Are app development costs decreasing?

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Juergen BerkesselLast Updated: June 23rd, 2016: Like most developers, I often get asked how much it costs to build an app.  For many clients it is not apparent that this is a little like asking how much it costs to build a house or buy a car. It is a difficult question to answer, and often requires quite a bit of work to nail down requirements, choose development platforms that are suitable to the client’s requirements and decide on back-end integration strategies.

Updated July 2016
  • Addition of the Kinvey App Cost Estimator and the Ionic App Estimator. Please note Kinvey works on desktops only, not support for mobile devices yet.
  • Please also note that we have added some resources on our app design and app development pages since this article was originally written.

We’ve had quite a few reactions to this post since it was originally published, and in 2014 and 2015 most people still thought that the cost of developing an app would rapidly decline. Perhaps this was anticipating that app development tools would become easier to use and cheap programmers would become ubiquitous. Perhaps this is driven by the fact that the cost of buying apps are “racing to the bottom”. But apps being cheaper to buy in the app store do not translate into the app development costs being any lower. If anything, user expectations about features, social sign-in, and ease of use have increased at the same time that expectations around prices are that they should be lower.

So no, app development costs have not really come down y much, in my opinion.

App Cost Calculators  Can Help Figure Out The Cost To Develop An App

One of the best ways to estimate what an app will likely cost is to consider advice from multiple sources. There are now several app cost calculators out there, and by plugging in assumptions and required features, you should be able to get a consensus opinion about what the ballpark cost will be. Keep in mind that  it is important to configure assumptions about what functionality is needed, especially related to cross platform requirements and needing a back-end and database connectivity as well as social features, required for many app concepts out there…

So here are four calculators I’ve found particularly useful:

Kinvey
App Cost Estimator

Kinvey Cost To Develop An App Estimator

Kinvey App Cost Estimator

Otreva
App Cost Calculator

Otreva cost to develop an app calculator

Otreva App Cost Calculator

Crew
App Cost Calculator

Crew app cost calculator for the cost to develop an app

Crew – App Cost Calculator

Ionic
App Cost Calculator

Ionic App Cost Estimator

Ionic App Cost Estimator


High End vs. Low End

Since 2011/2012 tablets have become mainstay computing platforms, and in 2015 people’s expectations around App User Experiences for both smartphone and tablet platforms have been raised by many of the great efforts out there.

High end apps like FlipBoard, Zite, Pulse as well as the many great games, entertainment and utility apps published during the last years have served to inspire developers and clients alike.

Consider that for games and high end apps it is a matter of having a champagne budget to accompany the champagne taste: Such apps cost hundreds of thousands dollars to develop, and projects like  FlipBoard raised 10.5M of first round funding, and have just gone back for round two for an eye popping 200 million. The iPad News reader Zite was sold to CNN for over $20 million.

On the low end there are automatic app creation services like The App Builder, Good Barber, and Appery.io which offer very low cost alternatives. However for such template driven apps in general the consensus among clients (and developers) seems to be that one gets what one pays for, and that such platforms will not serve brands to differentiate themselves from the pack.[/one_half]

Do You Really Need An App?

Digital Strategy RoadmapOften clients come to me with a concept for an app. By the time they are talking to developers, they of course are thinking they really need this app, for whatever reason. But often when I start digging into their business, assets, website, email lists etc., I wind up gently discouraging them from building an app when other fundamental aspects of their digital presence and strategy are missing or need to be built before an app project could ever bear fruit. 2012 was one thing, but in 2015 the app market is extremely saturated and only truly stand out ideas, with the requisite funding to develop and market them, have any chance at visibility. So for me, there may be truly ROI effective alternative ways to build up a digital strategy, before even considering developing an app.

Top Down vs. Bottom Up

But assuming a client is committed to develop one, one approach is to start with a top down budget figure, and then decide how many of the desired features can be accommodated within that budget. However very often clients do no wish to communicate such an up-front number.
The other approach is to start by gathering requirements from the bottom up and estimating the project costs. But depending on previous experience and “mobile readiness” of a client, this can be either a short or very long process; some of our clients did not even own a tablet computer at the outset of a project, and the familiarization process can take a long time.

