By Nicholas Wright, CEO at AppInstruct
In our last post about how to create an app, we looked at whether you should learn to code. For many people, it isn’t practical to learn to code due to time and difficulty constraints, so this week we’ll look at what it may cost to hire an app developer to make your app for you.
Costs are very much dependent on how complicated the app is to build, how much of its design is bespoke or whether it incorporates existing design features (the code for which may already be available to use), and how experienced your developer is.
There are a couple of simple analogies that we find make it easier for people to understand the process of making an app—the architect and the novelist.
Cost factor #1: Scope
Let’s imagine an architect is hired to design a couple’s home. If they’re a newlywed couple with a limited budget, the architect will likely recommend a kit home—straight lines, regular corners—that’s quick and easy, and is therefore cheap to build. On the other hand, if the couple are empty-nesters building their dream home with a lifetime’s savings, then the architect will look to deliver on that dream—he’ll use the latest materials and techniques to create a free-flowing, complex and bespoke design, even though it will be expensive to build.
Alternatively we can think about the novelist, who sits on the first day of writing with a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. Think of your coder as that novelist. On the first day, they just have a blank screen with a flashing cursor. Everything that is to appear in your app, visually and functionally, now has to be written in code. So the coder must spend hours drafting these lines of code, just as a novelist must spend hours writing their prose. There will always be a minimum amount of time involved.
So first and foremost, if your budget is limited, you need to simplify what you’ll make, ideally focusing on one core feature. Be ready to incorporate existing interface designs, the code for which pre-exists and may be available via open source so the developer can incorporate it into your app. (Open source code samples can be found on code repository sites such as GitHub and Bitbucket.) The result is akin to a minimum viable product—it allows you to validate your idea, and to properly assess whether there’s enough demand for your app to make adding features and polish worthwhile.
Cost factor #2: Geography
The great thing about oDesk’s platform is that it provides the opportunity to recruit experienced developers from economies where the cost of living may be less than in Western economies. For example, an experienced independent developer in Sydney, Australia, will expect an hourly rate upwards of $140/hr. Meanwhile, an experienced developer in Russia or Belarus is likely happy to charge substantially less than that ($40-$50/hr) because their living expenses are lower.
While working in the same time zone as your development team can be helpful, there are also advantages to having a distributed team—such as 24/7 working hours. One of the App Store’s most successful apps, Cut the Rope, was developed in conjunction with a US publisher, Chillingo Inc, by a small, independent development team in Russia called Zeptolab. The Chillingo team noted that they rigorously tested the app prior to its release, providing detailed feedback to Zeptolab on the gameplay, as well as bugs. Their app is proof that geographical separation is no impediment to creating well-designed, innovative and hugely successful apps.
Cost factor #3: Platform & Category
In the following table we identify some popular types of apps by category, estimating the number of hours each might take an experienced developer to build for an iPhone or Android device. We’ve separated these platforms because the open Android environment is much more diverse than Apple’s, which makes it at least a third more expensive to build for. The increase in expense for Android is because you have to test the app over multiple different devices and versions of the operating system; this not only takes longer, but bugs are more common.
|Type of app||Description||Apple (hrs)||Android (hrs)|
|Simple app||Everything installed on the device, built using templates/drop down menus||70-140||90-170|
|Database-supported app||Data stored on a server/database integration, uses a Backend as a Service (BaaS)||140-210||170-250|
|Enterprise app||Business integration; data stored on device + server||210+||250+|
|Game app||Single/multiplayer etc.||420+||550+|
With Android, there are ways to reduce the amount of extra work involved—and thus lower the costs—by only supporting specific versions of the operating system and certain devices. We’ll talk more about this in a later post.
In our next post, we’ll look at what you should consider when assessing which developer or designer to engage.
Editor's note: To read more from Nic Wright and learn more about mobile app development, check out these related blog posts.