How much does it cost to build an app?

How much does it cost to build an app?

“How much will it cost to build my app?” This is the question we’re asked by every new customer. The answer is it’s completely variable and depends on many factors, some of which we are going to explore in this article.

If you are thinking of asking this question at an early meeting with your development partner, you should consider the response you are hoping to receive. Do you want to know:

  1. Exactly how much is MY app going to cost?
  2. Approximately how much does it usually cost to build an app like this?

The difference between those two questions is that we can answer the second one, we cannot answer the first.

This article should help you understand which aspects of your project are most likely to increase the cost.

Want to find out the cost of your idea? Download our checklist guide now.

A rough guide

If you are considering building your own software, you must first accept that it’s a big investment. We are talking tens of thousands of pounds, not spare change. Consequently, if you are looking to partner with a developer to create a product, you should consider where the investment is coming from.

Based on our experience, the first iteration of a software project will usually cost somewhere between ÂŁ40,000 and ÂŁ250,000. That includes discovery, design, development and deployment. Of course, this is a wide range, and therefore not that helpful if you are looking to budget or get investment. Hopefully we can provide some guidance on whereabouts in this range your product is likely to sit.

When you are thinking about building an app, you should also consider the ongoing costs of app ownership, like support, hosting and ongoing maintenance.

What are you looking for?

Setting expectations early on in a project is a good thing, and this works both ways. We want to know what your expectations are for the first iteration of your product, so that we can provide an appropriate estimate of how much work will be required to meet them. Put simply, think about which of the following scenarios best matches your expectations.

I need perfection

I am looking for an exceptional user experience and lots of features to satisfy my users. The app will also need a seamless and slick user interface, with animations and transitions that show my users they are using a modern enterprise-ready application.

In this situation you might have a user base ready to go, or have investment already secured, so you know you are building an advanced application.

I would like balance

I am looking for a good user experience but I don’t need lots of animations to attract or retain my users. The application’s functionality is as important as the way it looks, and I need to balance my budget across both UI and functionality.

This might be your position if you need to satisfy functional requirements at the same time as UI requirements. You may have internal users that don’t need to be attracted with fancy experiences, or you may have limited investment for the design and development of the application.

I just need an MVP

I am looking to prove the concept I have come up with. I have a limited budget and need to deliver the simplest possible solution to get users on board and attract further investment.

This scenario will apply if you have a new idea for which you need investment and want to spend as little as possible to get it going. You should think very carefully about what your core feature set is and what you can live without. Read our article on the Minimum Viable Product for more help on this.

Biggest impacts on cost

Although we can’t be specific about how much your application is going to cost, we can help you understand where the largest costs are incurred, and therefore what the price is likely to be based on your requirements.

Size

The most obvious impact on the cost to build an app is simply the number of screens in your application. If there are lots of screens to write, the cost is going to increase. Think of it like this:

  1. A small app is likely to have 10-25 screens
  2. A medium app perhaps 25-40 screens
  3. A large app will have more than 40

A screen is basically any create, view, update or delete page in the application. Remember that viewing the information, and editing it, are two separate screens because the functionality on the page will be different.

Complexity

Does your application need to process a lot of data, run calculations, crunch numbers or perform analysis? If so, then it’s probably pretty complex. If you know how all these calculations are going to work, that’s helpful, as extra time will be needed to work them out otherwise.

However, we will still need to devise tests to validate they are working correctly, which will increase cost.

User interface

Does your interface need to be animated, beautiful and slick? Or do you just need it to work well and allow your users to achieve what they need to?

The difference does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong, it’s about who the target audience of the application is, and what their expectations are. Really slick user interfaces cost a lot more, in terms of both design and development time.

Integrations

We specialise in system integrations and we find that this is an area often under estimated by all involved. If your product needs to integrate with a third party system to read or write data, this introduces a high-level of complexity into the project, which can be very difficult to estimate in the early stages.

To help nail down an estimate for this, you should try to find out some of the following:

  • How can your app communicate with these systems?
  • Is there a public API?
  • Does one need to be built – can the third party do the work or do you need us to do it?
  • What are the limitations of the API?
  • How fast do you need to retrieve and update data?

All these details can help to establish what is going to be involved, and who will be responsible for it. This will help us to refine the estimate we provide.

Mobile apps

There is a much larger set up cost associated with a mobile app, than there is with a website. This is due to setting up app store accounts, listings and configurations, as well as the more complex testing and deployment of the app itself. You should consider whether you actually need a mobile app to deliver the service to your users. Does the application need to be on their device or can they browse to it?

Also, do you need the app to work on both tablet and mobile, and are you expecting the experiences on both to be different. This would impact design and development time.

A key value add of having a mobile app is that you can serve data to users without an internet connection. You cannot achieve this with a website, but even in an app it is more complex in terms of development. You should include this in your design brief, find out more by reading our article.

Responsive experiences

If you decide that you need a website, the resolutions it needs to support are very important. Using frameworks like Bootstrap, UIKIT, Foundation and Bulma allows us to create a responsive website with relative ease, so long as you want the same functionality across all devices.

There will be more design time required to ensure the layout is as you want it on the various device screens, but the UX and functionality will be preserved, so the development only needs to be done once.

If you want a different experience on mobile, tablet and desktop, or even different sizes of desktop (like laptop and large screen), then the cost of design and development are likely to increase significantly. The designers will first need to create the required experience and the developers will then consider how best to deliver this, whether as multiple websites, or with logic to show and hide features in the one website.

Control panels

A lot of the custom apps we build require what you might call an “admin portal”, “control panel” or even “back office” to manage the users, content and functionality in the user facing application. For example, order fulfilment in ecommerce, request management, or user administration.

You should consider whether this is a requirement of your application because, if so, you are not asking for one app, but two. Inevitably this will increase the cost of the product. The easiest way to keep costs down on an app like this is to make the interface as simple as possible. As your control panel is likely to include a lot of screens for managing lists, you can even consider purchasing a UI template to avoid a lot of the design altogether, as there will be very little requirement for custom UI components. This means a relatively small upfront cost, and you get an out-of-the-box user interface that we can attach to our backend services.

Security

Security should always be at the forefront of your mind when planning to build a custom application. If you are storing any personal data you will also need to consider GDPR, factoring in additional features to handle the right to be forgotten and capturing user permissions. Security features can become very expensive, so consider carefully what you need to do.

Conversely, depending on the requirements of your application, the security features might not need to be that verbose. You can consider using widely available add-ons like Google to login, so that you don’t need to store usernames and passwords, or using a secure payment gateway like Stripe to avoid needing to be PCI compliant.

Summary

There are some areas which will have a significant effect on the cost of your digital product build, and some which are pretty standard. If you can breakdown your project enough to realise which are the “big ticket” items, you can get a pretty good handle on what the cost is going to be.

Download our pricing checklist to see where your product fits and assess whether your budget will cover your requirements.

Liz Williams

View posts by Liz Williams
Operations Director Liz engages with every part of the process at SAS Apps, supporting the team to deliver exceptional products to our customers. She also facilitates the continuous improvement programme, empowering the team to be the makers of the change, and drive the business to success.
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