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How much does it cost to create a mobile application?

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There is no need to explain to anyone what a mobile application is. Each of us uses at least a dozen such programs on a daily basis.

On a global scale, the statistical mobile phone user has about 80 applications installed.

Things are entirely different when we ask ourselves: How much does a mobile app cost? Nothing here is, and probably never will be, so obvious and unambiguous.

Every mobile application is different. When it comes to its creation, development, and maintenance, we will encounter many false beliefs and myths. The cost of such work stirs up a lot of emotions and leads to temperamental judgments and beliefs.

Just as many misunderstandings have accumulated around the cost of the web application, we wrote a separate article about it, which we invite you to read.

We don't want to participate in such polemics; we prefer a calm and rational approach. Based on years of experience and knowledge of various markets.

So, if you want to find out how much it costs to create an application and what factors influence the final cost of mobile apps, read this article.

We Audit. We Research. We Design.

What is the cost of a mobile application – introductory remarks

The popular industry answer to this question is: it depends. While no one likes this answer – including ourselves – it's the answer that is both the least opinionated and the most honest.

mobile application cost - comparison
The comparison of mobile application cost by complexity.

Source: Think Mobiles

Indeed, valuations and cost estimates are conditioned.

Of course, by browsing the Internet, we will find more specific estimates. Under the popular search query – How much does a mobile app cost in 2022? — we will find price ranges that show that:

  • the cost of a mobile application with minimal complexity (MVP – Minimum Viable Product) is between 20,050 and 40,099 USD
  • a mobile application of moderate complexity costs between 50,124 and 100,247 USD
  • a mobile application of high complexity is a cost that exceeds 100,247 USD.

Mobile application is an extensive, ambiguous term, and as a result, it's not easy to determine the cost of its creation.

The above division, while reasonably accurate, can nevertheless be misleading. If only because of its low specificity and generality.

It seems more useful to divide them by the criterion of application type.

It distinguishes 8 types of mobile applications:

  • basic applications (e.g., audio/video players)
  • data-driven applications (e.g., stock market apps)
  • authenticator applications (e.g., loyalty apps)
  • social media applications (e.g., Instagram)
  • E-Commerce applications
  • on-demand applications (e.g., Uber)
  • marketplace applications (e.g., Booking)
  • IoT applications.

Each of these types is a separate set of opportunities, necessities, conditions, and challenges.

It's also a separate collection of business, market, legal, technological, and User Experience issues.

We are stuck with estimates without going into the details of a given project. However, we must assume they will be severely underestimated rather than close to the final amount.

What are the other factors that influence the cost of a mobile app?

The criterion of application complexity is popular and helpful in estimating the cost of mobile applications. However, it's not the only one.

It's important to remember that the creation of mobile apps is a process. It's rather complex, lengthy, and has distinct stages.

The most fundamental of these include:

  • pre-development
  • creation of a list of functional requirements of a mobile application
  • design of application architecture
  • creation of an application prototype (also in terms of UX and UI)
  • front-end and backend development
  • testing
  • eliminating errors, making corrections
  • publication on a specific platform
  • support and maintenance.

All this work requires time and the involvement of various specialists, and this generates costs.

What makes up the cost of a mobile app - details
The average cost of the various elements of mobile app development.

Source: Onix Systems

No mobile application can be developed without a complete, competent, and experienced team of specialists, which usually consists of the following:

  • a business analyst (who researches business needs and designs the logic behind the mobile application)
  • UX/UI designers (who, among other things, create application interfaces)
  • software engineers, front-end and backend
  • quality assurance specialists (responsible for checking the operation of an application)
  • project managers/project leaders (responsible for the timely and smooth progress of the project)
  • a system administrator.

The number of representatives of a given specialization depends, of course, on the type of application, its complexity, the specificity of business goals, and the final deadline of its execution.

And this either lowers or raises the price. Also, the hourly rate for different specializations will vary significantly.

