How Much Does it Cost to Make an App?: An Infographic

Asking how much it costs to build an app is like asking how much it costs build a house. It depends on what you are building and who is building it for you. Here's an infographic we've created to help give you an idea.

Asking someone how much it costs to build an app is like asking them how much it costs build a house. Before they can give you a good answer, they’ll have to know what kind of house you want to build and who you want to build it. Who is your architect and how will he or she design it? Will it be a typical home or will it have solar panels, talking refrigerators, and other super cool state-of-the-art features of a smart home? All of these questions are going to factor into how much it will cost to build that house. The same is true when you decide to build an app.

A bare-bones app costs $1,500 to $5,000. A decent app costs $10,000 – you can just throw in a few graphics and tables here in there and voilà – you’re ready for the App Store. Not too bad, right?

But do you really want to make just a “decent” app?

If you’re serious about developing an app that actually gives value to its users, expect to spend anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000 for a high-quality product. You will need to invest in hiring a programmer, testing, and additional costs.

App Design and Development

Unless you’re an experienced programmer with mad skillz, app creation is not a do-it-yourself project. You should always hire a programmer to design and code your app.

US-based programmers charge somewhere between $50-$150 an hour, or up to $12,000 for a couple weeks’ work. Depending on the infrastructure of an app, it may take several weeks to design the app, and several more to code it. (To offset the costs, you can outsource this to freelance programmers in Europe and Asia, but be sure to do your due diligence to save yourself some nasty headaches!)

You can also consider hiring a mobile development lab or tech firm to design, develop and deploy your app. Note that that all labs are created equal. Some may charge you more for overhead costs and some may charge you less if you provide certain components (e.g., graphics), but smaller, boutique labs probably have the middle ground you’re looking for. For example, Bahndr, by New York mobile app developer, Blue Label Labs, is a $30,000 social game built from scratch with completely custom graphics – it could have cost double that had the project been given to a larger shop!

Testing an App

Buggy apps are crappy apps. And users won’t be afraid to tell you so. They will leave negative reviews in the App Store, or even go as far as app-bashing on blogs or via social media. To avoid this path of self-destruction (and to spare yourself from watching your app dreams come to a screeching halt before it even begins to come true), you must test your app. Then test it again. And again.

You can do this manually by using multiple devices yourself or by hiring a test team. You can also cast a wide net and release a free beta version (check out testflightapp.com) for feedback from users who know what to look out for. Expect to spend $8,000-$30,000 on testing your app, depending on the app. The more changes you need to make, the more you will need to spend for your programmers to get rid of any bugs and improve usability.

Additional Functions

Launching the app:
$99 on the App Store, $25 to register on Google Play

Infrastructure, servers, and other back-end support:
$100-$200/month

Social media integrations:
$500-$1,500

In-app purchasing:
$1,000-$4,000

Game Center:
$1,000

Some Estimates

Simple app:
Everything is installed in the device
Takes 2-4 weeks to develop
Expected cost: $1,500-$4,000
Example: C-Life (helps you track and manage prescriptions)

Database app:
Data is stored on a server/database
Takes 4-8 weeks to develop
Expected cost: $8,000-$50,000
Example: Mime-Me (a fun, social app based on the game of charades)

Enterprise app:
Business integration; data is stored in device + on a server
Takes 3-6 months to develop
Expected cost: at least $50,000, or $150,000 and up for more complex apps
Examples: Oracle Business Indicators (mobile access to business intelligence and performance), Cisco WebEx Meetings (mobile web conferencing), TripIt (travel organizer)

Games:
Development time depends on type of game
Expected cost: $10,000-$250,000

Some Tips

• Your programmer makes or breaks your app – don’t be cheap by hiring the lowest bidder. Research potential programmers’ qualifications and credentials. Talk to them and see if they’re a good fit for your project and vision. Remember: You get what you pay for. Never cut corners.
• Always allow for wiggle room – set budgets and deadlines, but delays and incidental costs are inevitable. Be sure to prepare for any unforeseeable costs
• Converting an iPhone app for iPad compatibility? Add 25-50% of the original cost.
• Don’t forget about marketing – expect to spend $1,000-$3,000 on initial marketing campaigns. No one wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars building an app that no one’s ever heard of.

Have you built an app? How much did it cost from design to completion? What other costs should app developers consider?

