How Much Does it Cost to Build a Mobile App?
Mobile apps help businesses build stronger customer relationships through personalized user experiences and tighter analytics feedback loops.
With the benefits of having a mobile app, it’s no wonder why so many businesses want to port their services to the devices where their customers spend most of their time. So how much does it cost to build a mobile app?
A Clutch survey found the average minimum app development project cost to be between $5,000 to $10,000, but is quick to establish that these starter projects only cover the discovery phase. The actual costs are much higher with a median total app development cost of $171,450.
GoodFirms places a basic app between $40,000 to $60,000, a medium complexity app between $61,000 to $69,000, and a feature-rich app between $70,000 to $100,000.
While it would be nice if there were a simple number, the truth is the cost of a mobile app can vary greatly depending on a number of factors. In this article, we’ll take a look at the various cost factors that go into building a mobile app.
How to calculate mobile app development costs
Generally speaking, the cost of developing a mobile app can be calculated directly from the rates charged by your developers. So for a project that takes 500 developer hours at a rate of $50/hour, that app would cost $25,000.
But predicting how much time it will take a business to develop an app is easier said than done. It varies widely on the types of features and complexity of your app. Here’s how to calculate the cost of developing a mobile app:
- App developer rates, experience, and expertise
- iOS vs. Android
- Mobile app development technologies
- Mobile app features
- Additional talent needs
1. App developer rates, experience, and expertise
When it comes to hiring mobile app developers, price and experience usually go hand in hand. If you’re looking to build the next Uber or Whatsapp, your startup may need to find the optimal mix of experience when building a development team:
- Beginner developers: In the $30 per hour range, entry-level developers can help with debugging, app maintenance, code documentation, and simple feature requests provided you are willing to provide some training on the job.
- Intermediate developers: Charging around $60 per hour, intermediate developers have the general expertise needed to complete most app design projects and new feature requests.
- Senior developers: With average costs ranging in the $120 per hour range, senior developers can lead your app development projects or implement advanced app features.
Browse Project Catalog for more mobile app development services.
Typical rates charged by mobile developers
In addition to experience, rates are also dependent on expertise: the specific technologies an app developer is proficient in.
The breakdown below should give you an idea of the rates of mobile developers on Upwork:
iOS developer: hourly rate $45-75
Beyond fundamentals like Objective C and/or Swift, and the Xcode IDE, iOS developers are also skilled in one or more frameworks and APIs like Foundation, UIKit, and Cocoa. Skills may include familiarity with bug tracking systems like Bugzilla, dependency management tools like CocoaPods, and version control with GitHub—technologies that indicate experience working on project teams.
Android developer: hourly rate $25-85+
Beyond fundamentals like Java, Android SDK, and the Android Studio IDE, Android developers may also be skilled with one or more frameworks like Ionic, Corona, and Material Foundation. Familiarity with bug tracking systems like Jira, dependency management tools like Gradle, and version control with GitHub—technologies typically learned while working on project teams.
React Native developer: hourly rate $25-70
Xamarin developer: hourly rate $25-50+
Xamarin is a free cross-platform, open-source app platform for building mobile apps. Xamarin developers build apps for both iOS and Android using Xamarin, C# programming language, and the .NET framework. If your technology stack relies heavily on Microsoft ecosystem and .NET technologies, a Xamarin developer can help you bring your app to life.
Notice that rates charged by developers also vary slightly between target platform and specific technical skills needed to build your app. Which brings us to our next important cost factor…
2. Platform costs: Pros and cons?
Are you building an app for Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android? There’s no question that you’ll benefit from both markets, but there’s no shame in starting out with the platform that best suits your needs, and expanding your customer base after you’ve made a return on your initial investment. To help you make that choice, here’s a brief breakdown of the pros and cons of each platform.
Android is an open-source Linux-based operating system developed by Google for mobile devices. Examples of Android devices include Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, and the OnePlus.
Android app development ecosystem
- Android SDK
- Google Play Store submission requirements
Pros of Android app development
- Wider market penetration and reach with a larger overall number of users for every category, especially in emerging markets in developing areas.
- Large open-source community with access to Android mods like the famous CyanogenMod (which has been succeeded by LineageOS) or Paranoid Android.
- Deeper access to Android’s operating system with more freedom to innovate.
Cons of Android app development
- Android users spend less and have lower media engagement diversity on average.
- Android developers must deal with more backwards compatibility issues, multiple versions, and a larger variety of phone architectures and screen sizes, which can translate to higher development costs.
iOS is an operating system developed by Apple exclusively for its product line of mobile devices including the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
iOS app development ecosystem
- iOS SDK
- Swift (Objective-C for legacy apps)
- Apple App Store submission requirements
Pros of iOS app development
- iOS users spend more and have higher media engagement diversity on average, including greater participation in M-Commerce (mobile shopping).
- Stricter guidelines and higher quality control tends to translate to a higher quality app with better security.
- Apple’s steady release cycles and tightly controlled device ecosystem ensure most users are running the latest versions of iOS, allowing developers to focus on building for the latest APIs. There are also fewer different phone models and screen sizes for developers to contend with.
