Well, writing this post after a long gap, I was busy contributing on Quora, mashable, or mobilecrunch pertinent to the Mobile business for long. And during my time spent there, I realized that the most common question early stage Mobile start-ups or established companies who are looking to expand their Mobile strategy ask is "How much does it cost to build my first Mobile App", or "How much does it cost to build an App like Instagram or Angry birds etc.".
It is however true that one can't derive a potential development cost of a project (be it an App or any other software for that matter) unless business requirements (Target devices, OS versions, target demography etc.), and Functional requirements (App features, USP feature, Server backed or static app, and much more!), and Level of QA you want; and also "Geography of development" is a factor. :)
But we need to have at least some spread (be it too wide) for the cost, so in this post, we are going to discuss the Question given in bold only, and not the one related to Instagram or Angry birds, since I personally feel that is vague and like asking "how much does it cost to build a movie like Twilight" Huh...so let us focus on reality and forget hypothetical scenarios.
So if you have this question in mind, then it means you have a business plan in place or is in progress. And, then we need to assume some scenarios to nail down on the costing part. Here are the assumptions:
1. We are going to talk about cost on one OS platform only, in this case let us take iOS (iPhone/ iPad/ iPod).
2. We assume that development will be done in phases, so we'll talk about launch version 1.0; and not the cost of evolving the product since it is subjective and depends upon the success.
3. We assume that development will be done by a Third-party Mobile App Developers, mostly located in hot outsourcing destinations like India.
4. We are Not Including the cost for "Marketing/ promotional activities" here. It is strictly for development front.
5. We are Not Including the cost for the development of "creatives/ artwork" here. It is strictly for programming efforts. However, cost of creatives/ artwork is usually lesser for most of the apps, unless it is a 3D game, an e-Book, or high graphic oriented App.
And finally, we need to categorize the Apps (not on the basis of their business type, but in terms of their features/ size etc.) to derive out a cost spread; so here we go (The numbers could be more or less due to inflation and other economic factors) :)
1. A simple App with no backend (and no algorithm!), but just static functionality, with 5-6 screens - should be between 5 to 6K USD. An example could be a simple 'diet planner App", "photo frame app", "calculator app/ budget planner", "Simple grocery list" and so on. These kind of Apps ideas usually come from Individual mobile enthusiasts, with a hope to gain some market (and some have gained huge too), and at I and Agicent appreciate them a lot. It is worth trying instead of sitting and thinking that you had an idea which could’ve done wonders, but you just couldn’t dare!
2. A bit heavier App with a DB/ server (Exchanges data via API), with backend dependent functionality, search/ data inputs/ result screens, with content being exchanged back and forth between client side and server, using device's resource like camera/ gps/ bluetooth functionality etc or more, should be costing between 14 K to 20K (for launch version) (QA and Performance optimization are also a bigger job in such projects). Some examples are - Map based Apps, Event search Apps, News/ Press Center Apps, small sales demo apps for enterprise, consumer-oriented apps, corporate identity apps, City guides/ restro-bar finding apps, taxi apps and so on). Please note that most of the utility apps fall in this category; and this is a competitive slot to be in; but it has gotten an active/ app lover user-base as well, so high competition and high returns. :)
3. A complex App with a decent server side component (with lots of functionality, frequent content management, intelligent algorithms, religious QA/ Testing, using almost all resources of device including camera, gps, accelerometer; and then having features pertinent to iAds, inApp purchase, Video streaming lite/ premium versions, State-of-the art backend CMS panel and much more); such App (or better we call it complete mobile solution) should be costing starting from 25 K USD (for launch version with only core features) to beyond 50K (for advanced versions after achieving good user base).
Some examples could be - a fully fledged "social media app", An Enterprise App (probably mobile CRM thing or so), niche-targeting e-commerce App, Healthcare/ EMR Apps, Location-tracking apps and so on.
4. And if it is a high-graphics oriented game (2D/ 3D etc.)- Then it should be starting from minimum 20 K, and you can then go beyond 100 K (as you'd keep on increasing the features, stages, graphics, of the game; utilizing social media/ game center as well). Take any good game as an example, it must not have been done in price lesser than 20 K.
Bottom line is again the same, pricing depends upon: what kind of app you want to build and what kind of market you are looking to target, and how much concerned you are regarding the quality/ stand-out capability of your App!
And as all experienced software product companies say and share their experience, Note that the development of commercial level software covers only 25-35 % of the overall business-budget that you have, and rest of the money should be utilized to promote/ market your product, and for future upgrades/ updates and support & maintenance. The ideas/ feedback you get from your user base are most valuable and should be catered if one needs growth. So consider this overall cost too, unless you believe that your App idea is "unique" and will become a Holy hit just after you'd submit it. Sorry for the bit of pun, but even to achieve a "word of mouth" you've to invest a lot (and intelligently!) in the beginning!
Another trivial cost is, enrolment to iTunes store should be costing you around 199 $ or so annually to build/ test/ submit/ and sustain your product on the store; so add this too in the “App Development” front only.
Just to recap, I didn't cover the "fee for artwork/ creative work" here and the “cost of marketing”; and in any of the slots given above except games - cost of artwork should be ranging between 10 to 25 % of the overall price. In case of Game, that could be more than 50 % sometimes. ;)
Feel free to let the questions and discussions flow, you can either comment on this post, or write me an Email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out our contact us form here. http://www.agicent.com/contact_us.html. I’ll be prompt in answering genuine feedback/ questions.
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Director of Business
PS: I am thinking to cover the topics of “How to successfully manage and get executed your software project”, and “What are my ROIs in Mobile App business”. Let me know if these sounds interesting, or Email me with what you want me to write.