Mobile App Development Costs: Budget Factors

Mobile is on everyone’s agenda this year. In fact, 60% of U.S. enterprises plan to spend over $1M on mobile application development in 2015.

But what slows people down from actually executing mobile app development projects is not knowing how to plan and budget for them.

Many of our clients struggle with getting their arms around scope and investment for these projects, because each app is unique and dependent on several key business decisions. Our work developing apps for small-, medium-, and enterprise level-clients has taught us that no matter the size of the project or budget, there are 6 things that impact mobile development costs the most:

1. App Functionality & Purpose

Because mobile applications can be extremely broad, the main purpose of the app often drives the development budget. For example, a small calculator application used for a niche business function will require a much smaller investment than an enterprise-wide support application for a global salesforce.

Work with your teams to achieve consensus around the following questions:

  • Is the app intended for public use? If not, what subset of the population will use the app? Is the app slated for internal use only? If so, what are the internal users that will use the app?
  • What are users trying to achieve by interacting with the app? Examples: speed up ordering time, find close-by distribution centers, pull current documents, etc.

2. Mobile Platforms & Devices Supported

Determining whether to support iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, or all of the above will help predict development time, and therefore cost. Each platform is different—for example, Android fragmentation (caused by the fact that there are over 18,000 different devices/screen sizes running on Android) can make it difficult to ensure your app works well for each unique piece of hardware, whereas the iOS platform only needs to support a few different Apple devices.

Device is also a factor that needs to be considered. Do you only want to support phones? What about tablets? Or should the app be universal?

And lastly, you need to decide if you want to invest in a native app (fully responsive apps that are installed on devices) or a hybrid app (part native and part web app, with one code base deployed to different platforms). Native apps are typically more expensive to develop, but are a more premium product that will give you better performance and more custom-designed features.

3. Integration Points

Integration points will undoubtedly cost you more money during the build, but will save you time and money in the long run.

Consider the following:

  • What 3rd party systems does the app need to integrate with? Many of our apps, such as the one we built for BASF, integrate with complex backend systems (Salesforce, SAP, Sharepoint, social media, etc), automating previously manual processes.
  • Where will content for the app come from? Does the content already exist in other data structures (DB’s, API’s) or is there new content being developed for the app specifically?
  • Who will control the content? Are there multiple stakeholders involved? Is there an established editorial workflow for review/approval of content?

4. Use of Visual Objects

Often our clients’ desire to include complex UI elements results in a much nicer User Experience. These complex visual objects are all the rage this year in web and mobile design. Will your app make use of real-time 3D graphics, complex visual transitions, animations, and multiple objects animating at the same time? Then it’s probably going to cost more.

This will also affect the native vs. hybrid development decision mentioned above, since many hybrid app frameworks can’t take advantage of hardware-accelerated User Interfaces.

5. Use of Phone Hardware Features

Part of what makes mobile applications unique is their ability to take advantage of the “smart” parts of your smartphone. If you want to be able to pull in features like the phone’s GPS, location-based functionalities (such as iBeacon), accelerometer, gyroscope (which detects motion), and the camera (although this is typically pretty easy), there may be cost implications.

6. Maintenance Plan

Once the application is deployed, you can’t just pat yourself on the back. You need to think about a maintenance plan from the very beginning and factor it into costs as a certain percentage. This plan should include what new features and functionalities will be introduced, and when. There’s an arms race going on between operating systems, and it’s important to keep apps up to date with every new release (at least once a year). Plan to proactively update the app or face the fact that it’s going to become irrelevant and deleted by users. This plan should go hand in hand with your overall digital strategy, helping you stay ahead of the digital curve.

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