You know making apps is not cheap, but have you ever tried to put a number to it? Most of us have had the experience of friends or family coming up with an app idea, and then having to ask an app developer friend for help. After all, how much can it really cost when everyone’s doing it? Well, next time pass them a link to this post for a sobering look at what it takes to build a successful app.
First thing’s first, what do we mean by cost?
You mean there’s more to building an app than hiring a geeky programmer guy? Yup. When getting started on any business project it’s all too easy to undershoot cost estimates. Here’s a heads-up on some of the costs you’ll need to consider when building an app:
App Development - the lines of code and their corresponding architecture needed to provide the processes and functionality of your app - the gears in the background. If you’re targeting more than one platform (think iPhone + Android) you will be paying a lot more unless you use a platform like PhoneGap, which has its own limitations.
Design - all the visual aspects of your app including the user interface and experience - the pretty front-end stuff. And it has to be very pretty or your app will remain on the virtual shelf.
Equipment - this includes all the machines behind the scenes (server-side) that allow your app to run and process data. What you need will depend on what your app does and how many users you serve but most apps these days include backend functionality - think social features, image sharing, record keeping and synchronizing, etc.
Testing - making sure your app actually works before releasing it to the masses
Updates and support - planning on having your app run for more than a week? Then you’ll probably need a team in place to work on bugs, release updates, and offer user support. For the purpose of this article we’ll leave these ongoing costs out of the equation.
Marketing - you may be brave and let the app sell itself, but it would be wise to set aside some money for marketing. At least to kick-start adoption in the beginning.
Other - this could include expenses like acquiring older mobile devices for testing, legal expenses for terms of service, and the value of your own time that will be consumed by the project.
The Buffer - add at least another 25% to your planned budget, as app projects rarely roll out as neatly as they’re outlined on paper.
Show Me The Money - Revenue
Before you start tossing money at developing an app, you should probably create a plan on how you’ll get money flowing back in. First off, consider that free apps get a ton more downloads than paid apps. Having more downloads means that more people will see your great app, talk about it, share it and help you gain traction.
The tricky part is actually earning an income from a free app, but there are some options here. You can set aside screen space in your app for advertising and/or add in-app purchasing (think: upgrading to premium features, buying items in a game, etc.). If you have a great app and highly satisfied users, you can easily make a few dollars per loyal user with a free app. Take some time to think through the execution of your concept before you get started. It needs to make dollars and sense.
If you want to learn more about monetization take a glance at our last week’s post How not to make money with your app, in 3 easy steps.
Start at $10,000
Even if it looks as simple as a McDonalds toy, it costs more than you have in your piggy bank. Try at least $10,000. Anything on the cheaper end of $10,000 may be overlooking some important aspects of having a successful app (see above, did you get a good designer? Do you have a robust server-side support?) This amount seems to be consensus on putting together a simple yet beautiful app on a single platform like iOS.
Our own experience with Tapfolio has shown us that even the best laid plans tend to run over budget. By the time we were finished we were almost 100% over our budget as late product tweaks messed with our timelines. What should have been a $25,000 app ended up costing over $40,000 by the time version 1 was available for sale.
If your app concept is more complex, the price will fly up even further. One of the developers that worked on Twitterific put together a great response to how much it costs to develop an iPhone application, concluding with a $250,000 cost estimate.
Making It ‘Appen
TheyMakeApps is a great place to start looking at for hiring mobile app makers and understanding what you can get for a given price. You can search their catalogue of app makers based on location, platform (Android, iPhone, Blackberry, etc.), and the app’s estimated total cost for completion.
Each development company displays a mini portfolio of their previously created apps - likely from their quoted price range - allowing you to view them in the App Store to get a solid idea of the functionality and quality you can expect at their given price range.
Still Want To Make An App?
After taking a quick glance at the numbers behind app making, it becomes clear that it’s not as simple, or cheap, as you’ve probably hoped. Taking the plunge into building an app requires a significant investment of time, energy, money and knowledge - the right team - and is never an overnight success. Nonetheless, maybe you’re still feeling strongly about your app idea. At least now you’re more informed, and can attack the beast with greater clarity.
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