About Sara Angeles

Sara is a copywriter, blogger, and content strategist for startups and lifestyle brands. She graduated from UC Irvine and has a background in law, finance, and business administration. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. Her Google+ is lonely. Find out more about her at SaraAngeles.com.

  • Brigette

    Sara,
    thanks for this article, very informative.

    • Sara Angeles

      happy to help :)

  • https://www.facebook.com/Ppinngtuner Vinay M K

    Hi Sara,
    Really informative article for potential app customers. I would like to add another trend in app development for start-ups and small businesses. Design firms like mine (Pathpartnertech) develop apps at just the development cost and go in for sharing in-app advertisements.
    This will work out well for low-budget app development projects. Charges could be as low as USD 20 per hour for app development on android, iOS & windows mobile under such an agreement.
    For example ppinngtuner app which involves total effort of about 12 person weeks of effort would cost as low as about USD 10K.
    send us an email at support@ppinngapps.com for more information.
    rgds
    Vinay

    • Sara Angeles

      Interesting concept. Would love to find out how the terms are negotiated for ad revenue sharing.

  • http://www.luceos.pl Maciej Nowosielski

    Hi,

    This is interesting presentation. It would be good to look at this from few other points of view:
    1. Differences between costs and efforts required to develop an application for iOS, Android and Windows Mobile (in my opinion there are visible differences between these development & deployment platforms)
    2. Apart of the build, what other costs (marketing, sales, support) drive the overall cost structure. In my opinion building the succesful app costs significantly less then promoting and selling it.
    3. I am not sure we can meaningfuly compare device-only app with app integrated with cloud/SaaS server side. We develop such applications and efforts required to build nice server side can be huge (like our mobile workforce management system).

    Regards, Maciej

    • Sara Angeles

      I agree. While this was meant to be a general overview, costs would definitely vary depending on the platform, the type of app, marketing strategies, etc.

  • http://www.senscraft.com Carey Bunks

    This article is not bad, and reasonably covers off some basic costs. It does miss an important point, however. In competitive markets, the mobile app has to compete well, and this means that the delivery to market of your app is just the first step.

    In fact, most of the cost of your app will likely be in supporting its roadmap over time.

    A dynamic, data-driven roadmap will be required to win the game, and to give yourself an even chance of success, you’ll need to foresee analytics and evolvability. The analytics will help you figure out what’s going on in your app, to identify where it’s working well, and not so well. The evolvability will allow you to cost-effectively support your app’s roadmap without breaking the bank.

    The article has pretty much missed these two points, and to address them here, I can give the following guidelines:

    - The cost of analytics will depend greatly on whether you build it yourself, or you use one of the many suppliers available on the market. At Senscraft we use our own analytics, and this cost us roughly $50k for fine-grained data capabilities. Our platform includes this for all the apps we build for our customers.

    - The cost of the roadmap will depend on the number of releases to be made per year. A rule of thumb for a company that really wants to do well against competitors is to work on a roadmap with an 8 week release schedule. If your app has been well architected, you can expect that each release will cost roughly 2/3 of the cost of the first version of your app. With an 8 week release schedule, after the deliver of the first version, you can probably deliver about 5 releases per year, so you should plan to budget roughly 4x the cost of the first delivery.

    - Finally, don’t forget that the work required to do the acceptance testing of deliveries is on top of the cost of development… you can’t trust that the developer has just delivered a perfectly working product, you need to test it.

    • Sara Angeles

      Thanks so much for your insight, Carey! This is some incredibly useful info. The article’s focus was on the costs of actually making an app, but anyone interested in doing so should definitely think about the long-term costs, creating/following a roadmap, and being able to interpret analytics.

      Would you say that most of your clients are aware of the 8-week release schedule (or something similar) or is it something they haven’t thought about before?

  • John

    Good article. I would say costs listed here are on the higher side. Many apps can be designed and developed well with limited budget.
    Contact us on support@cmtech.com.au for more information.

    • Sara Angeles

      Thanks for the comment, John! I agree. Other than the type of app, sometimes the costs just depend on who is making an app – what’s important is that you research the people you hire.

      Just curious, what do your clients consider a “limited budget”? And what kind of apps have you developed with that amount?

      • Awni Hussein

        Sorry to intrude but since John hasn’t replied yet I thought I would be useful. Starting at about $15000 USD, we can make a social network app plus back end. That includes user profiles, friends, follow, text posts, messaging, and a few other functions. That is considered a normal budget. Some clients want to pay less than $5000 but they only want just one platform:either ios or Android, and they want limited features just to test the market.