Cons of iOS app development
- The usual cons of a closed-source development environment—less freedom to innovate, less access to the operating system, and more stringent rules and regulations to contend with.
- Apple’s frequent updates are a double-edged sword that can add to ongoing maintenance costs.
It is important to note that a capable mobile app developer or team can overcome most of the technical cons of picking one platform over the other. Far more important is the platform that most of your customers prefer to use. The Android versus iOS debate is very much a cultural one, especially in the United States. Market research should be performed to determine which platform best fits your customer demographic.
3. Type of mobile app development technologies
The technology tree you choose as the base for your mobile app development project will ultimately determine who you hire to build the app. Naturally this choice will have a major impact on the overall cost of your app.
Not technically a mobile app, but rather a mobile-friendly website that uses responsive design to ensure a smooth user experience across a variety of screen sizes from tablets to smartphones. This is by far the cheapest option for most small businesses.
An app is considered native if it is built with a language native to the operating system of a given platform or device. That means using Swift or Objective-C for iOS, and Java or Kotlin for Android. The primary advantage of native apps is better performance. The major con is that if you want your app to work across multiple platforms, you’ll need to develop the app exclusively for each operating system. This duplication of effort naturally leads to higher development costs.
Cross-platform app development frameworks like Xamarin and Phonegap, allow you to build your app in one language, creating a single source of code, that can be compiled into native code across multiple platforms as needed. While a cross-platform app will not perform as well as it could if it were developed natively, the advantage of a unified codebase across multiple platforms is worth it for many projects.
4. Core mobile app features
While we’re on the subject of mobile app technologies, the features you choose to include in your app will add to the complexity of your project and impact your overall cost. Here are some common questions to consider when designing your app:
App login & sign-on
How do people sign into your app? Adding functionality to accommodate user profiles can add 15-20 hours or more to your project depending on the complexity of said user accounts. Here’s a brief breakdown of how many development hours are needed to allow your users to sign on to your app:
Not all apps require a login, but user profiles come with major benefits:
- Ability to deliver personalized user experiences to your customers
- Access to high quality user data provided directly from your customers
- Enhanced security and authentication options
It’s for these reasons that most apps provide at least a social login option for their end users.
Tip: For those in need of extra security, SSO (single sign on) may be worth the investment. It’s an authentication method that uses tokens to enable users to securely access multiple sites and applications with one set of credentials.
What do you want your app to be able to do? Will they be buying clothes from an ecommerce shop or booking a hotel room online? Actions like these can be generalized as features with build times:
Payment gateways, in-app purchases, and microtransactions need to be seamless and secure. Think 10-20 hours of development time.
Tip: Ratings and user-reviews are especially important for online stores. While typically quick to integrate, anything custom could add 10 hours or more to development time.
App hardware integrations
What hardware features will your mobile app need to integrate with? Developing an augmented reality (AR) filter app for social media? You’ll need to integrate with the target device’s camera. Adding voice-to-chat functionality to a messenger app? You’ll have to interface with your target platform’s mic.
Here’s a list of build times for common hardware integrations:
Additional mobile app budget considerations
Beyond features and hardware integrations, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help estimate your app development costs:
- Will your app need to integrate with other systems? APIs (application programming interfaces) allow your app to participate in the API economy. Whether you’re integrating with private APIs or public 3rd-party APIs, expect an impact on your development costs.
- What infrastructure will you need? Back-end considerations like databases, cloud storage, and network security will all have a direct impact on development costs.
- Will you need maintenance on an ongoing basis? Mobile apps are never technically finished. It’s important to factor in maintenance like security updates, regular patches, and debugging.
5. Additional team members to build a mobile app
Developers aren’t the only talent needed to carry an app through the development process. A typical mobile app development team might look something like this:
As you can see, while developer hours may account for the bulk of the cost of building an app, it’s important to also factor in QA testing and project management costs into your budget.
6. The cost of outsourcing mobile app development: agencies vs. freelance developers
Much has been written about the cost of mobile app development. The cheapest, quickest option on the market today is probably an app builder site like Buildfire or Apps Builder. If all you need is a simple layout with minimum functionality, app makers can be very economical with tiered subscription plans ranging from $10-150 per month. However, if you want full customizability, and are serious about incorporating a mobile app into your business, you’re going to want a developer. The table below provides a small sampling of the estimates of app development companies.
From our own data-based rates charged by freelancers on Upwork, assuming a 6-month development time for a solid, full-featured v.1.0 app:
These numbers are only estimates and your project costs may vary. In reality, hourly contracts will likely fluctuate by week depending on your project’s needs and your freelancers’ other clients’ needs. How many hours devoted per week can affect the duration of the project, and savings can be gained from leveraging location differences.
The flexibility of hiring freelancers gives you the freedom to build your own team and adjust the overall cost for your project, making it a good fit for small businesses on a budget. You also get access to a global talent pool. The key is to make sure your organization is prepared to properly handle the unique challenges that come with managing this enhanced flexibility.
Ready to build your own mobile app? Check out freelance mobile app developers on Upwork today!
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.