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How Much Does It Cost to Make an App?

If you've ever had an app idea (and who hasn't) your passion to make it happen can consume you for weeks -- until you realize you've hit a wall: you have no idea how to build it, how long it'll take, and how much it'll cost. You write it down in your idea journal and get back to your day job, occasionally bringing it up at dinner parties. Eventually, at one of those dinner parties, your new friend whips our his or her phone, "Oh, so your idea was like this new app, right? Yeah, it's great - they just raised $10 million to hit every college campus!" You're furious. But for the next idea, you don't have to be. For that next one, you can get it built. 

But how much is it going to cost? 

As an application developer, this is above all the most common question I hear. And it's like asking a property developer how much it costs to build a house. Are you looking for a mansion or a shack? Do you want a house made of straw, sticks, or brick? Do you want a custom home or a tract home?

Just like a house, the variables in developing an app are endless, and the answer to the question varies depending on these variables. In order for someone to be able to tell you how much it costs to make an app, you must first outline the desired qualities.

Here's how to get started.

First, Develop a Storyboard

The first place to start is defining what you want your application to do. An easy way to do this is to “storyboard” your app. The storyboard, or wireframe, is like the blueprint in the house analogy. The goal for developing a wireframe is to capture functionality and flow. This is not the time to worry about the actual aesthetics of the application yet.

It’s important to start from the beginning, which is when a user first launches the app. Think about what the first thing they see will be and what options they will have going forward. On the home screen, if they tap the first menu selection, what happens next? Continue this line of questioning throughout the application and think about how a user will navigate the app

To create wireframes, some designers use a design tool called Balsamiq. You can also download this PowerPoint template, which you can use to create a digital wireframe with PowerPoint’s drawing tools or print it out and draw the design by hand. 

Next, Understand the Details

Beyond the storyboard, there are other factors that will impact the development and cost of your application.

For example, whether or not you need to integrate your app to an existing backend or develop a completely new backend is something to keep in mind. Nowadays, most new apps either need to interact with an existing backend or call for the creation of a backend to support the app.

Integration to a third party vendor is another variable to consider. Many features that used to be expensive to develop, like push notifications and mobile commerce, can now be affordably added by leveraging third party vendors. If your app requires extensive integrations to third party vendors, you may need to put together an architectural diagram in addition to the wireframe.

Third, Get an Estimate

For the most part, a developer should be able to provide a quote based on your wireframe (and architectural diagram, if you have one). You can find reputable U.S. based developers on Thumbtack, TheymakeApps, or Gigster - which offers a free, quick quote.

You can also find freelancers and offshore teams at Upwork. Be cautious, though. I’ve talked to clients that have used developers from these sites and it seems to be a mixed bag; while I’ve spoken to a few people that have had good experiences with these sites, I’ve also heard some horror stories about them, so beware.

If you feel like your app concept is the next Uber, it’s okay to ask the developer for an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) or to ask them to sign your NDA. When you go through this process, you’ll find that quotes range vastly. My recommendation is to throw out the highest and lowest quotes and instead focus on the mid-range quotes.

Last, Consider the Alternatives

Like most technology, application development has become commoditized to some extent. If you have little budget for app development, you may consider DIY (Do It Yourself) App services like iBuildApp or Seattle Cloud. There is also a middle ground where a developer can create a robust but cost effective solution based on templates. Apptology offers a cost effective app development solution using templates called ReadyBuilt. Mobile Roadie is another developer that uses template. Apps based on templates are primarily used to promote a business or to provide content and are typically a fraction of the cost of developing apps from scratch.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the answer to “How much does it cost to develop an app?” is “It depends.” If you are thinking about developing an app, take a little time to create a wireframe. Just like the blueprint of a house helps property developers estimate the cost of a home, the wireframe will help you flush out your concept and will greatly assist a developer in providing a solid quote for your application.