Our big appetite for new apps and services isn’t slowing down anytime soon. New startups are popping up regularly trying to create the next big thing, or are simply trying to offer a useful service. In any case, building a solid app that users can enjoy isn’t an easy task. But more importantly, it isn’t a cheap task. A lot has been said and will continue to be said about what app development really costs. But in reality, it’s something that varies greatly depending on a huge number of factors.
Whether you’re building the app yourself from scratch, hiring a firm, or resorting to cheap overseas freelancers, everything has a cost. This cost can be monetary, time, or quality. Apps can live or die depending on when they enter the market. Bad reviews can completely destroy an app’s success and the company behind it. And running out of funds can lead to an app never getting out the door or not being able to iterate and stay up to date.
This guide will go through the critical aspects that every mobile team should take into consideration when wanting to reduce app development costs while not compromising on quality.
Estimating app development costs
When looking at the cost of app development, the best way to break it down simply is:
So the two variables we’re optimizing for are the rate cost and the time that’s needed to get the app ready. So, let’s go over various ways you can start optimizing your app development process to reduce the cost as much as possible. That, and also highlight where you shouldn’t compromise or cut costs to achieve the best result.
How to reduce app cost
Consider building an MVP
An MVP can be defined as a product that provides the most important feature and core functionality of the app without being a final product. This helps showcase the idea behind the app and gives a taste of the execution without devoting a ton of resources towards the full implementation. Consider building an MVP app to validate your idea before sinking your capital into a finished product.
When you go for an MVP instead of a fully-fledged product you save on two main resources: time and money. For the time aspect, since you're only building the core functionality, you are able to rush the app to market. This is extremely important for many apps and services that live and die by who reaches the market first.
The second main resource you'll be saving is money. Going with an MVP reduces what is needed to be completed and helps you save significantly on developer costs. This can appeal to everyone, but especially to startups running on little to no funding and trying to attract interest in an app.
Outsourcing vs. in-house app development
There is a lot of debate over whether outsourcing app development or hiring to do it in-house is the best approach. You can check out our detailed comparison for the pros and cons of using each. But at the end of the day, every company’s needs are different and the answer varies. Whichever option you go with, there are very important cost-related aspects to keep in mind.
Going for in-house app development is always the way to go for a long term product that is going to scale. But the cost of hiring good app developers for every platform you will be supporting takes both time and money. And there is also the possibility of the local talent pool not having the needed quality. However, the benefits cannot be understated that in the long term, having someone who was involved in the app development process working in-house with other stakeholders and being able to iterate even after the app is released is a huge pro.
If you’re going for outsourced app development, there are various top quality firms that have great portfolios and talents. This will help make your app a reality quickly and with a high-quality outcome. Obviously, good talent doesn’t come cheap, but the quality tradeoff can be significant. The other outsourcing option is going for cheap overseas firms or freelancers. The compromise of time, quality, and other aspects like communication can make this option challenging if not well-researched.
Picking the right platforms
Despite the end result usually looking the same, app development varies considerably from platform to platform. And so does the cost of app development changes. This is because you are hiring different expertise that varies in rate depending on where you are, plus the app itself could take a longer time to develop on different platforms. For example, some apps are specifically designed for just the iOS platform where this consideration won't be an issue. But most apps target both main platforms and try to reach a larger audience.
The other big choice to make is whether to opt for cross-platform development or go native. This has a huge impact on your costs because you are essentially building one app rather than building two. Cross-platform development is regarded as a very viable solution for apps nowadays and the choice of whether or not to go for it varies from app to app. App complexity, the timeframe needed and available talent can all factor into the decision. And even if you go with cross-platform development, there are a lot of options to choose from. Figuring out who your audience is and what your app needs are will help you choose the right platforms for your app.
Proactive and continuous testing
Often the most overlooked aspects of app development and the costs associated with it, testing is often thought of as something done after the fact. Research has shown that the cost of not fixing a bug is multiplied during the different phases of the app development lifecycle:
- 100x cost in the maintenance phase
- 15x cost in the testing phase
- 6.5x cost in the implementation phase
- 1x cost in the design phase
This means that testing cannot be thought of as the last step in the app development cycle. It is something that must be in consideration as early as possible. But even then, bugs and crashes are bound to happen and have their own consequences. If they encounter too many, users are likely to stop using your app and leave negative reviews, which can be catastrophic for any app. Utilizing a tool to help you catch bugs, crashes, and performance issues as soon as they occur can go a long way to preventing that. This is one area where early investment can save a lot of development time and costs spent debugging and fixing issues that could’ve otherwise been spent on new features.
Post-release plan and support
Apps nowadays are not like the software of old where you develop, ship, and hope for the best. The top apps on the market update their apps once a week on average. This means that the initial app development is only the beginning of the journey. To be successful, your app will constantly be in a development cycle pushing out updates. This needs a lot of forethought and figuring out how you will support this need from users, whether it’s addressing bugs and issues or updating with new features to maintain user interest. Either way, post-release costs will only multiply if you don't already have a well-considered plan to support your app after launching.
Solid plan and stick to it
All of these points illuminate the fact that you need a strong plan before writing your first line of code. It’s one of the oldest cliches in the book, but before starting any project you need to develop a rock-solid plan and be able to stick to it. In the case of app development, this will look like a product requirement document (PRD), for example. You'll need to take all the points mentioned above and everything else like design, UI/UX, etc. into consideration when assessing cost and how the app development process will go.
Lastly, it’s essential that when considering any aspect of your app that you do not compromise on app quality. No brand name is big enough that its reputation won't be damaged when users negatively review a low-quality app. This will also have a very direct effect on downloads and eventually revenue and conversions. No matter the specifics of your plan, you'll want to consider setting aside funds for performance monitoring to make sure that the app you've invested in is performing well and keeping the users it attracts.
- Building an MVP Mobile App: How, Why, and What to Use
- Defining the Minimum Lovable Product for Mobile Apps
- Top Mobile App Design Tools in 2021
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