app development

The Real Cost Of Mobile App Development

Let’s get straight into it.

What I’m going to do for you in this blog is guide you through the decisions you need to make that effect the cost of developing your app.

It has to be said that every app is unique in its features, functionality and content.

As such, there’s no ‘cookie cutter’ approach to pricing an app.

The App Development Scenario

I’m going to use the ‘building a house’ analogy again, simply because it’s the best way of putting things into perspective.

If you were to ask a builder…

“I want a house with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, a triple car garage and 3 bathrooms.” “Can you tell me how much it will cost?”

No builder should be able to answer that without further information. And if they can… Run fast, very fast my friend!

Why can’t they answer that question? Because there are many other things to take into consideration. Things such as room size, land size, type of finishes etc.

The same goes for app development cost. The total cost is difficult to estimate because of the number of variables involved.

For example, your app could have 6 screens with 1 line of code per screen costing say, $16,000.

Or, your app could contain 6 screens, with multiple back-end items such as a user management portal and multiple databases costing say, $100,000.

Below is what you should take into consideration when thinking beyond the concept and idea of your app.

What’s important is to figure out which of these requirements are the most important to design your minimum viable product.

If you can think about these keys points prior to talking to your developer, it will be much easier from them to come up with an estimate for your app.

Without further ado, here’s the 11 points that should be taken into account for when it comes time to putting a price of your app idea.

More a visual person? Learn the 11 points in this video:

1. Which platform are you choosing?

app development costSource: Prismetric

During the initial stages of app development, it’s important to consider which platforms your app will target.

The market is forever evolving with phones and tablets constantly changing their screen size.

Your app must be compatible with all devices past, present and future which carry your chosen platform.

Of the 16 app platforms available, the 3 most viable options are:

  • iOS
  • Android
  • Web Applications

Together, both iOS and Android hold a massive 96% of the market.

Some consider the Windows platform to be useful but personally, I wouldn’t waste my time or money developing an app for it.

 2. How big is your app?

app development costSource: iMore

To reduce the size and cost of your app, I recommend choosing one platform to start off with.

Lets go back to the house analogy again…

If you were building your first home on a vacant block, you wouldn’t choose to develop multiple blocks of land all at the one time.

  1. Because you don’t have the necessary building and development experience; and
  2. Unless you’re a millionaire, you simple wouldn’t have the money.

App development is exactly the same.

It’s more cost effective to develop for one platform in the beginning.

If your app’s a success for example on iOS, then you take those insights and scale your app to the Android platform down the track.

Which platform should I develop for?

When it comes to monetising your app, iOS is the more lucrative platform.

This is because Apple’s devices are normally very expensive and as such, are owned by a wealthier demographic.

However, due to Androids sheer amount of users, the platform can give you a much bigger market for your app.

Once you’ve got your platform nailed down, it’s also useful to consider:

  • How many screens will your app contain; and
  • What back-end functionality (databases, user management portals etc) is required to feed into those screens.

The more screens and back-end functionality the required, the more expensive your app will become to develop.

 3. What kind of data storage?

app development costSource: Weebly

Does your app contain images, videos or plain text?

The level and extent of data in your app has a bearing on the cost.

For example, when an image’s taken from a phone to the server, there’s a level of compression involved.

If you build compression into your app during development, this will add to the development costs but you will save you money in the long term.

These are the kind of factors that will be taken into consideration when working out how to store and send text, images and videos.

 4. User management

app development costSource: Blog Campaigner

How will you manage your app users?

Do you want to build your own user database capturing emails, passwords, address etc?

Or, do you simply want to let your users login to your app through Facebook?

There’s a stat showing that enabling your users to login to your app with Facebook increases your apps chances of becoming successful by 70%

Letting your users login through Facebook is the simpler and less expensive option.

The drawback being that you don’t capture your users information. This information can become very useful down the track when it comes time to monetise your app.

Another thing to consider is your opinion on using existing code for your app.

Are you happy for your developer to find code online? Or tweak codes they’ve used before from previous apps.

If you want a customised solution where the app developer starts from scratch then this will add to your costs.

 5. Data integration

app development costSource: App Data Room

Data integration combines data from separate sources into meaningful and valuable information.

Complete data integration includes the discovery, monitoring, transforming and delivery of data from a variety of sources.

For example, the Foodswitch app crowd-sources data from the phones of it’s users. This information’s then uploaded to the central database.

Is your app linking in with one database or multiple databases?

The more databases your app requires or connects to further increases the cost.

