How Much Does it Cost to Develop an App

| Blog | June 15, 2012


According to Apple there are over 500,000 approved apps on the itunes app store and over 1 billion app downloads as of 2012. The success of Apple’s appstore has also spread to other appstoresincluding,Android,Blackberry,and every other mobile market.

The trajectory is clearly expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. Having an app for your business or promotion or can be a game changing marketing tool to drive traffic and revenue. The barrier to entry into this market is quite low and we’re starting to see more and more apps flood the market. It doesn’t take much to enter this market as long as you have a good idea and know how to market your apps.

Let’s talk about what goes into getting an app developed and how much it might cost.

Types of Apps You Can Develop

There are many different kinds of apps you can develop. This goes beyond the categories that Apple groups the apps into – food, lifestyle, sports, etc, and into the architecture of different types of apps. Speaking in broad strokes, the basic buckets of app types you can create are:

  • Basic table functionality – think about this as a hierarchy: opening screen has big topics and you click one and you now have a set of new lists to click on. The email in the iPhone is a good example of this. Definitely the easiest to build and design and a good option for businesses who want a “simple” app that displays basic information. It’s very possible to make table based apps work with a good iphone app designer.
  • Database driven – Imagine you have a whole load of content that you want to utilize. An example would be having hundreds of dog breeds that you want to organize and display differently. This can be done beyond the basic table format to make the app really work. Development on this gets more complex and starts to get into whether or not you want the data housed “native” (built into the app) or “dynamic” (built into an online web services). We’ll talk about that later.
  • Games – These have the largest range of complexity, starting with something as simple as a PONG type functionality (imagine Atari) all the way up to a 3D physics engine that does high speed air racing. Scoring points, incorporating the user experience through the physical movement of the device, and hooking into Game Center are all possible.
  • Enhancement of existing functionality – This means that you take certain functions of the phone, such as the alarm, camera, or flash, and make it better. One of my favorite examples of this is the Camera+ app that adds filters to any pictures you take on your phone.
  • Fully dynamic apps – Similar to the database driven apps, these apps are the kind that rely purely on external information – Twitter, Weather Channel, Flipboard.
  • Custom utilities – These are apps that are geared towards allowing the user to input content in a specific way. Examples are Pages, Adobe Ideas, and Numbers.
  • Everything else – I’m sure there are some apps out there that are completely unique, but I would say the list above covers 95% of what’s in the store today.

The type of app you want to develop may change based on how much content you have and how much control you want to have over the entire process. It’s important to realize that you can get apps done very quickly and cheaply if you know what type of app you want to develop – going into the process without being open to another option could cost you big time.

Once you have the app up in the store, you can monitor all the analytics on the back side of it through iTunes Connect. There are also new tools from and that will provide 3rd party verified analytics you can use to post on sites like if you want to sell your app business. There are lots of different ways to drive revenue with apps, including advertisements inside the app and being able to purchase additional information through the app (in-app purchases). You can see everything happening. You can also have someone monitor this account the way you would have someone monitor your PPC or SEO campaigns so that you are always maximizing your traffic and revenue.

iPhone App Development Costs

Development for iPhone apps deals with both programming the logic as well as graphics and sounds that might go into the app. One thing to note is that these costs can vary depending on what devices you are developing. Make sure you ask your developer what you are developing for – basic iPhone, iPhone 4, iPad or all of the above. I’ll see what I can do break out typical development costs for different example projects based in the US. For offshore development you will get much lower pricing, but you’ll have to be really good at managing the project and providing lots of guidance on design and development. Freelance programmers may be really good at programming, but may have little experience with graphics development, how to get audio for you app, or the logic of the app you’re trying to accomplish. Providing developers with examples of working apps that are similar to what you want developed can help this process.

If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have any sort of background with developing apps you can expect the following:

