How Much Does An App Cost?

Written by Reinder de Vries on March 6 2019 in App Business

How Much Does An App Cost?

How much money does it cost to build an app? It depends. In this article, we’ll discuss what factors determine the cost of an iOS app development project and how you can get a good price for your app – whether you’re buying or selling.

Here’s what we’ll get into:

  • How the features you require affect the cost of the app
  • That it’s smart to actively engage an app developer in the budgetting process
  • Why it matters who you hire for your app development project
  • How prices differ between freelancers, dev shops and in-house developers
  • Other costs you need to take into account, such as licensing and maintenance

Ready? Let’s go.

  1. How Much Does An App Cost?
  2. Freelancers vs. Small Shops vs. In-House
  3. How Features Affect An App Project’s Cost
  4. Other Costs To Take In Account
  5. Further Reading

Monetary values listed on this page are in US Dollars (USD).

How Much Does An App Cost?

It’s the ultimate question if you want to have an app built. How much is this app project going to cost? Any decent developer will tell you: it depends.

But… depends on what, exactly? Here’s what factors in to an app’s cost:

  • The number and complexity of the app’s features
  • Does the app need to integrate with any 3rd-party services?
  • Whether it’s an offline-only app, or if it’s cloud-based
  • Do you need an administrator environment or back-end access?
  • iOS versions, device models, backwards compatibility, etcetera

On top of that, many projects require additional services, such as graphics design, UI/UX design, prototyping, user testing, and input from subject-matter experts (think chef, for a cooking app).

It also depends who is going to build your app. The same app can have different costs, depending on who you ask. A small shop might charge more than a freelance iOS developer, but that higher cost comes with advantages.

Your geographic region matters too. The cost of living in North America is typically higher than in some European countries, which also factors into the price you pay for development services.

And last but not least, the price you pay for app development services also depends on the culture. A prototype built by a sole developer may be “cheaper” than that same app project built within a corporate organization. In fact, value-based pricing – a great pricing strategy – dictates that you price your services based on the value it has for the client!

Before we continue, there are two principles you need to understand:

  1. The price of a product or service is based on its value, not on its Bill of Materials. A $1000+ iPhone X costs about $370 in materials. Do you pay a premium for the Apple logo? No. People pay more for an iPhone, because they tell a story to themselves about what that iPhone means to them.
  2. There’s no such thing as a “market rate”. The “market rate” makes freelancers and businesspeople feel safe. If everyone charges roughly the same price, it must be a good price, right? Every iOS developer works differently though, and that quality should be reflected in the price they charge.

Let’s move on!

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Freelancers vs. Small Shops vs. In-House

Who builds your project is a major determining factor for the price you pay for an iOS development project.

We’ll differentiate between:

  1. Freelance iOS developers
  2. Small dev shops and agencies
  3. In-house development

In-house development is undoubtedly the most expensive of these 3, even though development shops and agencies probably charge a higher price for an iOS development project. Wait… how’s that even possible?

When you hire and employ a software developer in-house, you obviously have to pay them a salary. Good developers are currently hired at a premium, because of a shortage of developers. On top of that, you’ll need to provide a workspace, pay taxes, pay for insurance, etcetera.

Once you’ve found a developer, you’ll want to “keep” them for as long as possible, possibly offering them a contract for an indefinite time period. Depending on your geographic location, a good in-house developer costs between $50.000 and $100.000 yearly.

Another way of developing iOS projects is outsourcing development to a small development shop or agency. A dev shop has hired their own development team, and provides iOS development as a service. Their projects are typically priced hourly or per-project, or by using value-based pricing.

When outsourcing with a dev shop, the definite cost of an iOS development project is most affected by the features you want to built into the app. We’ll discuss how in the next section. If you end up hiring a dev shop, it’s important that you define a clear project scope.

Hiring a freelance iOS developer is a great option for small-scale projects with a clear project scope. You can outsource to a local developer or work with a remote developer from around the globe. Geo-arbitrage, i.e. taking advantage of a developer who’s in a different locale, is definitely an advantage here.