The architecture of a typical mobile application

Understanding the relationship between the complexity of an application and its cost requires an awareness of its design, its components as well as their nature, and, at the end of the day, their cost.

The architecture of a mobile application is also a problem of its typicality and standardization.

Mobile application architecture, mobile application design
 A diagram showing the architecture of the UBER application.

So the more it has to be unusual, custom-made, and meet very sophisticated business and usability needs, the more its cost will rise.

In general, mobile application services can be divided into four categories:

  • functional services (e.g., push notifications)
  • infrastructural services (e.g., hosting)
  • administrative services (e.g., user management)
  • IT support services (e.g., updates).

The majority of typical functional services (e.g., push notifications) are offered by third-party systems and involve a paid subscription.

The cost of a mobile application can vary significantly depending on which provider is chosen.

This is because it involves not only the price of the annual subscription but also the level and complexity of the integration itself.

Infrastructural services refer to where and how applications are hosted, how data (including backups) is stored and secured, and how it's delivered.

Again, the choice of provider and how the application is integrated with it influences the cost.

Support and application maintenance aren't often included in the cost of the application. This is a big mistake because the choice of an application provider after its publication can cause many financial surprises.

Let's keep in mind that every mobile application uses multiple external APIs, and any update of an external API requires checking and adjusting their cooperation.

Planning for such occurrences and including them in the cost estimate makes it possible to plan the costs associated with mobile applications rationally.

Maintenance of a mobile application usually involves:

  • ongoing repair of errors that occur
  • technological updating of an application (counteracting the phenomenon of technical debt)
  • code optimization to make an app more stable
  • rescaling the server infrastructure as the number of app users grows
  • User Experience optimization.

It's also worth remembering that design and technology decisions never have a short-term impact but rather long-term consequences that make themselves known from the first days after the release of a mobile app.

This is a very expensive relationship, and it's something to be aware of.

How does the life cycle of a mobile app affect its cost?

A common mistake made during the budgeting of a mobile application is not considering the costs associated with its natural life cycle.

As mentioned in previous paragraphs, it includes its programming, implementation, and maintenance costs.

mobile app life cycle, mobile app cost
A development diagram of a finished product, according to Karl Weigers.

Every application generates profits, but it also creates costs, and they certainly don't end when the last line of code is written.

The proportions in programming, implementation, and maintenance costs will change over time.

Eventually, they’ll reach a state opposite to the original one. And this means that the cost of maintenance and development will be the highest.

That's why it's so important to properly estimate future costs already at the conceptual stage during the design of an application.

The awareness of maintenance and development costs (Mobile App Development) and the possibility of optimizing them (e.g., with cheaper plug-ins) and a number of ready-made solutions (e.g., supporting application scalability) is necessary for:

  • accurate
  • reliable
  • exhaustive estimation, planning, and management of application costs.

Both present and future ones.

The cost of a mobile app – further factors

It's impossible to think about the cost of mobile applications without considering the relationship between the business goals they're supposed to serve, the usability they're supposed to offer, and the performance and accessibility they should provide.

Perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming, labor-intensive, and costly issue necessary in mobile app cost estimation is the need to harmonize business goals (business orientation, market orientation) and usability goals (user orientation).

Generally speaking, users appreciate mobile applications that are both attractive and useful.

Aesthetically pleasing design, ergonomic interface, attention to positive User Experience, security, convenience, and ease of achieving goals and performing tasks are the requirements placed on applications by their typical users.

From a business perspective, a mobile application should provide an opportunity for stable growth.

Its development and maintenance should be as cheap as possible. In other words, it should be designed with short- and long-term business goals in mind.

The prospect of its growth (including unexpectedly dynamic growth, which can never be ruled out) should be indisputably included in its cost estimate.

