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The True Cost of Building A Mobile App

Posted by Drew Melendy on Dec 7, 2018 2:42:39 PM
Drew Melendy

Did you know that 90% of time spent on mobile devices are spent in apps? This is great news for anyone looking to develop one. But what will that cost you?

Well, the cost to build an app from scratch can vary wildly. If you ask a developer the cost of making a mobile app, it’s likely the response will be, “It depends.”

Apps built with basic e-commerce checkout may start around $25,000, and those with more complex functionality like social integrations and purchase recommendation engines can reach over $200,000.

So why such a steep price? Many people don’t understand the main costs you will encounter when building an e-commerce app from scratch. Here’s why building an app from the ground up is so costly.

Woman writing code for mobile app development

1. Labor costs

Building anything takes resources. When it comes to app developers, those resources are time and experience based.


As the old adage goes, “time is money.” This is certainly true with app development. A well-designed app that’s been through extensive testing and revisions will take time. While this timetable varies greatly depending on complexity, you can expect it to take 4-6 months minimum to create and release the first version of your app. If the app is complex, it can take much longer.


Like most service businesses, there’s a wide variety of developers and development teams to choose from and a lot of variability in pricing. Hourly wages may also rise with other factors such as education, certification, and additional skills.

The average hourly wage for an experienced Mobile Application Developer in the United States is $100. While it’s possible to hire a single developer to build your app, many businesses opt for hiring teams of developers that work in parallel to get the job done quicker. However, more moving parts add complexity, multiplies those hourly wages, and incurs further project management costs.

Whichever you choose, they need to be aligned with your vision and be disciplined in meeting delivery milestones. Otherwise, the ensuing confusion can stretch out timetables and grind down your development budget quickly.

Android or iOS? Which will you develop your app for?

2. Platform Costs

Most devices use one of the two dominant operating systems in the world, Android or iOS. In the U.S., it’s nearly an even split between the popularity of these two. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you develop an app for both. There are two ways to accomplish this.

Building a Native App

In layman’s terms, native apps are designed for a specific platform and developed in the coding languages accepted by these platforms. For Android, those languages are Java and Kotlin, while for iOS Objective-C and Swift.

Since both require two separate languages, it will mean twice the expertise, twice the work, and twice the money. However, it pays to invest in these. Since they’re built specifically for each platform, native apps offer the fastest, most reliable, and most responsive experience. This is why they are the most common type of app.

Building a Hybrid App

Hybrid apps are written in a coding language that supports both platforms. In turn, they are faster and cheaper to build. This seems the obvious choice. However, they have their drawbacks. Hybrid apps are slower, have limited capabilities, and can lead to poor user experience if the interface design is too heavily influenced by one platform over the other.

Developers collaborating over mobile app design.

3. Design & Development Costs

The design process starts with understanding how the app will look and work for a consumer through wireframing, visual design, and user experience (UX) design.

During this time, you will determine which features that are needed for a successful shopping app. Basic features such as push notifications, user ratings and reviews, and user login, tend to be cheaper. More complex features, such as payment systems, web portals, and integration with native features, will raise the cost substantially.

In a survey conducted by Clutch, app development companies lent a cost estimate of commonplace app features.

Cost Estimate of Features

Clutch Cost Estimate of App Features

Source: Clutch

After determining the basics, you can pick and choose which additional features you want, bringing light to the full scope of the project. The more complex these features are, the more expensive the project will be.

Once the designing process is done, the development can begin. This process will make up the largest part of the entire mobile app building process. During this time, developers will code all features.

Another survey by Clutch revealed that most participants spent anywhere from $5,000 - $10,000 on this stage.

Avg. Cost of App Development

Average Cost of App Development

Source: Clutch

Laptop with code on screen

4. Testing & Deployment Costs

Testing is absolutely necessary for creating a quality product. Sometimes extended timetables are altogether unavoidable as developers focus on testing, bug fixes, and jumping user experience or design hurdles. You can come to expect a change in time estimates in app development. This is quite normal. You may want to increase your budget for this process.

Testing & Deployment Costs

Testing and Deployment Costs

Source: Clutch

Cogs receiving maintenance

5. Maintenance

While business owners understand that they must carve out a budget for an app's development and launch, many fail to incorporate the long-term costs of an app after it is launched.

Apps require on-going maintenance and regular updates to function on the latest operating systems as well as licensing, data hosting, and monitoring costs. In addition, developers must continuously apply and improve features to your app to keep up with industry trends if you want to stay competitive.

Learn some tips and tricks on how to design your mobile app icon

A Breakdown of Costs

A breakdown of costs indicates a significant financial investment for any mobile app, but with a wide range of exact potential cost. Here, Clutch provides a median low and high of expected hours for each.

Full Breakdown of All Costs

Full Breakdown of Costs Involved with ground-up mobile app development.

Source: Clutch

Final Thoughts

Building an app from scratch takes a great deal of consideration and resources. Having established that it's a costly and complicated process, you may be interested in the alternative. Private label app development companies, such as CommentSold, help businesses by creating a branded mobile app for them at a fraction of the cost of developing one from scratch. Not only will that save you money, but it will also expedite getting your app to market.

Plus, with an established e-commerce app development company at the helm, you can rest assured that your app is up-to-date with the latest buying trends, engagement tactics, and effective features. Companies like these offer expertise and are uniquely positioned to maintain and grow your app's effectiveness over time. Simply put, you can focus on what you do best while they handle the rest!

Topics: Technology, Mobile App

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