        I hope that clears things up a bit.

  • http://twitter.com/BrisRocket Andrew Newey

    Interesting concept – never seen an infographic on this. Thank you, you gave me a new insight :)

    • Sara Angeles

      You’re welcome :)

  • Kunal Gwalani

    Very interesting article from Sara – liked the infographic. Additional insights from Carey for analytics and roadmap were helpful too.

  • John

    Agree with Carey.
    As far as cost goes it can varies from $2000 to $50000. I am ready to provide experienced developer and our costs start as low as $2000. Contact us If have limited budget.

  • http://twitter.com/neobaba1289 Neil Unadkat

    There are multiple aspects to the cost..
    1. The actual app developer, the one who builds the native app. (either the iOS, android or even a mobile compatible Web app)
    2. The backend developer, for the server side code, the databases etc.
    3. The infrastructure.

    Now, a lot of the efforts (in terms of time and money) goes into building the whole backend infrastructure. Mainly because this is the core of the app, and the front end does the work of just showing the data in a particular way.

    In this commoditised (not sure if its a word) world, you can actually offload the task of creating the backend infra, to different services. They have come to be known as Backend as a Service (BaaS).
    What they focus on, is to get you up and running with a scalable backend, in minutes. You can just focus on making your app.

    A few examples
    1. Appacitive
    2. Parse
    3. Kinvey
    4. Stackmob
    etc..

    With their pay per use model, you can actually drastically reduce your initial investment on the backend infra, and you end up paying for only what you use.
    You should check all of them out.

    (I am on of the co-founders of Appacitive :) . Just to let you know..)

    • omgbobbyg

      Good point on the back end infrastructure. When we first started building apps, we spent a good part of the initial work just getting the backend infrastructure setup and then building the client side framework for an app to communicate with it. We were lucky in the sense we built a very generic framework which has allowed us to use the same platform across all of our server enabled apps. For someone coming to the app development process new, they should definitely checkout BaaS options to help cut down their development time.

    • Bobby McBobson

      That’s why you put appactive first on the list…

  • Jay Shapiro

    Sara, Thanks for this article it’s incredibly informative and the infographic is the cleanest I’ve seen for outlining the costs/process. However, there’s one point I’d like to disagree with and raise to you and omgbobbyg for possible consideration of a follow-up article.

    Both in your article and in Bobby’s “Always Hire a Programmer” is the implied message that if you can’t hire a programmer / spend at least $5k then the app economy is closed to you, and that’s no longer the case.

    I run a service at www,InfiniteMonkeys.mobi that is a drag-and-drop Mobile App Builder. With it, people with zero programming skills can put together an app in support of their existing small business or community group.

    Given that it’s an easy to use drag-and-drop interface there is a lot that you can’t do with it, and it is never going to replace a great developer if you want to build a complex game, or robust app like a Yelp or FourSquare – but the fact is we have had tens of thousands of customers who were wondering how to make your own app – find a simple and low-cost answer. Our apps are available for free with advertising or for $99 without. We do all of the publishing to the markets, so there is no developer fee to pay on top of that, either. (Unless you want to charge for your app and choose to publish it under your own name)

    Anyhow, I think you’ve done a great job with these two articles, but I just wanted to highlight that there is another alternative for those without programming skills. I’d love to have a chat with you sometime about Infinite Monkeys if you’re interested.

    • Bobby McBobson

      I just learn it myself. Then I onle have to pay 25 bucks.

  • Michelle

    Once you choose a company to build you app, that company has no rights to my app it is 100% mine?

  • http://www.facebook.com/deborah.chud Deborah Chud

    My Trufflehead healthy cooking app cost about $100,000 to build and it was fraught with difficulties and delays–not to mention a year of homicidal rage. The experience was so traumatic and cost-inefficient that I decided to build a platform to bring recipe apps within the reach of cookbook authors and food bloggers. My company, Mobile Skillet, offers high-functioning, sophisticated, affordable recipe apps with a range of customization options (palettes, fonts, layouts, navigation, content, and functionality). Costs range from $5,000 to $14,000.