The next variables considered in estimating the cost of mobile apps are:

  • target platforms (Google Play and App Store, Android or iOS)
  • technologies (e.g., native app, hybrid app)
  • it's functionalities, features (e.g., integrations with social media channels, maps, and locations, task managers)
  • users (e.g., the ability to register, edit an account, method of logging in, push notifications)
  • integrations (e.g., camera, GPS, external APIs)
  • monetization (e.g., paid subscriptions)
  • maintenance and hosting
  • number of screens (e.g., profile screen, payments)
  • level of the complexity of the backend layer
  • special effects and/or animations.

As we can see, the cost of making a mobile app consists of very different factors. Its functionalities, business goals, usability, and range are the primary factors that should be considered.

For example, the range is one of the dilemmas that influence the cost. It doesn't always make sense (in terms of business) to develop apps for all platforms (e.g., only for the Android platform).

Apple's iOS platform generally brings together fewer but more engaged users.

On the other hand, Google Android is seen as a much more popular platform, but one that brings together less engaged users who are more prone to uninstalling apps.

The choice of the platform simultaneously means the choice of related mobile devices. And this complicates matters related to applications' creation, maintenance, and development. Similarly, integrating an application with third-party systems is a strong cost-determining factor.

Native applications (meeting the specifications of a particular operating system) are seen as more demanding in terms of design and technology, therefore their cost is higher.

Unfortunately, native apps, while providing a better match, require the creation of separate variants for each device. The challenge in their development is the need to use several programming languages.

Hybrid applications bypass the above problems and are considered as much less complicated.

If only because they're written in one programming language and are consequently easier to develop and maintain.

But, unfortunately, they have a rather significant flaw. Their performance and scalability are significantly worse compared to native applications.

Looking at it from yet another perspective, the cost estimation of mobile apps depends on the following:

  • the time required to produce it
  • a developer
  • a purpose of the app.

It's safe to say that the number of applications hasn't followed closely with their quality for some time now. The increase in the number of new applications is so large that it's affecting the following:

  • user loyalty
  • user expectations
  • functionality, quality, and safety standards.

This trend is forcing the direction of mobile application development. It enforces taking care of their higher competitiveness. It makes their creation more complex, challenging, and therefore expensive.

How much does it cost to create a mobile application – the cost of a UX/UI project

Mobile applications without research, usability testing, prototyping, task-oriented design, and a few other issues don't make sense today.

Simple, intuitive, ergonomic interface, navigation, attractive aesthetics, and security are mainly responsible for their success.

UX Designers, UI designers, UX researchers, and UX writers simply cannot be missing from project teams working on mobile app development.

Without understanding the typical and most common reasons for using mobile devices and applications, it's impossible to create a digital product that meets users' expectations.

Needs, preferences, and expectations are diagnosed and discovered by UX researchers using standardized, reliable, academically established research methods and techniques.

With the knowledge derived from research and testing, UX/UI designers can create solutions that address user needs much more accurately.

It's worth remembering that context greatly affects how applications are used, received, and evaluated.

The situation in which they're used affects how smoothly they're operated, how focused our attention is on the task at hand, and how much we can engage in it cognitively and emotionally.

In designing an application, the crucial issue is making it as easy as possible for a user to perform tasks.

It should be simplified as much as possible. The tolerance of mistakes made by users should also be much higher.

Research, testing, and prototyping – necessary in developing a successful mobile application – also come at a high cost.

Reducing them is a shortcut that directly leads to market failure.

How much does it cost to develop a mobile application – the cost of security

The awareness of the risks of using mobile apps is growing among their users. Combating them and offering applications that protect data, resources, and funds are now a standard and market necessity.

The financial expenditures spent on application security are growing and will continue to grow because an unprotected application is a commercial flop.

This is all the more obvious, the more its operation involves processing and storing critical data, for example, regarding health, finances, and personal data.

The issue of mobile application security isn't just about the security systems being implemented but refers to a whole class of problems related to diagnosing threats, neutralizing them, and predicting them.

A significant cost is involved in applying even very standard security measures if only to encrypt sensitive data, authorize user sessions, or implement communication standards.

The more security we want to provide, the higher the cost we have to incur.