Another phenomenon we’ve noticed that often apps are perceived by clients as an independent stand alone entities, even when they serve data from a network; the concept that an app may require a back-end content management system came as a surprise to some. App promotion costs are equally easy to overlook at the beginning of a project, we we stress the importance of budgeting for this up-front.

As part of our agile app delivery model we often recommend starting with a mobile requirements definition and design engagement, which has the added benefit of ensuring that the app development effort fits into the overall strategy of the brand, and considers User Experience and persona development dimensions. In the next section we will list industry examples and the full Polymash Agile App Delivery Model. The full Polymash Agile Delivery Model is available here:

 

 

Some Industry Examples

A few years ago I came across a couple of excellent articles that are still relevant and do an great job of breaking down the dimensions that contribute to tablet (and smartphone) development costs:

The Cost of Building an iPad App | PadGadget

The Cost of Building an iPad App | PadGadget
Regardless of who actually develops the app, let’s look at what it takes to build it. An iPhone or iPad app typically takes anywhere between 2 weeks to several months to build, depending on the complexity. Building an app is not just about coding, as it requires:

Design:
Unless you have the proper skills to do the design yourself, design will cost you money, especially for more advanced apps. Expect weeks of work to build all the app screens, and this job cannot be off-shored. At $50 to $150 an hour, U.S. based designers will likely bill you anywhere between a couple thousands of dollars for a basic app, to several dozens of thousands of dollars if you’re building a higher-end app that requires many screens to be designed.

Coding:
Similarly, writing the app’s code will usually take several weeks to several months of work. This work can be off-shored, and several outlets in Europe and Asia do this job for a living. If you decide to off-shore, you will likely save some money, however, keep in mind that off-shoring requires a lot of coordination, as you will have to manage teams that may not speak the same language, work different hours, and have hundreds of customers like you to deal with. A U.S. based team will likely cost you more, but these teams are local and are usually a lot easier to deal with.

Testing:
Nobody wants bad reviews in the App Store. In other words, you will need to spend days playing with your app, trying to identify bugs and find out what could go wrong. Again, depending on the complexity of the app, this job could take one person a couple days, or five people two weeks. Expect a lot of “back and forth” between the testing and development teams, in order to get rid of all bugs identified within the app.

Infrastructure:
Unless your app does not require any interaction with external servers, keep in mind that server development and infrastructure is critical for the app to succeed, as a slow server response and/or overloaded server will likely lead to bad reviews and poor sales, even if the app is great. Don’t be shy and expect to invest a lot of money on the server side of the equation, especially if you expect your app to be wildly successful. Good infrastructures do not come cheap, and keep in mind that recurring monthly fees will have a direct impact on your revenue.

Validation:
When you are ready to launch, the last gate is the validation. Passing the validation could take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks, depending on the app and depending on the number of Apple guidelines your app may be infringing.
Project Management: The more third parties involved, the bigger your headache!

For a nice but simple app, the design work will likely take a designer about a week, which will cost you about $6,000. The server side will likely require a developer about 2 weeks of work, or about $12,000. Similarly, the app could be written in about 2 weeks as well, another $12,000. Add $5,000 for project management, hosting fees for a year, debugging, unforeseen delays, and your total budget is around $35,000.

For a nice high end app, like a high-end game, numbers are usually much higher. Design will likely cost you $30,000 alone. Development will be in the $150,000+ range. Hosting fees and extras will cost another $30,000. At the end of the day, your app will likely cost you at least $200,000.

read the complete article here…

How Much Does It Cost to Develop a Mobile App? | Appmuse

Appmuse Article – How Much Does It Cost to Develop a Mobile App?

Alex Ahlund, former CEO of AppVee and AndroidApps, and later an advisor to Appolicious, wrote a guest blog article about app sales on TechCrunch.  According to that article, a survey of 96 mobile app developers showed the average cost to develop an app was $6,453.  An article on OS X Daily about iPhone Development Costs reported that the development cost range for “small apps” is $3,000 to $8,000 and that “more complex or recognized brand apps” can cost $50,000 to $150,000.

