You walk into a barbershop, show a picture of say David Beckham latest hairstyle and ask can they do the same and how much will it cost? You may get a price quote of anywhere between $35 and $150. You settle for a place you like the most in terms of price/reputation/quality of services.
A lot of people tend to adopt the same approach when asking for app development price quotes – show an app they like and ask how much a similar solution will cost? Afterwards, the majority is baffled by the dramatic range of quotes or the lack of a straightforward reply.
As one porcelain seller in Bali once told me – “It’s all same, same…but different.”
Yes, app development is a service like any other. But no, we need more than a picture or a quick product description to give you an accurate price quote.
At Alty, we always try to be helpful and stand for price transparency. But we still need your input to give a precise project quote.
So how to estimate the cost of building a mobile app? Let’s work together towards developing a better understanding of your project and translating it into a specs list.
Understanding What Exactly Goes Into Mobile App Development Cost Estimates
Let’s divide the entire estimation into two conventional categories:
- The tech factors aka actual product specifications.
- The human factor aka the additional price padding.
The Tech Factors
Though this section is called ‘tech’, pinpointing the precise answers is simple even for non-technical product owners.
To get an accurate price quote for your app development project you’ll need to decide on the following first:
Know Thy Platform: Mobile or Web App
You approach a company asking whether they can build an app like Pinterest for instance. You are thinking about a mobile bookmarking/content curation app, while the developers actually calculate the costs for a web app. Sigh. Everyone’s time wasted.
So try being more specific from the very start. Struggling to decide whether you need just a mobile app or a web version of your application as well? We have a big checklist to help you decide what will work best.
Know Thy Product Type
At Alty we tend to break down all projects into the following categories:
Product Prototypes – an interactive mobile app prototype, which gives the exact idea of how your product will look and work, but is not connected to the backend. That’s an affordable option for startups, who need to validate their product idea first or present the concept to the investors.
Pilot App – a mobile app MVP with only certain/truncated functionality implemented or a simple mobile app e.g. a currency converter, or a weather app. Again, it could be either a complete business solution or a more advanced app to validate your product idea with the actual user base before draining more funds down the pipe. We’ve previously spoken of different strategies to validate your app idea.
Full Feature Product – the complete, ready for the market product with all the functionality implemented from the original project specifications list (we’ll get to that further on). That could be anything from a glossy new magazine/newspaper app to a mobile shopping app or a local mobile event guide.
Psst, we have plenty of insights on how to build a specific type of app in the App Solutions section if you want to dig into that.
Know Thy Mobile Platform: Android or iOS
Okay, so the question “Should I build an Android or iOS app?” never gets old.
The short answer is – it depends on your target audience, region, and budgets. In this case, we’ll speak of the budget factor.
You’ve possibly heard that Android apps often cost more to develop. But no, that’s not because an Android developer hourly rate is higher. In fact, an iOS developer hourly rate is often higher than Android pros.
Here’s the salary curve comparing those:
So what’s the deal with Android then? Two words – testing and debugging.
According to a recent survey conducted by Evans Data, 36% of Android developers admitted that they spend most of their time on testing and debugging opposed to actually writing the code.
Currently, there are over 12,000 types of Android devices on the market and over 1,600 Android SDKs (long live the open source). For developers that stands for more work to ensure that the app will run and look good on different gadgets. For you as a product owner, that stands for additional lines in the budget if you wish to support a larger device range and a variety of Android OS.
Each app development cost estimate accounts for the type of devices you wish to support – iPhone and/or iPads, Apple Watch and the range of Android devices.
So if you are budget-conscious you may want to start with an iOS-only app first and then port it to Android.
You’ve also heard of the hybrid app development aka killing two birds with one stone and developing an iOS and Android app simultaneously using cross-platform app development tools such as Sencha or Appcelerator Titanium.
Is it a good idea for your business? It depends. We wrote another detailed guide comparing the pros and cons of native and hybrid app development.
To wrap it up, here are the initial decisions you need to make first:
- Do I want a mobile app a web app or both?
- What kind of product do I want to receive – a prototype, MVP or a full-featured product?
- Do I want a native or hybrid app?
- What device range do I want to support – iPhone, iPad, Android phones or tablets as well?
The Human Factor
Now, let’s touch down on the additional factors that have no direct correlation with the tech specs of your app.
That’s what I tend to call the human factor and here’s exactly what it stands for:
The Type of Company You Approach
In this case, size matters. The price quote will likely evolve depending on the type of agency you’ll choose to partner with. The most common options include:
- Hiring a freelancer – affordable price, decent product quality. Yet they won’t be able to pull a large app development project.
- Hiring the “Big Guys” aka an enterprise-sized company with a fancy office, top developers earning six figures per year and big name clients in the portfolio (e.g. Disney). Your product will likely be awesome. But large agencies are less nimble and the development timeline may be extended due to their inner business processes and stages of approval (and you’ll be billed for all those hours too).
- Hire a boutique agency – a smaller team (under 50 folks). Agile, experienced and capable of handling middle-to-large projects. That’s usually the best combination of quality/price.
Depending on where you are in the world hiring locally versus outsourcing app development can be cheaper/more expensive.
The costs of living in different countries vary and the salaries vary accordingly. That’s simple.
So, the price quotes you receive also account for the following:
- Company’s status/brand (which may or may not have something to do with the actual expertise)
- The company’s region and local developer’s salaries.
Creating a Killer Mobile App Development Specs List
Here’s some ugly truth – a lot of mobile app development project spec we receive look like a college kid essay rather than a serious document.
Sure, if you are not a techie, it might be hard to mold your product vision into a coherent list of features. But we really-really-really need that list to estimate app costs. There’s no way around it.
So let’s work together on making this work. Here’s what developers really want to hear from you:
- Describe your app goal – boost existing customer loyalty, earn revenues etc.
- Describe your target audience (more tips in this guide)
- List and prioritize all the platforms your app is intended for – web, Android, iOS, Windows Phone etc.
- List and prioritize all the devices and OS versions your app is intended for – iPhone only for iOS 8 and above.
- List key milestones with timeframe/desired due dates (But please keep it real) That should include analysis, wireframing, prototyping, pre-release, App store placement etc.
- Specify your budget.
Ok, so you the last one is a bit tricky, right? First of all, it’s worth understanding the general costs of building an app of a certain type.
Next, you should account for the different app development pricing models – fixed price and Time & Material.
If you do realize that your funds a really limited at the moment, you may add that you are open to the developers’ suggestions of what could be done for the number you have specified.
- Number of screens, menus, view modes (if possible)
- Required social media integrations (list all the networks if any)
- Do you need in-app payment integrations?
- Do you plan to implement geolocation or iBeacon functionality?
- Should your app sync with any internal software e.g. specific CMS, e-commerce engine or any other system?
- Do you need data caching to support offline mode?
- How will your app collaborate with the server? Mention whether your mobile app should send any data from/to an external server. Any particular APIs that it should use?
You may want to include an additional list of features for cost estimate using the user story approach – outlining in one-two short sentences what you want the users to be capable of doing.
For example, I want users to be capable of customizing their profile background and picture.
- Do you have wireframes ready?
- Do you have any preferable brand colors or fonts?
- Any examples of the apps/designs you like?
- Any particular custom elements you want to include e.g. animated hearts when liking a product?
- Do you have any ideas for the logo?
- If you already have established brand guidelines, it’s worth including those.
- Send over any market research you have done, links to similar/competitor’s apps
- Express your current concerns and constraints if any.
- List your preferable communication channels and details for those.
To make things even easier, you can download the app specifications template in DOC, fill it out and send out to receive accurate project quotes.