Figuring the costs of custom mobile business app development
(Last updated October 25, 2015. Originally posted July 7, 2012.)
How much to develop a business app?
Last month the New York company Fueled shared this bit of information about what their clients pay for mobile app development:
Although Fueled has built version one products for as little as $150,000, the agency has also catered to customers who had more extensive requirements for their minimum viable product – costing them as much as $500,000 for their first version app.
Similarly another company, Savvy Apps, in 2015 described its app development services as costing “anywhere between $150,000 to $450,000.”
These are two similar data points, but surveys provide a wider range of data.
App development cost surveys
Kinvey survey: $270,000 average cost per app
A Kinvey report based on a survey of CIOs and Mobile Leaders found that mobile application development is “costly, slow and frustrating.” According to this November 2014 survey:
56 percent of mobile leaders surveyed say it takes from 7 months to more than one year to build one app. 18 percent say they spend from $500,000 to over $1,000,000 per app, with an average of $270,000 per app.
Clutch survey: $171,450 median cost per app
A survey of 12 “leading mobile application development companies” by Clutch asked about the number of hours required for mobile app development activities, and calculated that the “median high” cost as $171,450, with a very wide range from under $30K to over $700K. The report, released in January 2015, includes detailed breakdowns of cost drivers:
It’s interesting to note that the largest cost driver according to the Clutch survey is not the features of the app but the infrastructure, which includes:
- Basic controls
- Data storage
- 3rd party integration
- Access to enterprise data
- Data encryption
App development cost calculators
Several mobile app and platform companies are now offering calculators that let you specify the features you need and see a ballpark estimate of how much your app will cost. We ran a hypothetical app project through each calculator, answering the questions to represent the kinds of features and complexity we see in our own customers’ high-end mobile solution requirements.
Our example project is for iOS and Android and includes login authentication, complex business logic and UI, offline functionality, and backend connections. Keeping the estimates parallel was an inexact science because they each ask different questions, but we made the effort. Below are the results.
Otreva calculator: $360,000
Tusnua Designs calculator: €215,000
imason calculator: $267,000
Note: This calculator that can generate an estimate over a million dollars if you keep adding features. Our first effort to calculate an app with similar features rang up at $473,000, which seemed out of line with the other calculators. A little investigation revealed that a single feature we had selected — workflow — accounted for over over $200K of that total. Our revised estimate without workflow (“a 5-10 step process that involves complex enterprise business logic and decisions”) yielded the more typical estimate of $267,000.
Kinvey calculator: $321,000
This Kinvey estimate was for the price of building the apps yourself. To be fair, Kinvey also calculated the lower cost of $139,000 to build the app using their own BaaS platform.
Kony calculates the 3-year total cost of ownership. Like Kinvey, Kony also suggests the same app would be substantially less expensive ($133,000) on their own MADP platform.
Continuing costs after development
It would be a mistake to think of app design and development as a one-time cost. Creating the app may just be the tip of the iceberg, or better yet, the first step of a long journey.
Multiply development cost by 3
A Forrester Survey once found that the average amount spent on a typical mobile app ($50,000 to $150,000) turns out to be just 35% of the true two-year cost.
Budget thousands per month
Commentum in 2015 estimated the maintenance cost for a medium-sized enterprise application project to be in the range of $5,000 to $11,000 per month. Even the lowest estimate for a small project is not insubstantial at $3,000 per month — and a larger project ranges as high as $25,000 per month.
Plan for several updates per year
According to an AnyPresence survey of enterprise mobile application development professionals, found that over 80% reported updating their apps at least twice a year and nearly a third were updating at least once a month. Frequent updating can be a major ongoing cost driver
An alternative to app development: Subscription software services
App development and management costs can be avoided by companies whose needs can be met instead with software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. For example, companies needing mobile customer relationship management (CRM) solutions can subscribe to Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics and pay a monthly fee per user rather than developing custom apps. Salesforce’s most popular sales edition is $125 per user per month, Microsoft Dynamics CRM starts at $65 per user per month.
There are subscription options for custom mobile apps too. Salesforce offers its Salesforce1 platform, for example, and Kony offers MobileFabric enterprise apps. Salesforce1 costs $80 per user per month for up to 10 apps, or $150 for unlimited apps. Kony costs $29 per user per month for 5 apps, or an undisclosed amount for unlimited apps.
The Formotus alternative
Formotus offers a no-code alternative to mobile app development that’s viable and cost-effective for many business scenarios.
The Formotus service starts at $40/user/month and goes down with volume. But this is not a subscription with a set number of users for a set period of time. Instead customers purchase a package of license-months to be used as needed for as long as they last, sort of like prepaid cell phone minutes. For example a package of 100 license-months ($35 each) could last 10 users for 10 months or 50 users for 2 months. Usage is pro-rated to the day so customers can add and remove users at any time without penalty and never pay for ‘ghost users’ that aren’t actually on the system.
This license-month price is all inclusive for as many custom business apps as you want to create, deploy, update and use:
- No activation or sign up fees
- No additional charges to create, deploy and use as many forms as you want
- No additional Formotus software, server or maintenance charges of any kind
For customers who use our code-free tools to create custom mobile solutions, this is the only cost. Even when customers choose to engage Formotus or one of our partners create the solution, that typically amounts to just a small fraction of the cost of coded app development.
Formotus free trial
First install the app and experience some mobile solution samples. Then sign up for an account and start creating your own custom solutions.
Step 2: Sign up for a 30-day free trial
CREATE YOUR FREE ACCOUNT
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