Building an app or any software development project for your business is a big investment. Making this investment is a great way to improve your customers’ experience, and streamline processes. However, we all want to keep our app development costs as low as possible and get the biggest return on this investment.
Understanding what makes developing an app more expensive can also help you prioritise your product roadmap. It can also help you get clear about what is essential right now versus the nice-to-haves that can wait till later. You also need to remember that these costs don’t stop after the project has been completed. Maintenance and keeping the platform running need to also be factored into your budget.
“Just give me a ballpark”
We often get asked to give figures on the spot, but this is really hard because there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to working out a budget for your app project. The costs vary widely depending on whether you are building a simple MVP (minimum viable product) app or an advanced complex app with all the bells and whistles. To give a rough idea, according to Goodfirms, a simple MVP mobile app with only the basic features you need, costs on average $24,830 to $59,150. A complex app, with popular B2C features costs from $36,107.5 to $85,150 and an advanced app, with cutting-edge features, in the region of $59,507.5 to $137,150.
Bear in mind that these are average costs, and that some apps can cost much more to build if they are very innovative, and that there are ongoing costs to consider too.
While every development project is different there are some consistent important factors that need to be considered when building your budget.
5 key factors that influence the cost of app development:
- app features
- mobile platform
- integrations and backend infrastructure
- app maintenance
Once you understand what determines the costs for your project development, you can make a more informed decision on where to invest your budget more wisely. This will help you build something that is more sustainable for the long term.
7 ways to reduce app development costs
So now you know the factors that you need to consider when creating your budget for your project, how can you keep your development costs down but get the maximum impact for your investment?
Here are our tried and tested ways that have helped to reduce development costs for our clients that could help you stick to tight budgets:
1. Do your research
Before one line of code gets written, you need to collect as much data as possible. In-depth marketing research of your target audience is important to ensure you build something that your customers actually want. It will help you define how your app should work, what features are most useful for your users, the messaging that resonates most with them, and much more.
When doing your market research, try to find the answers to the following questions:
- Who is your target audience? What are your end-users professional and cultural background, lifestyle, gender, age, and location. Where do they spend their time online and offline.
- What problem are you trying to solve? What tasks do your end-users currently have to do to achieve this? How do they currently solve this problem? This will help you discover the most important features that you need to include in your app.
- What mobile platforms and devices are more popular among your audience? Is it Apple or Android devices, or maybe you’ll need a cross-platform solution.
- Who are your competitors that have similar apps? What are their reviews like? What keywords are they ranking for in the app stores? How will you stand out from them?
- What features do your competitors include in their apps and how you could improve it? What problems have you identified your target audience are facing, that these apps don’t already solve? How can your features solve it better? It can help you make your app robust and effective.
Knowing the answers to these questions will help prevent you from wasting money developing an app that is neither popular nor doesn’t meet the needs of your targeted users.
When you know who your target audience is, go find them and ask them directly about the problem you are trying to solve. This way you have first-hand information rather than guessing. You know when you have talked to enough people when you can predict the answers.
A great place to start researching your competitors is on Google Play and the App Store. Search for similar apps to yours, using the search terms your audience uses (ask them what they would type to look for something like your app). Read what their existing feedback and reviews are. What is it that their users like about it or are complaining about? What suggestions are they making for improving the app?
Be systematic in your approach, creating a spreadsheet that lists the app name, what features it has and doesn’t have, the cost (is it free with in-app purchases for example), the app publisher, the last time it was updated, ratings and reviews and the number of downloads.
2. Have a clear scope
Once you’ve collected the data on your target audience and competitors, the next step is to start defining product requirements. This will help you to focus on the features that you really need, calculate the development costs, choose an in-house or outsourced development team with the appropriate skill-set, choose proper development tools, and aim to eliminate possible misunderstandings between company departments.
Efficient planning is a number one rule that both large corporations and small startups should apply. Having a clear scope will enable your in-house team or development agency to estimate more accurately the cost and time required for the project. A detailed mobile app product specification makes the app creation process easier, faster, and cost-efficient. When you are on the same page with the developers, you can decrease the rework, which often has a huge impact on the total cost of app development.
But don’t worry about getting every detail nailed down, nothing needs to be set in stone. As we work in an Agile process we expect new ideas and new learnings come up along the way.
Your product requirements/scope document should include:
- brief company overview;
- project goals and product purpose;
- main app functionality and features list;
- mobile app platforms you want to build it for;
- requirements for UX/UI design;
- approximate budget and time expectations;
- limitations if there are any.
- Project objectives and product idea
- Company background
- App features
- UX and UI design (or requirements for it)
- Project execution milestones and control points
- Budget estimates (could be made by the development team)
- brief description of the app
- business context
- user stories
- user persona
- functional specification
Your product scope can be presented to your development team in any form you like, but we recommend creating an official document, as specific and detailed as possible. That will reduce the costs linked with a lack of understanding between the team and you, and reduce the time spent on rework. Make it as specific and understandable to all parties as possible. That will reduce app development costs associated with a lack of understanding between the executive team and the product owner, and will reduce the risk of the product having to be rebuilt several times.
Download our free Project Starter Toolkit to help you get started building your scope.
3. Validate your idea with an MVP
An MVP (Minimum Viable Product), is a product with only the most essential features, that can serve your target users. The MVP approach is a part of Agile development that builds product versions, measuring the results, and then learning how to make the product better with each iteration. This allows you to test your idea before investing too much in something that might need to go a different route. You build and launch a working prototype, track its performance, study the first users’ feedback, and then think about how to improve the product.