  • http://twitter.com/baumgartensam Sam Baumgarten

    One thing that should be mentioned is the cost of updates. Even small updates to a app can be quite expensive, especially if your app was successful. After your app has gotten its claim to fame, your developer most likely will raise his or her rates. This makes it way more expensive to add features to your app with the same developer.

  • http://twitter.com/ajaypalnitj Ajay Pal Singh

    you can use MIT App inventor and build an android app with literally no coding skills.

  • Nickolaus Poling

    I think this is a great article, but I actually came across this looking for more specifically how much it costs to put an app on Apple Market. I think this article would be great for reference for anyone thinking about trying to use kickstarter.com for a project. However, I do feel that creating apps as an indie developer could cost exponentially less.

  • Roel Overgoor

    Hello Sara, Great article. As an app developer at App Agency (The Netherlands) I come across these kind of questions every day. Although it is still impossible to give accurate estimations for custom native apps, I think you did a great job in breaking down the total costs.

  • Alex

    A very low cost way to make an Android app is http://www.androidcreator.com . Thanks.

  • James Clarke

    Really helpful article.

    I came across a new app builder the other day. It’s one for businesses and provides an idiot-proof template where an app can be built for a business in under ten minutes! After reading into the company, I realised they were powered by the world’s leading app builder. I really feel that it’s the future for businesses!

    http://www.appsme.com/?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=posting+&utm_campaign=freetraffic

  • Bobby McBobson

    I’m learning Java and I’m creating my own app for android!! Haha! It shall cost only 25 bucks!

  • http://www.360technosoft.com/ Venkat Mallick

    It depends on how simple/complicate the app is and the developer profile (US vs. off shore, level of experience). You can get a super simple app built off shore for a couple thousand dollars. More complicated apps / more expensive developers will get the cost closer to $10-20K. It is also not unheard of for top quality games to cost over $100K.

  • Bacon Neck Games

    @JayShapiro well congrats on creating a user app interface creation thingy, and for plugging it in context and not gratuitously. Google has one, MIT has one, etc etc. People also do this with websites, if you use a program to create something that should be done from scratch, like a website or worse a mobile app, there will be hiccups in your code. While it may function all handy dandy, in the backend, the code behind the face of the app will be unstable most of the time. Website creator applicaitons, add bloated code and layer span tag upon span tag upon span tag, and I know app creators are no different. Either learn it yourself, or hire someone if you are making anything more than a simple localally stored app.

  • jOn Garrett

    this is BS. I remember back in the days of windows CE, it was the same thing–developers wanting thousands of dollars to build an app.

    I did then what I’m doing now., hire developers from less developed countries. I once paid just $200 for an app. not only was it cheap, but the guy built in within a weeks time and was grateful for my business.

  • http://WhosChrisHughes.com/ Chris Hughes

    Appreciate this information Sara. I’m looking to release an app soon and this was extremely informative for me. Now I’m off to find a good team to create the app!
    Thanks!

  • Awni Hussein

    Hi Sara,
    Thank you for the effort and the information. I am a contractor on oDesk and I work with 2 teams in India to provide mobile apps and games for iOS and Android. I tell you one thing I DREAM of getting such rates for our apps and games :) .

    Apps we have created include social networking sites and it goes without saying that there is a server and database involved, photo/video sharing, follow, like, comment, etc. We use native iOS and Android code and have still remained below the $30,000 mark.

    Our games vary, but simple games don’t go as high as $10K, you can get a simple game for as low as $500 with high quality graphics. One of the games my team his built was featured by Apple, and Apple does not accept poor graphics :)
    3D games, and accelerometer support will drive the price higher, and it would reach tens of thousands depending on requirements.

    Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Thanks again,
    Awni Hussein

  • Chris

    This is a really informative post for those who are planning to have an app created.

    Just a question with regards to app development and design – what do you think of posting app development or design on a contest or bid site?

  • Simon

    Great article Sara, only just found it but very informative. If you want to search and find the best mobile app developers then a great site to start looking is http://www.appbooker.com . Good luck to everyone developing the next big thing!

  • http://popcornmediagroup.com/ Popcorn Media

    A very interesting app creator without requiring any skill.

    http://www.comocreartuapp.com

  • Rupesh Souz

    I got some app recommendation on the link provided below. Is that be enough to go for – http://forums.techarena.in/software-development/1472965.htm

  • http://testobject.com Shlomi Wagner

    Thanks for the useful information. Is there any solid resource for the numbers? Especially testing related. Thanks ahead :)