How Much Does It Cost to Develop an App?

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The cost of developing an app, be it for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, or some other ecosystem, cannot be distilled easily into a single number. The average cost of app development has been estimated at somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,500. Unfortunately, that value can be misleading because there are far more low-end apps than there are high-end apps.

How much development costs will come down to how complicated an app will be, how many custom features will be included, what ecosystems the app will need to run on, and so forth. This article explores some of the considerations that go into deciding to develop an app and does its best to put a price tag on the options.

The Basic App

A basic app would be something like the email app included on most mobile devices. It is simple, has a very basic user interface, and doesn’t require the programmer to go outside of the nicely packaged APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that are standard on most operating systems. These apps cost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000.

Content Driven Apps

A content app makes use of a database or some other content source, which it then parses to provide a dynamic experience for the user. Working with content is difficult because information is never static. Programming these apps requires a much more abstraction, which is necessarily more time intensive. Depending on the amount of content, these apps will probably from $5,000 to $50,000.

Games

Games vary widely in complexity, which makes it difficult to pin down a price. The easiest way to evaluate the cost of a game is to break the genre down as follows.

  • 2D Games – Most mobile devices have free 2D game engines available. This takes a lot of the work out of programming and helps to reduce costs. Cost estimates for developing a game range from $8,000 to $150,000. Total cost will be determined by:
  1. Complexity of game play (Think PONG versus Mario)
  2. Complexity of levels
  3. Need for accurate physics simulations (Angry Birds is a physics game)
  4. Social Media Integration (+$2,000)
  5. Multi-player functionality (Difficult to code and hence expensive)
  6. Need to connect to an Internet database for a score board (+$1,000), a reward system (+$5,000), downloaded content (+$ 5,000), etc.
  • 3D Games – Unlike 2D games, there are very few free 3D game engines available and those that do exist aren’t terribly good. The best options are to lease an engine from another company or have a coder build one from scratch. Either way, a 3D game will probably cost from $20,000 to $250,000. The same factors discussed for 2D games will determine the price of a 3D game.

Firmware or Hardware Modification

This category is for apps that modify functions like the camera, GPS, etc. An example is an app that speeds up the camera shutter or adds filters to pictures. There are no APIs for developing these apps, which means the programmer will be doing a lot more work. $10,000 is probably the base cost, with the upper limit depending only on complexity.

Costs by Stage

Before wrapping up, it is worth looking at cost based on the steps of development. Here is a rough breakdown of costs for each stage.

  • Design – $50 to $150 per hour
  • Coding – $100 to $150 per hour (Note that outsourcing can be cheaper, but the quality is often lower)
  • Testing – $25 to $100 per hour
  • Back End Development – $100 to $150 per hour (only necessary for some apps)
  • Validation – $50 – $100 per hour

The Bottom Line

The average app costs about $6,500 to develop, though costs can range from a low of a few hundred to as high as $250,000. Coding is probably the most costly aspect of development simply because it takes the most time. Complexity is always the most important factor in determining the cost of an app and a programmer is the most qualified person to evaluate complexity. Quotes from several reputable design teams are essential for getting a handle on cost. They should be obtained long before delving into the development of an app.

By Raphael Huppe