Mobile is on everyone’s agenda this year and will steadily increase its percentage of budget allocation. It’s been predicted that 25% of IT budget will go toward mobile apps by 2017.  As businesses begin to understand how mobile fits into their overall technology infrastructure, they’ll need to budget and plan for their mobile initiatives.  The problem is that decision makers struggle with understanding the scope and investment that goes into developing a mobile application.

Each individual mobile application, whether for business or consumer use, will be unique and dependent on several key decisions.  Apps are not built in a week – there’s a process that goes into creating a successful mobile app and if you don’t properly plan and budget for it, you could ultimately hinder the execution of your overall mobile strategy.

App development is expensive, and it’s the reason some businesses are hesitant to adopt mobile applications. The following list will help you understand the key drivers of cost in developing an app so that you’ll be able to deliver the best return on investment.

The Complexity

Man Using Tablet

The functionality and features needed for your app to be successful is the key driver in the cost of your app. There’s a reason every app development project starts with a discovery phase.  It involves understanding the business flow, the goal and purpose of the app, and how the app will improve current business processes. It’s at this stage that the development team gains an understanding of what functionality and features are required.

Will the app leverage existing technologies or will it need to be built from scratch? How many different user types will the app need to be built for? Does the app need e-mail login, reporting, an admin dashboard and user profiles? Once the team has a clear understanding of the goals of the application, they determine what functionalities are needed for the app to be successful.

The functionalities and features of an app will play a major role in the overall cost.

Platforms and Devices

Devices & Operating Systems

Android, iOS, or both? HTML5 or native apps? You’ve probably seen those questions so many times it hurts to look at, but it’s the most important factor in budgeting for an app.  The support and programming needed for multiple screen resolutions and devices quickly becomes resource-intensive, requiring more of developers’ time which could leadto the cost of development to double or even triple.

The number of platforms and devices you need to develop for may ultimately have the biggest impact on the cost of your mobile application.


Mobile Commerce

Depending on the platforms you decide to develop for, there could be dozens of app screens to design. Think smartphones, tablets, phablets, etc.  Developing wireframes for each takes time and the complexity of each screen could have a designer working on one screen for days.

Add on multiple operating systems and devices, and you’re paying for weeks of design work.  If you’re looking for a quality app that delivers a seamless user experience, then you’ll need to invest in good design.  Quality design work is not cheap, and plays a key role in the overall cost of an application.  If a great user exprience is important, it will come at a cost.

Architecture and Framework

Programming Expertise

The obvious factor: the actual programming. While there are many different areas of programming that will factor into the cost of an app, the following are usually what drives costs:

  • App Framework – developing the application’s server-side framework and database structure.
  • Server-side Programming – writing code to implement the back-end functionality of the app.
  • API programming – connecting app screens to the server-side application and database.
  • Integration Points – Integrating with enterprise and third party systems such as the company CRM, CMS, and ERP.
  • Hardware Access – programming the app to use the hardware of the phone such as the camera, GPS, or processing power
  • Custom Add Ons –  programming features like in-app purchases or a web back end system.


mobile as an extension

Ensuring the app works the way you envisioned.  That involves testing the app screens for bugs, testing the back-end code for performance and security, and testing the overall flow of the application.

Businesses could risk the user adoption percentage if they deploy an app before it’s ready. Essentially, you’re paying for Quality Assurance Specialists and Testers that will ensure your mobile app is running as smoothly as possible.



The app has now been designed, developed, tested and is ready to go live.  The application needs to be installed, a reliable server environment needs to be created, and the application needs to be submitted to iTunes, Google Play, or any necessary corporate app stores.  The licensing costs and app submissions play a minor role in the cost, but are necessary.