templates are primarily used to promote a business or to provide content and are typically a fraction of the cost of developing apps from scratch.

Final Thoughts

My answer to the question, “How much does it cost to develop an app?” is “It depends.” If you are thinking about developing an app, I highly recommend taking a little time to create a storyboard or wireframe. This step will help you flush out your concept and greatly assist a developer in providing a solid quote for your app.

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