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The Cost to Build an App

by Jason Jones

One of the most common questions we hear at Vertical Motion is, “I need an app! How much will it cost?” The simple answer: it’s not that simple. It’s like asking the question, “How much does building a house cost?” It all depends on functionality, how much of it you’ll actually use, what it will look like, and what kind of bells and whistles you want to have.

While we take all potential clients through a discovery process before engaging on a project, a few simple questions can usually help us provide a ballpark for how much an app development project will cost. It starts with the core function of the app, and then what the necessary features are, before moving onto the ‘nice-to-haves’. Here are some high-level descriptions of different kinds of apps we’ve worked on, and how much they cost.

Tier 1: The Pamphlet App – $5k-10k

If you’re looking for an app that simply conveys information, then this tier is for you. Tier 1 apps, as we will call them, are not dynamic or interactive. Information flows in one direction only: from the app developer or creator, to the user. These apps are much simpler because they do not require a login or user profile and do not require much in the way of development because they operate much like informational websites, where navigation might be the only added feature. For most app development projects, building apps for both iOS and Android from the beginning is standard. However, if the app is to be built for an internal purpose (i.e. within a business) as opposed to a public-facing app, the costs could go up because there will be additional work needed to deploy the app within that environment. The more moving parts there are, the higher the cost.

Tier 2: Collecting or Storing User Data – $25k-100k

Are you planning on collecting and storing user data for the core features of your app? If so, this tier might be for you. Many apps nowadays require some sort of data collection or interface personalization based on a user’s role or security access, for instance, allowing a user to upload or store documents with your app. That would mean that you require your users to create profiles to log in and then manage the files that they upload. To do this, you’ll need to build in a database for your users, a public-facing login page, the ability for your users to manage their profiles, and added layers of security to protect all of this information – just to name a few!

Tier 3: Third-party System Integration – $75k-150k+

Being able to log into third-party apps is one thing, being able to pull in and interact with another system is a whole different beast. When your app depends on being able to bring in data and features from other systems and have it work seamlessly, there are many more moving pieces that developers will need to build, connect, test, and maintain. Ecommerce apps fall into this category. They might depend on APIs that enable order management, product catalogs, and payment, to name a few. Over the last several years, the Internet of Things have added more features that creators want to build into their apps, such as Bluetooth or wifi pairing. The more systems there are, the more the app will cost.

Tier 4: Collaboration and sharing – $100k-500k++

Apps in this tier usually require the ability for users to communicate with each other on the platform, as well as the owners of the platform. If you were wondering what smaller scale versions of Lyft or DoorDash would cost to build, this is a good starting point. When we talk to potential clients who want to build the “Uber for X,” we give them this ballpark cost. These apps usually need features like chat, geolocation (where live tracking costs even more than check-ins), and push notifications. All of these functionalities depend on the device that they will be used on, so there needs to be room for quality analysis and testing for these multiple users and scenarios.

The post-development cost no one thinks about: maintenance

The above tiers only cover the immediate costs, but if you want success for your app, you also need to think about the ongoing costs of maintaining the app. Once your app is built and live, you cannot just set it and forget it. App development is constantly improving, so you most likely have to update your app every 6 months at the very least before you might expect certain features to break. Maintenance also is not just about making sure things don’t break – you also want to be able to ensure the best possible user experience and improve upon the features of your app.

Not only is technology changing at a rapid pace – people are also choosing to upgrade their devices at much shorter cycles than we have seen in the past. Many iPhone 7 users from 3 years ago may have already moved on to the iPhone XR, for example. Because of all of these scenarios, we recommend budgeting around 10-20% of the original costs for maintenance alone.

So, what should I budget when I want to get an app built?

The first thing that you should do when you have an idea for an app is to break down what you want the core features of your app to be. What is essential, what can come after the initial deployment, and what are nice-to-haves that will not necessarily impact user experience but would be nice things to offer on the app? We understand that you may want the “Uber for X”, but what do you really need at this point? What can we attain right now that can get you as close as possible to what your business need is, but is budget friendly?

Questions? We’re happy to help. Contact us if you’re ready to build upon your app idea!

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