The price ranges, skills and project costs differ greatly between freelance iOS developers. It’s smart to hire a developer with a good track record, and potentially hire them for an initial paid try-out project first. Depending on the iOS developer, a prototype app can cost as little as $10.000. Larger, more complete projects can easily cost between $25.000 and $50.000.

Now that we’ve had a look at different ways of building app projects, let’s discuss how the features factor into a project’s cost.

You can find detailed overviews of developer salaries and fees per country on StackOverflow and PayScale.

How Features Affect An App Project’s Cost

It’s a simple rule: the more features you want, the higher the cost of the app project. In general, more complex features take more time to build, and as a result the cost of the app project is higher.

The biggest problem here is that you, the person who hires the app developer, may not have a complete or accurate idea about how much time it takes to build a particular app feature!

While it may sound easy to add a Login/Signup UI to an app, depending on the back-end or webservice APIs your app uses, this can be quite a complex task. Moreover, the developer who takes 4 hours to build this feature might not do as good a job as the developer who takes 4 days.

This characteristic of software development projects is what makes it so difficult to estimate fixed-price projects. It’s also a difficulty in working with developers you don’t yet know, e.g. you don’t know the quality of their work and how they charge for their services.

In any case, it’s a good idea to get to know your developer or team of choice prior to signing off on a project. It also pays dividends to outsource any future projects to a developer or team you have a great experience with.

Did you find a developer and are you ready to work with them? It’s a smart idea to start with a discovery phase. You set up an initial meeting with the developer (or team) and walk them through your requirements for the app.

Your developer has the opportunity to comment on your ideas, and help you decide which features are worth keeping. A good developer will be able to explain to you what goes into building a particular feature, so together you can decide what features to keep or discard.

Based on this discovery meeting, the developer can estimate the project cost, maybe make some designs or mockups, and provide you with a project quote. You can then negotiate the quote, accept it, or take the project somewhere else.

Keep in mind that a good developer will charge for this initial discover phase, because they’re providing you with valuable insights. You know what they say about free advice!

Other Costs To Take In Account

The development cost of a project isn’t its only cost. Depending on your app project, costs can also include:

  • Maintenance costs, i.e. updating an app continually for software and security updates and iOS/iPhone upgrades
  • Ongoing costs, such as subscriptions for webservices, 3rd-party tools and usage-based APIs
  • Costs for licenses and compliance, i.e. a privacy policy at least, or things like PCI DSS for data security

On top of that, you may of course want to continually develop your app, and build new features for your users, which obviously affects the total pricetag of the project.

It’s important you ask a developer or team up-front about additional costs associated with the project. You’ll probably need to pay for the $99/year Apple Developer Program. If your app uses a 3rd-party API, such as Google’s APIs, you may need to pay for usage beyond their free tier.

Most apps these days rely on a cloud-based back-end, and they aren’t free. The basic plan for Firebase costs $20/month, whereas a simple DigitalOcean virtual private server (for back-end hosting) starts at $10/month. Depending on the amount of users your app has, these services can costs hundreds or thousands of dollars a month.

It’s a smart idea to investigate these cost factors up-front, so you can choose a vendor with a good balance between price, quality and ease of development. For a simple app, it’s probably smarter and cheaper to use a ready-made cloud back-end provider such as Firebase, compared to building a back-end infrastructure from scratch.

A good developer will be able to guide you through these decisions, and help you understand how they affect the cost of the app project.

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Further Reading

Is building an app cheaper or more expensive than you anticipated? Whatever the case – in this article you learned what factors affect the cost of building an app. And you can always learn iOS development yourself!

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries is a professional iOS developer. He teaches app developers how to build their own apps at LearnAppMaking.com. Since 2009 he has developed a few dozen apps for iOS, worked for global brands and lead development at several startups. When he’s not coding, he enjoys strong espresso and traveling.