Producing an MVP helps reduce both the time and money spent on the development process as you learn which features are most important to your users.
Building an MVP allows you to:
- Study your customers’ demands and behaviour.
- Collect and examine your competitors’ strategies.
- Invest only in the really necessary features.
- Change further app development direction according to your customers’ needs.
- Create a more successful app with a faster time-to-market strategy.
Read more about MVPs here:
4. Choose popular tech stacks
A tech stack is a set of technologies such as programming languages, APIs, frameworks, and tools. It greatly affects the cost of development as it defines the workflow, complexity, and level of risk. When choosing your app’s tech stack, don’t rely on the following:
- competitors’ apps
- online research
- previous projects
- personal preferences
Your tech stack will most commonly consist of frontend (what your users see) and backend (what makes it work) components. A number of the most popular and common toolsets work well for both front and back ends. Choosing your tech stack wisely has a big influence on the average cost of app development, as it determines the development workflow, the style, and complexity of app maintenance, as well as increased costs and the level of commercial risk.
Also, deciding whether you should build your app native on iOS and Andriod platforms or a hybrid or web application makes a big difference in cost. This is because iOS apps and Android apps are written in different native platform languages. It requires you to build two separate apps with two different codebases, which will need double the maintenance. Native apps are great if you need to push your app performance to a higher level. But if you want to reach a broader audience and share the product on different platforms, a cross-platform hybrid application will be the best idea.
Read more about React Native here:
5. Reduce bespoke design
Although you want your app to look good (UI – user interface), what really makes it special is how it functions and the experience your users have (UX – User Experience). It won’t be a surprise that custom designs cost more, and you don’t really need to rethink everything that already works. Bespoke UI design can be expensive and there are many examples of apps that have a minimalistic layout and great functionality.
However an outstanding interface could easily make your app popular in a second, and a good customer experience works as a magnet for new customers and get more media attention. Here are some key design factors that will increase the cost of developing your app:
- Custom functional services and integrations (push notifications, camera integration, or GPS)
- Creating a custom app infrastructure (corporate servers and custom CDNs)
- Unusual buttons, forms and other elements as a part of UI
- Design complexity (motion graphics and 3D effects)
To make your mobile app development cost lower without making your app less appealing, we recommend that you keep your app as simple as possible, drawing a clear line between what elements and processes are critical to your promotional strategy and what isn’t. Remember that minimalistic apps like Tinder or Uber can also be in high demand.
A good way to avoid high costs is to use ready-made code fragments and standard module designs created with UI building tools. Standard features like navigation or buttons are expected to work in a particular way, and both Android and iOS have their own guidelines, which simplify the designer’s work and help you save money. If the app is a part of a bigger project or app it’s usually possible to reuse the existing elements.
6. Choose the right team
A software development team is one of the aspects that greatly influences your project costs. It’s no doubt that your team should be highly-qualified and strongly motivated. Besides that, you need to decide whether it will be in-house or outsourced. Your final decision will influence budget costs, workflow structure, and even the ongoing product maintenance.
In-house teams are great for businesses that need narrowly-focused specialists to maximize the customisation of the in-house engineering process for every minor tech need.
However, if you have a non-tech small or medium-sized business and you want to concentrate on your core business tasks, then outsourcing is the right choice. Outsourcing companies have more development experience in different fields. By engaging with an outsourcing company you avoid all major hiring and staffing issues that usually occur when you practice in-house development.
If you decide to opt for an outsourcing company, it’s important to make sure it can deliver a high-quality product:
- Learn more about the company’s experience and find out if they have developed similar solutions before.
- Ask about their team’s experience and expertise, for example, about their tech stack and their previous project challenges and achievements.
- Discuss payment rates, services included, and timelines. An experienced company tends to develop apps more rapidly and can even suggest how to cut costs.
Read more about what to look for when hiring an app development agency here:
7. Test early and often during the development process
Mobile app development costs can be reduced with the right approach to your product testing. Testing the app to ensure a hassle-free product is an integral part of every software development process. The quality of your app is crucial – if your app disappoints the users, they would abandon it and it will be hard to get them back.
The cost of an error in your mobile application can be devastating. According to Global App Testing, 48% of users are less likely to use an app again if they’re unhappy with the first-time app’s performance and 88% of users form negative opinions of brands if the brand has a poorly performing app.
Testing the app and fixing the bugs from the beginning and throughout every stage of the development process can help reduce the overall costs of creating your app.
You can read more about Quality Assurance (QA) and testing for your app here:
Costs you can’t avoid
While you can take these steps to reduce your app development costs, there are some costs that you can’t avoid such as:
App Store licences: You will need to purchase developer licenses from Apple and Google Play; these cost $99 and $25 respectively.
Marketing your app: budget for 5-15% of sales turnover on marketing for your app
Maintenance: around 10% to 20% of your upfront development costs on a monthly basis
Hosting: Dependant on the platform, can be free to begin with but will likely cost more depending on your usage.
API’s and 3rd-Party services: Again these vary depending on your platform, but this could be around £50 to £100 per month.
Domains and SSL certificates: Depending on the popularity of your domain name, this could be anything from £10 per year upwards. As soon as you see a domain you like, purchase it before someone else beats you to it, otherwise, you could be resold the same name for thousands.
Software and app development can be an expensive investment for your business, but investing in the right areas from the beginning can reduce your costs without compromising on the quality of the product you build.
Accurately define your app requirements, wisely choose your team, and keep track of the progress. Focusing on your main app features and participation in the app creation process will help you build a truly great product that provides a unique user experience.
To help you plan your budget for your next software development project we have created a free template for you. Click the button below and download your free copy today.