 6. Location data

app development cost

Location services offers greater ‘app personalisation’ with your users interactions based on where they’re located.

Location has formed an integral part of many of today’s most successful apps.

How would Tinder and Uber work without location data? They wouldn’t…

Do you want your app to ping to the location server every 5, 20 or 30 secs?

The more often your app pings to the server, the more it drains your users batteries.

If your app pings to the server less then, it saves your users battery.

What’s the drawback?

The less your app pings to the location server, the less accurate the location will be.

Essentially, it’s about finding the right balance between the two incorporating cost.

7. Third party data integration

app development costSource: Media Is Power

This is where you integrate data from a third party directly into your app.

There are many sources of third party data including:

  • Social media including Facebook and Instagram.
  • Maybe you’ve struck up a partnership with another company incorporating their data into your app.
  • It could also be open source information which you’ve found on the web.

When it comes to actually integrating the data there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Every data source is different and it can sometimes take time to successfully integrate it into your app.

It’s also likely that you won’t have an API set up for you.

API (Application Programming Interface), in everyday terms is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications.

Setting up an API will further add to the cost of developing your app.

8. Security

app development costSource: Apperian

Does your app need encryption? If so, what level of encryption?

App encryption is especially important for apps that capture a users personal data.

The level of encryption you require will have an impact on cost.

For example, a recent client of ours had a very high level of encryption. This resulted in quite a high cost.

We had another client who had an app built by another developer. Unfortunately, the app contained no encryption.

As encryption for this app was very important, it added extra to the original estimate.

It’s important that you decide whether encryption is a requirement for your app.

9. Customer verses no analytics

app development costSource: Apsalar

It’s very important to know how many users have downloaded your app or how much money your app’s making. But, it’s not the only thing you should be tracking.

You also need to learn how, when, where and what kind of users are using your app.

App analytics is where you track and analyse a users behavior inside your application.

This enables you to figure out where your users are dropping off and where the bottle necks are in your app.

The data captured from analytics helps you make improvements based on your users in-app behavior.

The cost involved in this depends on the level of details you’re wanting to look at?

What events do you want to measure that are important to your app? Are your users taking the actions that you originally intended?

10. Scalability

App development costSource: Connectship

What happens if your app becomes very popular, very quickly?

Do you have the ability to rapidly scale your app to cater for all these users?

For example, at what stage will you need to add extra features and functionality?

Your apps back end can range anywhere from the absolute basics to extremely elaborate with multiple databases.

It just depends on what your apps requirements are, your budget and your timeline for scaling your app.

This is something to speak to your app development team about.

Together, you can define and refine those requirements.

11. Is there a user management portal?

app development costSource: Air Watch

A user management portal is a back-end option. It’s where you can go in behind your app and make changes where necessary.

In basic terms it’s a content management system.

This feature’s especially important in apps that have a social element where users can post items such as text and photos.

Can you imagine if Facebook or Instagram had no content management ability… It would be an absolute disaster!

There was a photo sharing app that was very similar to Instagram.

Unfortunately users started posting inappropriate photos. This would normally be easily fixed. The problem was that the developers had failed to invest in a content management system.

There was no way of flagging users as inappropriate or removing them completely from the app.

As a result, the app had to be shut down!

The message to take away is that user management is very important.

You will need to decide how much control over your app you will want.


The most important thing take away from this are the elements you need in order to build your minimum viable product.

If you can think about these keys points prior to talking to your developer, it will be much easier from them to come up with an estimate for your app.

So, how much will your app cost?

Got an app idea you’re ready to bring to life? Don’t miss the guide that helped a startup app sell for $12 million…

startup guide to app development

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Logan Merrick is the co-founder and Director of Buzinga, as well as one of Australia's most recognised entrepreneurs, keynote speakers, investors and mentors. His writing on startups, technology and mobile marketing has been featured in The Australian, Business Insider, Startup Smart, Smart Company, and more.
  • Humbly jack

    Great info but getting back to the quote for a house,,, let’s call a spade a spade. I a tradie with I reasonable idea I’ve been asked to hand over 10k just to get a price on the app ? Excuse me but if I charged approx 10% of job value I’d be broke and that’s that. May be that’s why they charge like wounded bulls, cause they only get one or two jobs a year ? No disrespect but really how hard is it to fill in a template add some graphics and introduce you to a hosting company … really …… looks like the new age lawyer to me. Ad we all know what ppl think of lawyers.

  • Baida Al-Zadjali

    Thanks for the article. This was exactly the type of information I was looking for.