By 2017, 25% of IT budgets will go toward mobile apps.  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 and product owners 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.

The truth is, App development is expensive and it’s the reason some businesses are hesitant to adopt mobile applications in the first place. This guide aims to help you better understand the key drivers of cost in developing an app, the hourly rates of development, and time & resources that go into app development so you can understand why quality apps cost so much.

Major Cost Drivers

Every mobile app will be unique, but these are the main factors that will go into the overall costs of developing your mobile app.


Android, iOS, or both? While that question may be overused, deciding which platforms and devices your app will exist on plays the biggest factor in the overall cost.  The support and programming needed for multiple screen resolutions and devices quickly becomes resource-intensive, requiring more of developers’ time. The cost of development goes up with the number of devices you support.


If the app requires integration with existing data sources or with data from 3rd party APIs, expect the cost to increase. For example, integration with Salesforce, Sharepoint, SAP, or even social media will require more of the developers’ time – especially if they’re unfamiliar with the APIs.

However, while it will cost you more up front, integration points save you time and money in the long run.  A standalone app with no integration points will be easy to code, but one that needs to call external sources and APIs requires more time and resources.


How will the app handle users? There’s a major difference in standard e-mail/password logins, social logins, and top-level security enterprise logins.  Depending on the complexity of which you will manage users, the cost of app will increase.


Do you need to store large files on the app? If it’s important to be able to store video, images, and audio files within the application then the cost will increase.


Do you need to use location data?  Do you need access to the camera to make for easy document uploads? The amount of programming required to utilize the hardware of a phone is extensive. To use GPS, location data, motion detectors, or the camera requires a good amount of coding.  If using the hardware of phones is in the vision, expect to pay more.


If users need to be sent notifications as a part of approval workflow, or to be updated on activities within groups, the cost will increase. If you plan on using any type of notification including push, SMS, or e-mail – expect to pay more.


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.

If the app is going to exist on multiple operating systems and devices, you could be paying for weeks of design work. In addition, if you want your app to go beyond the Minimal Viable Product and become a polished app, you will have to pay more.  Quality design work is not cheap and will play a key role in the overall cost of an app.


What KPIs do you need to track? How important is it to capture user engagement metrics? If it’s imperative to track important measures, whether by integrating platforms like Google Analytics or building one from scratch, then you need to configure that into the cost.


Does the application need a web-based portal for admin purposes? For instance, everyone knows Uber as a mobile application that connects riders with drivers, but everything is managed from a centralized web portal.  If it’s important to have a web application to oversee all operations of the mobile application, expect to pay more.


Mobile apps aren’t finished upon completion of development and deployment.  Once you begin to capture the usability heuristics and understand how the apps are being used, you’ll need to reiterate on your mobile offerings to add new features and functionalities depending on user needs. Upgrading and maintaining applications come at a cost.

Required Development Hours

Now that we know the major drivers of cost, we’ll take a look at the stages of the app development and hours allotted for each task within each phase.

The stages of app development are broken down into the following:

  • Planning
  • Design
  • Features/Functionality
  • Infrastructure
  • Admin
  • Test
  • Deployment


Research and Discovery: 8 to 40 hours

The research stage usually involves interviewing stakeholders to gain understanding of the unique gap the application will ultimately fill.  It’s at this stage that the overall functionality and features as well as the platforms and devices are determined.  Time should be allotted for unfamiliarity with the software development process on the client side, and any market research the client hasn’t completed before working with the vendor.

Defining the Scope: 10 to 30 hours

Defining the vision, purpose, and goals of the app.  The client and vendor will go over what’s expected from each side during the development process.  The time of this phase can be reduced if the client has already documented the scope of the app.


Wire framing: 15 to 55 hours

The more features and screens required for the application, the more time it will take.  The amount of detail that needs to go into each screen will be the determining factor of how many hours it takes to complete wire framing.

Visual Design: 15 to 90 hours

Depending on the platforms you decide to develop for, there could be dozens of app screens to design. Think smartphones, tablets, phablets, etc.  If you’re using images, icons and other graphic designs on multiple operating systems and devices, the design work quickly adds up.

If you’re looking for a quality app that delivers an engaging user experience, then you’ll need to invest in good design, and good design takes time.

User Experience: 10 to 30 hours

User experience design ensures the app is easy to use with logical navigation and on-screen elements.  The hours dedicated to UX are not normally considered a separate step, but are built into each feature’s design or the wire framing process.  Depending on the vendor you are working with, this could be an additional cost that’s already taken care of within the wire framing and visual design phases.

Features & Functionality

Native Features: 5 to 30 hours

Developing features for each native operation system. There is no easy way to develop features for one operating system and easily duplicate it.  Every feature and functionality needs to be developed for each platform, which takes time.

User Login: 5 to 30 hours

More often than not, the users of an application will need to login to have full access.  Whether that’s done through e-mail, social, or an enterprise account – it’s one of the most important steps as security comes into play.


Infrastructure Setup: 5 to 20 hours

The actual programming of the application. At this stage, the application’s server-side framework and database structure are developed.

Data storage Setup: 5 to 40 hours

Setting up the framework for the app to store data.  This will depend on the size of the files that will need to be stored. Do you need simple structured data that’s suited for a database, or will you need to store images, video, and audio files? This could be very time-consuming.

Integration Points: 30 to 100 hours

If your app needs to integrate with external data sources like Salesforce, SAP, or Oracle or integrate with third party APIs like Facebook, you’ll need to plan for more hours.

Security: 10 to 40 Hours

The level of security at which you want your app to operate could take time.  Do you want to encrypt data on the device and server, allowing yourself to remotely wipe a device cache? Will you need security measures in place to prevent unauthorized users from accessing data?  The more secure you want your application, the more time it will take. 

Scalability: 25 to 130 hours

Do you want to auto scale servers and keep regular backups? Thinking about the future of the app during the initial development will help save time and money in the long run, but requires time up-front.

App Admin Features

Analytics: 8 to 20 hours

Developing the platform that’ll help understand user behaviors and assess performance. The more complex the parameters you need to track, the more time the developers will need.

Web Backend: 35 to 120

Sometimes a mobile app will require a web application to manage app users, drive content, and centralize data. Think Uber – while Uber’s mobile apps connect riders and drivers, the web backend allows admins to oversee all operations.  The size and cost of the Web app or CMS will depend on the purpose of the app and the complexity of the needed solution. In addition, if you need to design and develop a custom user interface, costs could quickly add up.


Testing: 30 to 160 hours

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


Deployment: 5 to 10 hours

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.

To better understand the allotted hours for each stage, here’s the overall layout of hours:

Hourly Costs of Developers

Now that it’s understood what the key drivers are and the hours required for each phase, we’ll take a look at the hourly costs so you can start to put together actual estimates of a project.

Hourly app development rates can range anywhere between $10 up to $120, depending on skills, availability and the developers’ location.  Here’s a look at hourly app development costs for companies around the world:


To finally figure an estimate, take the hours required to develop all of the features and functionalities you want and combine it with the hour rates of developers.  What you end up with is a rough estimate of what your mobile application will cost.

Cost Estimators

If you’re looking to get a rough estimate of what your mobile app will cost, there are different tools out there that will give you rough estimate.  While they may not give you a very accurate estimate, it will allow you to see the different factors that different companies consider important in configuring the overall cost of an app.