The impact of the billing model on the cost of a mobile app

Two billing models dominate the market – fixed price and time & material. Depending on the point of view (of whoever is looking and judging), they will have different advantages and disadvantages.

In principle, a perfect method doesn't exist. We will always have to choose if we want to create a mobile application.

fixed price vs time and material - mobile application
Source: Just Coded

The fixed price model is safer for the software house customer. The cost is fixed and known in advance.

Fixed price works well in smaller projects, where it's much easier to define the scope of work and its schedule.

It's also easier to predict the project's development and possible problems. Also, the direction of work in small projects is more clearly defined, and the application development itself is more predictable.

However, everything has a price. The fixed price model is considered more expensive because the developer should include in the cost estimate the risk of changes and delays resulting from the Customer's decision-making process.

For large projects, the time & material method is more appropriate and recommended

The cost of the work is open, and the payment is charged at an hourly rate. The method provides a lot more flexibility. It's also considered less expensive, as developers don't have to worry about doing extra work without gratification.

In the case of projects where changes are inevitable, with a higher probability of having to change the concept, such a model is safer for the developer.

The client, on the other hand, can still control the budget and, at the same time, make the necessary changes aimed at achieving a perfect mobile application.

How much does it cost to create a mobile application? Summary

  1. Mobile applications differ on at least a dozen dimensions, including price.
  2. The creation, development, and maintenance of applications have given rise to many false beliefs and myths. At least a few fundamental issues differentiate the cost of developing an application.
  3. Valuations and cost estimates of mobile applications (like web apps) are always conditioned.
  4. Mobile application is an extensive, ambiguous term, and as a result, it's not easy to determine the cost of its creation. A valuation of an application project without specifying key variables will be, at best, an approximation.
  5. Each of the 8 types of mobile applications is a separate set of opportunities, necessities, conditions, as well as business, legal, technological, and User Experience issues.
  6. The development of mobile applications is a complex and lengthy process with distinct stages.
  7. It's impossible to create a professional mobile application that has a chance to compete successfully on the market without a complete, competent, and experienced team of specialists.
  8. The scope and size of the development team depend on the type, complexity, and goals of the company that the application is intended to serve.
  9. The hourly rate of each specialist varies significantly.
  10. Generally, a mobile application that meets very sophisticated business needs, and exhibits better usability, will be more expensive.
  11. Maintaining a mobile application usually means that it needs to be constantly repaired and technologically updated, and its code has to be optimized.
  12. Every application generates profits and, at the same time, creates costs. A mobile app's cost estimate should also consider balancing issues.
  13. Proportions in programming, implementation and maintenance costs change over time.
  14. Over time, the cost of maintaining and developing a mobile app becomes the most significant burden on an organization's budget.
  15. Predicting future costs as early as the conceptual stage is crucial.
  16. The awareness of maintenance and development costs and the ability to optimize them is necessary for accurate, reliable planning and management of application costs.
  17. When estimating the cost of mobile apps, it's also essential to consider the target platforms, technologies, functionalities, users, integrations, maintenance and hosting, the level of complexity of the backend layer, and special effects.
  18. Applications without research, usability testing, prototypes, and task-oriented design cannot successfully compete on the market.
  19. The project teams must have UX and UI designers, UX researchers, and UX writers. The cost of application development also depends on the number of required specialists.
  20. The financial expenditures spent on application security (the cost of maintaining a mobile application) will continue to grow and increase the cost.
  21. Two billing models dominate the market – fixed price and time & material.
  22. Fixed price works well in smaller projects, where it's much easier to define the scope of work and its schedule. This model also significantly lowers the cost of making a mobile app.
  23. For large projects, the time & material method is more appropriate and recommended. The cost of the mobile application is open, and the payment is charged at an hourly rate. This method provides a lot more flexibility.
How you like that:
Journal / Redaktor
Author: Radek
UX Writer and researcher by education + experience. Collects The Story's knowledge and shares it on the Journal.
Reviewer: Dymitr Romanowski

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