  • Simple app $1,000-$2000 – you provide all the content, clear direction, and example apps of what you want it to do. If you know your way around Photoshop, you can probably supply the graphics which will cap this project at $1,000. The additional costs are when you want to GPS locators, Social media integration or bells and whistles like that.
  • Database App (native)$3,000-$40,000 – Again, you provide every piece of content, image, writing, sound, etc. The cost is going to come from creating the logic within the app and architecting all the usability and/or game play. The content will usually be dropped in and then parsed accordingly. These projects tend to be front heavy since the data is what’s driving the entire game and the framework is so important.
  • Games$5,000-$125,000 – The hardest to ballpark. As a benchmark, I’ve heard Angry Birds cost anywhere from $125K-$180K to develop. They had a team of developers who had lots of experience. In fact Angry Birds was there 18th game they released. Talking to some developers who are into the hardcore game source code (render, sound, maths, physics, etc), many of the racing games will that use the gyroscope will be $100,000 without even blinking – and that’s just for the code. Even if you try to keep it hyper simple, games get complicated quickly. Hooking into game center, having top scores, and integrating with an online community can be tricky. The benefit of a game is that they download in much greater number. As a marketer, there is nothing more viral than a fun game, which is something to keep in mind for your ROI.
  • Additional Includes – See below – here’s a quick list of additional functions you may want to add into your current app:
    • In-App Purchasing – $1,000-$2,000 – this allows for users to buy new content or full versions of the apps. The cost spread comes from the amount of in-app purchasing, the complexity, and whether or not you build it all into the first app or if you are doing it from a server.
    • Web Services – $1,000-$2,000 – This is taking the content to a remote access point so that you can update your app with an XML files instead of raw code changes. The degree to what you need varies but I would recommend having this conversation with your developer before getting too deep – it can save you HUGE headaches down the road.
    • Game Center – $500-$1000 – Apple’s done a good job at making this integration easy with the SDK. As long as you keep the numbers clean, you should be able to integrate easily.
    • Share Capabilities – $500-$1,500 – This is mostly for social media (twitter, facebook) and emailing, but there can be other integrations. WordPress websites, for example, may be one. Lots of options and most of these platforms have robust APIs to make it work well.

iPhone App Design Costs

App designs usually come in packages, much the same way development does – you will buy a “suite” of .png and PSD files that fulfill all your needs. This includes all necessary screens and icons. You will be surprised at how many different pieces there are, the icon alone needs about 4 different sizings for a universal app (iPhone and iPad). Here’s a rough breakdown of costs:

  • iPhone only (usually the base line is not done for the retina display, as seen in the iPhone 4 as they require higher resolution files) – $500-10,000 – This will get you a base level design that you can send over to the developer who will be able to add these images into the code. HELPFUL TIP: ask the developer what they want the files named and do that for them before sending. It will save you both lots of time and headaches.
  • iPhone 4 Compatible – Add 25% to above cost – these images will be sized at 960 x 640px height (twice the 480×320 for the regular iPhone)
  • iPad – Add 50% to above cost – this is assuming that the layout is very similar and user flow is also similar. In many cases you will have to create alternate functionality to accommodate for the iPad size and speed, which requires new designs.

The icons should be included in this entire package and you can probably ask for screen shots if you want to have some that are better than doing a simple screen grab of your phone. I’ll say it again – don’t skimp on design….you’ll have a MUCH harder time making your money back.

Total App Costs

There really aren’t any hidden fees except the the $99 Apple will charge you per year and the 30% cut they take for each sale you make. Everything else will be in development, design, and IT architecture (hosting, servers, etc). The total cost of an app can vary based on all the different variables from above.

You can definitely find all-inclusive firms that will do everything for you for $1,000 or so, just be wary of the quality and how much control you will have over the process. Just like anything in web marketing, low costs means they have to make it up in volume and the client feels that the hardest. Think less about the cost and more about what strategy will have the biggest ROI before pulling out your checkbook. Even if you let the app sit in the store for a year, putting some light marketing and analytics attention on it can easily help pay for your investment. I’ve seen apps that cost $3,000 drive about 2K new users to a website a month, with an average time on site that is 400% higher than web visitors. You can get very creative in how you market these visits.

As app development becomes more mainstream we’ll see a drastic reduction in the overall development costs. Today we can compare app development costs of mobile apps to the early days of web development costs. As web development become more ubiquitous and standardized we saw many new tools that allowed even those with limited or no coding experience to launch their own web sites. The same will be true for mobile apps. We’re already seeing tools that allow users to develop simple apps today. In the future the ability of these tools to deploy some very advanced apps will only get better.

About SellMyApplication: (SMA) was founded in 2010 by a small group of app developers based out of Boston, MA USA. We were first to market with the idea of creating a mobile app marketplace for mobile app businesses. Our site is focused on connecting developers interested in buying, selling, trading, or licensing apps they’ve written. SMA has quickly become the leading marketplace with thousands of registered developers and millions of visitors every year.

With you’ll be able to reach a highly targeted audience of app developers, entrepreneurs, and users interested in purchasing code to improve existing projects or expand their reach across to new customers. Read our FAQ to get started.

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