June 16 2018

How much does it cost to make an app? ...and how to make savings.

It’s a commonly asked question and one that has a straightforward answer - its a combination of factors which when combined will give a relatively accurate answer. There are, however, surprisingly significant savings on costs to be made if you understand what’s required.

The following checklist of items are all factors which can influence costs. If these are checked off as a requirement, they will add time and cost to your build.

Platform - iOS & Android

iOS is the largest market, but Android apps can be made available in multiple stores - Google Play, Amazon App Store, among a variety of others. What about Windows? Yes Windows mobile does still exist, but it won’t be around for much longer at the time of writing.

Technology - Native iOS, Native Android & Hybrid

There are many individual factors to evaluate which deciding the technology to use. Native iOS development tends to be the most expensive in terms of hourly rates, whereas Hybrid can be a good compromise which can deliver two apps (one iOS & one Android) using a single codebase.

Native Android development can appear less expensive from the outset, but due to the fragmentation effect of differing devices and Android operating systems, there can be significant additional time required to cater for the edge cases.

The end decision will be a balance between speed of build versus any complex platform-specific functionality required.

Third Party Integration

Any APIs which are required to perform specific functions will affect the cost - these could be payment gateways, SMS services, social media integration, anything which requires data to pass back and forth to the app via a third party API.

Business Requirements & App Features

User management, ability to handle offline state, image/face/text recognition, notifications, analytics & user tracking, or any business specific functionality will add to the complexity and costs.

Server Requirements

Does the app require a server to store data? Do you need to keep track of content? Using server side technology can save the app state, but also leads to connectivity requirements, security considerations and further technology decisions for the server-side codebase. There is also an overhead costs for this type of infrastructure in the same way a website will need hosting.

Administration Requirements

Does your app require reporting, monitoring, administration of users, posts, comments, uploaded content? If so, you will require an administrative interface for these elements. Does your app require dynamically generated content? If so a Content Management System will be required.

Design time

All requirements will need to be distilled into a unified specification which developers can use to build from. The user experience will need to be defined and a set of design documents created showing the interface and how users will interact with it. In terms of importance, this stage is vital. An app can still function with poorly implemented technology, but a poor user experience will have users uninstalling the app without a second thought.


Creating App Store assets - walkthrough promotional videos, banners, and marketing-orientated screenshots will all help to sell in a crowded marketplace. Alongside this, keywords in store listings can and should be researched in order to effectively rank in the most popular search results. Lastly an effectively designed app icon can be an effective tool for both sales/acquisition and for retention.


Marketing spend is a requirement if you want your app to remain visible to new users. Relying on organic installs is too risky a strategy, and although can lead to increased retention in your users, can lead to a downward spiral in overall installs. Keeping a healthy install rate via a strong marketing spend will help keep your app rising the rankings and generate increased viral spread.

Example Development times

A number of high profile apps have very helpfully given an insight into the development times for the bare bones initial iterations of their apps, also known as the Minimum Viable Product. This would be a version which covers the basic functionality required to bring the app to market and allow users to begin using it in a meaningful way.

WhatsApp MVP build time (hours)

Instagram MVP build time (hours)

If you apply an average freelance rate to those numbers, we can see that those businesses would have spent up to $500k for their MVP apps just to get them into the market. That’s not an insignificant investment.


App marketplaces are highly saturated. For example in 2017 there were 197 billion app downloads. This is predicted to triple in the next two years.

If you’re looking to beat the marketplace leaders you’ll need a strong combination of innovative ideas, major investment of time and money into your build and a solid marketing strategy.

Understanding the factors outlined already is vital in order to control what elements will provide the greatest return for your investment.

There are, however, cost saving measures which can be utilised which can significantly reduce the investment needed.

If you have the time and the motivation - using guerilla marketing techniques to promote word of mouth sales, referrals and viral installs can be a win, especially as organic installs tend will tend to be the most valuable in terms of user engagement. This implies, however, that you have time and expertise to invest in this.

An alternative to make savings is on technology choice. Here at Sandbar we specialise in React Native hybrid app technology. This is the framework created and maintained by Facebook and AirBnB for their apps, and hence has significant benefits, the largest - enabling deployment to Android and iOS using one codebase while still maintaining native performance. This alone can reduce the outlay required for the build of an app by 50% with no significant downsides. Because of our extensive experience in this relatively new technology, we can also offer a number of app features at reduced cost, simply because we have already built them! Check out more here.

Other cost-saving alternatives include - making sure you have undertaken significant market research before launching into creating a new app - if there is an identical app out there offering similar features with greater traction it will be very expensive and/or difficult to try to break into this market.

Alternatively, if you undertake a lot of the initial design work yourself, this can be a great head start, and can help with more difficult design decisions down the line when more experienced design expertise becomes involved.

The bottom line is, understand the factors, and make qualified decisions before going ahead with a new app, and you’ll reap the rewards.

The importance of breathing space for designers


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