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Mobile apps - what do they cost?

hands on tablet device

This is easily the question I hear most often, and as you might expect, is usually answered with "well, that depends".

There are a huge number of factors that go into the estimation process however there are probably three that have the biggest impact on overall cost. The first is the Type of application you're wanting build e.g. is it a market-place, or an eCommerce app, or the next Tinder, The next is the volume and complexity of the feature-set, e.g. how many moving parts are involved, and the third is who will you choose to develop your app - will they be a big or small company, or do you want to look offshore to try and save money.

  • Application Type
  • Featureset
  • Development team

Of course these aren't your only considerations, in most cases you're building a business, the app is only one part of it. You will have ongoing costs for maintenance, customer support and hosting. You will also have marketing and other business related costs because unfortunately “build it and they will come" is a quaint notion that probably had its moment back in the hey-day of suburban shopping mall development.

The following list bullet points the major types of application that are currently out there, and depending on the scope of the feature-set, what they would probably cost to build out to the point they were fully customer ready. These costs are for a single platform only, so if you want your application available for both iOS and Android, then you will need to factor that in too. Unless you're using a cross platform development tool like Xamarin, this could easily mean doubling your costs.

  • Standalone e.g. calculator, voice recorder, camera (saving to phone only): < $50,000
  • Simple data consumption stockmarket updates, web-browser: $30,000  to $100,000 
  • User account required e.g. simple email, news applications: $75,000 to $250,000
  • Social Networking  e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Tinder: $150,000 to $500,000
  • Ecommerce e.g. Amazon: $200,000 to $1,000,000
  • On-demand e.g. Uber, TaskRabbit: $100,000 to $1,500,000
  • Two sided marketplace e.g. Trademe: $200,000 to $1,500,000

The list above is adapted from the excellent article over on SavvyApps, tuned slightly for some of the projects we’ve worked on personally here in New Zealand. For a more complete breakdown on why things costs what they do - check out the full article here.

The development team you choose, particularly local vs offshore will have also have a bearing on the overall cost. However there’s a risk/reward equation that you have to get comfortable with, and if you’ve not personally managed an offshore software development team before - then “results may vary”.

By Rowan Schaaf
Rowan Schaaf

About the author

Rowan Schaaf

Rowan is the co-founder and CEO of Pattern. He has been involved in a number of technology start-ups, and has also held senior executive roles in both the technology, and technology marketing sectors.