How much does a Mobile App cost to build?

Arjun Shankar
Nov 21, 2019 · 5 min read

How Tech Alchemy built a hyper-accurate mobile development cost calculator to answer this tricky question.

We’ve been in the startup scene a while. Over the past 4 years, we’ve built 30 digital products which have helped companies raise over £15m in funding. One of the most common questions we hear from early-stage founders is ‘How much does it cost to build a Mobile App?’

There are several factors that come into play when evaluating the true cost of building a Mobile app. For example:

  • Does it need to be on iOS or Android?
  • Will it take card payments?
  • How many users will use it?
  • Does it need to work offline? And the list goes on…

By teaming up with Fulfilli, we racked our brains on how we could build a calculator that would finally answer this question!

⚠️ Spoiler alert, you can checkout our calculator here. Or read on to learn more about our journey!

Note: All of our estimations, including those outputted by the calculator are based on real developer hours that have been worked and logged on previous real projects.

The Problem

No single mobile app is the same.

If you compare the codebases of Instagram, Uber and Slack you will find a combination of Social functionality, Video playback, Instant Chat, Booking and even payment features. Since each application has different intended uses, this enviably means their data structures and even Server API’s have to be built entirely differently. Some development providers have tried to get around this problem, such as Engineer.ai, which promotes that it can build any software using predefined blocks for features.

They have recently been involved in controversy as, The Verge published an article which mentions that Engineer.ai are not using any artificial intelligence at all, instead actual humans are still writing code.

In theory, this could work for simple use cases, like adding Facebook / Google login to your app, however it falls short if your application needs more bespoke features, such as building a social media network, a booking system or matchmaking system. Moreover, some may argue that using blocks in this manner may also restrict expansion and is definitely not a good idea if you want to keep ownership of the IP. At Tech Alchemy, we always write every line of code from scratch for our clients, since no product is the same.

When building the calculator, we first listed out all of the similar traits and features that we have incorporated into our digital products over the last 4 years. We then were able to find similarities between most apps. During this discovery, we noticed that most apps with a payments system were powered by Stripe and apps which had Social functionality usually have a common set of functions, e.g. likes, comments, shares and following of users. This led us to our conclusive approach in asking what your app needs, to provide a rough estimation in less than 15 questions.

Part of our mobile app calculator

Development hours, not fixed price.

Several software development providers, would charge a flat fee of £5–15k to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) app for your startup idea. Although this may sound cheap, the overall output after 6–8 week process could be lacklustre in features and not ready for widespread adoption. Additionally, subpar development can also lead to throw away code where starting again may be the only option. As depending on the product, too little time invested can be detrimental, Rome was not built in a day, neither was Facebook.

Taking the MVP approach and stripping out non essential features may be a good consideration. However, equally going too far may lead to investors/early adopters not realising the potential of your solution. After all — in today’s feature rich environment users may be expecting more functionality from modern apps. Imagine if Slack did not support uploading attachments at launch as it was deemed a non-essential feature, would their rapid adoption within the workplace been so successful?

At Tech Alchemy, we price our services in a fair manner and are transparent throughout. All of our estimations, including those outputted by the calculator are based on real developer hours that have been worked and logged on previous real projects.

The importance of having the correct budget for your product.

After building your app, you could easily fall into the trap of believing your app will go viral and will organically have high MAU’s (monthly active users). Although, in rare cases this might happen (Flappy bird), in most cases you will need to allocate some budget towards marketing, brand partnerships, advertising and events to ensure people actively use your app.

Additionally, other than the software development cost itself, you must also consider any Server Maintenance costs. Depending on your initial user numbers server costs can vary massively, but essentially it depends on how many users are using your application and how much data is being stored and transferred. If your app contains features like Video streaming this can increase costs quite drastically too. It is widely known that Startups have struggled historically because they grew too quickly and could no longer afford their server costs.

Tech Alchemy factors these costs against the overall feature set of your app and we advise clients on what is a suitable budget specifically for their product. In order to provide a realistic estimate, we added several additional parameters into our calculator for Planning, Design and Testing costs.

Why is App design important?

Mobile app design can take multiple forms, from wireframes, paper prototyping, Hi-fidelity / pixel-perfect designs, to clickable prototypes and animations. Wire-framing tends to be relatively inexpensive, however, could lead to some lack of visual cues if you translate them directly into the development process. Hi-fi designs, on the other hand, can resemble the final output correctly, but may not show the UX flow as well.

Typically, most apps would benefit from at least wireframes and Hi-fidelity designs, since developers would be better able to estimate the build time required as well as sort out any kinks in the user flow. Our calculator automatically adds up the number of screens per feature, so that the design cost shown is truly dynamic based on the user’s selection.

Wrap up

Thanks for coming with us on this journey!

We really hope that our calculator will help early-stage founders figure out their budget / raise the right amount of investment before building their app.

The global average for building a startup mobile app can be anywhere from $4,099 to $242,633! Through building and improving this calculator, we hope to share some clarity around Mobile App development costs

You can access our Mobile App Development calculator here: https://fulfilli.com/mobile-app-development/

Please give us a clap or two 👏

Arjun Shankar

Written by

I’ve been involved in the core product stack at many successful startups. I founded Tech Alchemy, a London based startup development company in 2015.

Tech Alchemy

All things design, development and funding!

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade