July 3, 2019 | Last updated on March 1, 2024

How Much Does it Cost to Build an App?

Written by Marc Alringer

Updated July 2019

What does it cost to build an app? This is a million dollar question! There is no single answer to this question because cost will vary significantly based on your project requirements. To get an idea, a study was conducted, which involved emailing out a request for proposals (RFP) to 100 firms. The results were reassuring, for us at least. The study found that development costs ranged from about $93,000 to $214,000. Although, it could be much more depending on the scope of the project.

The varying costs associated with app design and development are influenced by costs, timelines, complexity, native vs cross-platform, customization, and UI features. It’s always a good idea to compare your expectations with existing solutions and their associated budgets. You should decide which features are the most complex and challenging, then prioritize your feature list to create a ballpark estimate. 

There are two primary types of projects:

  1. Budget/Timeline Backwards – These projects have a max budget or hard delivery timeline and the project team works backwards to see what can actually be finished for the allotted time or budget. These projects tend to make sacrifices in features or quality in order to come in under budget or within a timeline.
  2. Feature Forward – These projects are focused on the scope and work forwards to determine a timeline and budget based on the scope and features desired. Spending more launches the desired scope, and the team is willing to pay more to receive more.
app cost equation


How Much Do Software Development Companies Charge?

The largest influence on cost is which software development company you choose to hire

Here are your options: 

  • Onshore (USA): you should have a budget of about $150K+
  • Offshore (overseas): usually 10-20% of onshore rates 
  • Nearshore (neighboring country): usually around $30-$60/ hour 
  • Hybrid (onshore with offshore/nearshore development): usually less than $100/hour  

Onshore resources will typically result in a higher quality product, but will also cost more. Offshore resources are much more affordable, but you’ll lose some of the benefits that come with an onshore software development company. You have to find the right balance between the pros and cons of each type of company. This decision will heavily influence the outcome of your project. 

app dev timeline

Will Your App Borrow Concepts and Features From Existing Apps?

Do you want your app to be the next Snapchat or Instagram or is it just a better version of something that already exists? The level of customization that your app requires will play a large role in the total price tag. Creating something with a completely unique design that completely WOWs your audience will require a larger budget.

Some of Facebook’s features that are costly and time consuming to develop include chat, news feed, and video calls. Apps with these messaging and interactive features cost more due to their complexity and the user’s ability to customize them. Without diving into operational costs, Ben Schippers says it’d take approximately $500,000 and nine months of development and design time to create such an application.

Developing a social media site like Instagram would be challenging with its multitude of features. Instagram has account creation, image filtering, image loads, and searching for posts or users. According to Henrik Wedelin, co-founder of Barkbox, it would cost somewhere between $100,000 to $300,000 to build an Instagram-like mobile app over a three-to-six month period.

Social video apps like TikTok or Musical.ly have features such as music sync, filters, video creation/playback, and posting through the site. Similar apps may range between $80,000 to $100,000 to develop, but we think that’s a low estimate.

Music streaming apps such as Spotify and SoundCloud have relatively basic features including streaming music, search features, libraries, and suggestions. These average around $110,000- $177,000 to make but hosting music and music licenses increase the total cost of the app. 

phone on map

Is Your App Available On iOS And Android? 

To determine which operating system (OS) you should use for your app, you should research your end users and identify which OS is most popular amongst them. In addition to the different design guidelines, the technical implementation will vary between platforms. 

Cost doesn’t differ drastically between iOS or Android, however, if you choose to develop a native app for both iOS and Android, costs could as much as double. 

Length of Your Feature List

The number and complexity of features will affect how much it costs to build your app. You may have narrowed down the list of features to the must-haves, but even then, your features could require a lot of work. If the level of complexity is high (i.e. video chat) you can expect to pay a premium price. 

Do you need access to the camera within your app (i.e. Snapchat), does it need to have bluetooth capabilities, or do you want to incorporate augmented reality similar to Pokemon GO? You should ask yourself similar questions to decide which features you need and which would just be nice to have. Initially, you should just focus on the features that serve the core purpose. 

By taking the time to really define the features your app requires, you can cut down costs. There’s a big difference between the features you need and the features you want. 

How Many Screens Will Your App Have? 

The cost to build an app is influenced by the number of screens required. A greater number of screens correlates to a larger number of UX design and development hours. Only create screens that are critical to the user experience.

If the screens are relatively similar then including additional screens won’t have much of an impact on your budget. However, if you want screens with pop-up items or toolbars, you can expect a larger price tag. As the number and complexity of the screens grow, so will the cost.


Is Your App Consumer Facing or Line-Of-Business (LOB)?

Is your app intended for a defined set of customers or is it meant to simplify internal business processes? Consumer facing apps usually have more engaging and customized user interface (UI) elements, which require a lot more design and development work. For this reason, the cost to build a consumer facing app is usually higher.

There is no single answer to this frequently asked question. The cost to build an app is dependent on the factors mentioned above and several others. If you know what problem you would like to solve, but aren’t exactly sure where to start, we can help you out! In our discovery phase we’ll learn about your business objectives and your users, then draft user stories to set our process in motion.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to learn more about tech and the latest trends, visit our other posts and subscribe to receive weekly blog updates. To inquire about any custom application design or development, please contact us.

Marc Alringer
Written by
Marc Alringer
President/Founder, Seamgen
I founded Seamgen, an award winning, San Diego web and mobile app design and development agency.
Top Application Development Company San Diego and web design company in San Diego

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