So you might be toying around with the idea of a mobile app for your business or project. Maybe you think it’s kind of a “pie in the sky” idea, something that you will probably never get around to.
But I really encourage people to think hard about it, and to explore their options. After all, there was a time, not too long ago, that having a website was considered “fancy” or “forward looking.” Now people would be shocked if you didn’t have a website. It’s so normal that not having one makes people say, “ummmm… what?”
So while apps might right now seem like stuff that “other people” do, it’s not going to remain that way forever. This is actually a great thing. Apps are currently exploding, and have been doing so for a few years, but it’s still way behind the website curve.
Imagine if you could go back to 1997, for example, and be one of the first wave of non-tech businesses to have a really functional, attractively designed websites that worked. Sure, in 1997, there were already hundreds of thousands of functional business sites out there, but it was a tiny fraction of what the web has become today.
Apps are not “brand new” anymore, but they’re still somewhat in their infancy. There may come a time in the future that everyone has one available. It’s time to ask yourself if you want to get in on the wave now, so you are experienced and well-established well before the time everyone starts copying.
So that brings us to the real meaty question. How much does it cost to develop a mobile app. That’s where things really change when we compare it to a website. Each app needs to be individually developed, and that means you need to hire experts to do the programming and design.
For extremely simple apps, you might be able to do some of the basic design work yourself with a copy of PhotoShop, but unless you’re an experienced coder, you are going to need to hire someone to write the code.
The price of making an app can scale pretty low, to quite high. The good news is that you can pick how much you are willing to invest.
At the low end, you can expect to spend at least $1000 on a professional looking app. This includes apps that are basically just a series of tables, accessible through the touch screen of your phone.
Maybe that sounds dull, but don’t underestimate how much you can do with this. If you have specialized information you want to share with clients, it’s a great way to go. Let’s say you offer a wine-pairing service. You might have an encyclopedic knowledge of wine in your mind that would work great in app form. People scroll through a list of food options and click on something, and up pops your recommendation for a varietal of wine to pair with that food. Then they click on the varietal, and up pops a list of good wines in that varietal, complete with their price point and where they can buy it.
That can all be done with tables. If you supply the information, a programmer can pretty easily design the architecture to make it work well. Add in some money for nice graphics and visual design, and you can spend between $1000 and $5000 for this kind of app.
If you want a higher degree of interactivity, or you want to include some of the functionality of the device itself (camera, GPS, sound, etc), you can expect to pay a bit more, but it might be really worth it.
The upside to involving the funcionality of the phone is that it makes the app into something they can’t just do with a normal web browser. After all, if you all you offer is something that doubles Wikipedia… why wouldn’t the customer just use Wikipedia?
Maybe your wine app (to continue our example) could integrate with Google’s text-reading capabilities and allow people to take pictures of a wine bottle and get back personalized tasting notes from your wine experts, along with food recommendations and a list of similar wines. The knowledge is all still something that you must provide with your expertise, but the functionality of the app has completely changed.
As you add on functionality, things get more expensive for the programmer. This range of apps can cost between $10,000 and $50,000.
ROLLS ROYCE APPS
This is what you want to do if you are dead serious about your business and you have a very strong idea of how your app is going to feed into your business and make money for you. The app can make money for you by driving sales of your service or merchandise, or it can make money because people pay to download it or premium versions of it. (Popular games like Angry Birds are an example of the latter).
These kinds of apps can have highly variable costs, and while you should definitely shop around to compare prices, you can expect to spend as much as $100,000 or even $200,000 for a completely original, well-designed, gorgeous-looking app with high, unique functionality.
In this case, of course, you should be getting exactly what you want, all the time. There should be no “yeah buts” from your developers. If they can’t do it, find someone who can.
Games and highly unique apps are expensive because they have be designed down to the milisecond. Obviously, only spend this kind of dough if you really have a strong plan for how it’s going to make you lots of money.
HOSTING, PLATFORMS, AND OTHER CONCERNS
There is a cost to getting these things up into the iTunes store, on the Google Play list, etc., but these costs run in the $50 to $200 range, and are included in the above costs. The real cost of developing an app are twofold: coding and design. That’s where the bulk of your budget will go.
And keep in mind, if you skimp on those costs, you will get a skimpy product! The market is pretty well defined right now, and while costs might slide down a little bit in the future, the basic costs are what they are.
Now that you know what you can buy with your budget, it’s time to make your plan, find your team and bring your ideas to life. The world of app development is still in its infancy.