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How Much Does It Cost To Build A Mobile App?

Everyone I know: “How much does it cost to build a mobile app?”

Me, with a straight face: “One billion dollars.”

Hi. I’m Jeff Namnum, Partner at Touchlab.

After nearly a decade of building mobile apps across various platforms – Android, iOS, Windows (R.I.P.) – this is the single most common question I receive from clients, friends and family alike.

The simplicity of the question betrays the complexity of the answer.

PRICE VS. VALUE

“All you got your name and your word, so never break it | For this life, you pay a price, you get a chance you gotta take it.” – Whiz Khalifa

The debate regarding price (what you pay) vs. value (what you get) is older than dirt. Mobile apps aren’t immune from this discussion. Long ago, when mobile app development was nascent, and the skills necessary to just get an app out the door and into an app store were akin to voodoo, the price/value disparity was gigantic, and rightfully so. Basic economics tells us that scarcity drives prices upward, and in the early days, having an app that customers could download afforded bragging rights.

Today, in a world of nearly 5 million mobile apps across the major app stores, having a me-too app is no longer a means of advantage or differentiation. Independent of the growing ubiquity of mobile apps, one thing has remained constant at Touchlab:

Quality work product is defined as delivering value in excess of price.

THE SEVEN COST LEVERS FOR MOBILE APP DEVELOPMENT

“But don’t knock me for tryin’ to bury | Seven zeroes, over in Rio De Janiery” – Puff Daddy

In our quest to answer the cost question in good faith, we’ve determined 7 common pre-engagement cost levers business owners have that affect mobile app development:

  • Knowledge: We don’t know how to develop mobile apps
  • Complexity: We have a number of integrations between mobile apps and existing business platforms
  • Speed: We need our mobile app to be released sooner than our ability to learn to do so ourselves
  • Trust: We need to remove uncertainty from our ability to release mobile apps ourselves
  • Modernization: We have apps, but our requirements have outgrown our ability in terms of process and want to learn better practices
  • Innovation: We want to isolate new mobile app development and associated business models apart from our main business
  • Emergency: We have mobile apps live right now and something is going terribly wrong, we need it fixed yesterday

These 7 cost levers boil down to a singular concept:

COST IS A MATTER OF RISK MANAGEMENT

“Boy, check the resume, it’s risky in the A” – Big Boi

Each of the 7 categories constitutes a different level of pre-engagement risk for both the client/business owner and service provider (be it internal or external). To the extent that each side can mitigate risk factors, it can improve the price vs. value relationship. Two examples:

  • There’s a client who understands app development, and has already done an integration for say iOS into their existing platform but is seeking to build an Android port. Many different risk factors have been reduced. They’ve established integration points, APIs, and mobile UI/UX explorations to achieve some form of product-market fit with iOS, making the Android port straightforward.
  • Compare this to the client who may only have a desktop web app presence, not mobile responsive, and wishes to launch both an iOS and Android app simultaneously aligned with fast approaching, immutable marketing event date (store opening, movie debut, product launch, Super Bowl ad, etc.). We’ve now introduced a number of risk factors, and the value in partnering with a provider who can navigate them within the timeframe is high.

These levers explain some, not all, of the operating risk affecting price, mostly around determining work effort. The major remaining risk factor is determining the working relationship, or who is going to do what work?

  • Will it be a complete hand-off to the contractor, with minimal interaction with the client?
  • Will it be a joint effort among the client and contractor developers, product managers and designers
  • Will all production resources be in close proximity?
  • If the teams are remote, how distant are the timezones, are there any language barriers that might affect work cadence and velocity?
  • Are there any external operational factors that might mitigate cadence and velocity such as legal, regulatory or compliance?

LET’S BUILD YOUR BUSINESS TOGETHER

However helpful all of this is, none of this answers the original question of how much it costs to build a mobile app. We understand that “it depends,” though truthful, isn’t an acceptable answer.

Let me explain.

Just as your business is differentiated, and you treat your customers as individuals, we too don’t want to propose a prescriptive solution, ignoring what is specific about your innovation requirements. The above framework helps us quickly determine the pre-engagement factors related to your business needs and determine work effort, work attribution across the teams and only then, price.

If you’ve got a great idea for an app, and you want to partner with a team who can help make it into a sustainable business on time and on budget, do not hesitate to contact me. Again, my name is Jeff. I help build businesses.