 

For some additional resources and recent app cost calculators, see the following links:

KinveyKinvey’s App Cost Estimatorhttp://www.kinvey.com/app-cost-estimator
John RaineyHow much does it cost to develop an app?http://www.accella.net/how-much-will-my-mobile-app-cost-to-create/
Carter, Bluecloud SolutionsHow Much Will my Mobile App Cost to Create?http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/blog/cost-develop-app/
By Aaron Maxwell, MashableIs Developing a Mobile App Worth the Cost?http://mashable.com/2011/02/24/mobile-app-dev-cost/

In Pounds Sterling:

This post provided some very detailed estimates by the CTO of 5App and his conclusion:

It’s safe to assume that using traditional development techniques to create a cross-platform enterprise app won’t come in under £100K.


Top of the Class

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Polymash is proud to announce that one of its apps, Wild Dolphins, has been acknowledged as a Top of the Class app by eSpark.

The iPad app tells powerful stories through interactive media of dolphin rescues and efforts to keep them living safely in the wild.   The app, Wild Dolphins was created by a large team of committed, talented, professional people from Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute working with the team at Polymash.

ishot-167Dolphin Tale

eSpark, is committed “to transform learning so it’s personalized, best of breed, engaging, and mobile; enabling students to succeed in school and in life.”

The Top of the Class List features the best 15 apps in eSpark’s curriculum of 750 apps, and Wild Dolphins has been included because it “stands out as an exemplary model” for the following reasons:

  • It constantly receives positive feedback from the most important critics – eSpark students.
  • It meets eSpark’s learning design team’s criteria in selecting apps for its curriculum:

– Common Core Standard Alignment
– An engaging and intuitive user experience
– Bang for the buck
– Scaffolding of skills

We are particularly proud because there are more than 100,000 educational apps, books, and learning resources available on the Apple iPad platform and being selected by eSpark’s curriculum experts as they continually scour the app store looking for the most rigorous and engaging learning apps that meet their strict criteria is an acknowledgement to all who contributed to its creation.

 

Tablet Wars 2012: It’s the Apps, Stupid!

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The Apple and Samsung patent trial is expected to come to a close this week. Samsung is accused of infringing on iPhone and iPad patents in the design of their own devices. The outcome, be it either a win for Samsung or Apple, will likely influence the direction of how tablets will be designed and marketed worldwide.

In an Article in the NY Times, Nick Wingfield reports:

“But the effects of the case are likely to be felt far beyond these two companies. If Apple prevails, experts believe Samsung and other rivals in the market will have a much stronger incentive to distinguish their smartphone and tablet products with unique features and designs to avoid further legal tangles.”
read the article…

And this will be good news, because if the case goes Samsung’s way, then tablet features and design will continue to emulate the iPad and iOS experience, and I for one would look forward to seeing more innovation from Apple’s competitors both on the hardware and software side.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

tablet wars 2012 What was interesting for me as an app designer was that attention to detail Samsung paid in copying software features of what they clearly perceived to be a superior product. An internal 132 page Samsung report complained about the fact that Samsung’s design fell short of Apple’s example in key areas, and did so through a comparison of the two devices in the minutest detail; for example a discussion about the pixel width of the separator line between numbers displayed in the of the built in calculator.

This surprised me a bit, as Samsung is a device manufacturer, and I would have expected them to be concerned with tablet hardware features and price to differentiate itself from other Android based tablets and smartphones.

But it seems that the 132 page report points to examples of how Samsung tweaked the Android OS software. And thus contributing to one of the biggest issues that keep Android based tablets from winning the tablet wars for now: Device Fragmentation. There are 700 some varieties of Android devices, with 30+ different screen resolutions and countless manufacturer specific OS tweaks, and this is what presents enormous quality and design challenges for cross platform developers like us.

Tablet wars aren’t won by hardware: It’s the Apps, Stupid!

As an app designer and developer I may be biased, but to me the tablet wars in the end will come down to neither device features or price. To mis-quote Bill Clinton: “It’s the apps, stupid”. Having a vibrant app marketplace, and therefore having an enthusiastic developer community is what I think will continue to primarily influence the tablet wars.

Do hardware features matter?

Manufacturers would like you to believe that hardware features and price make a significant difference to consumers, but in the end the iPad tablet is not that deficient on the hardware front. And on the software side? Of course there are great apps available for Android, but on the whole an extra megapixel of camera resolution on a lesser known tablet may simply not make up for the variety, quality and choice of fantastic apps available on the iTunes App Stores.

All Apple has to do to keep pace and marketshare is to announce a slightly less expensive tablet, perhaps with a 7″ screen size…

Quick Poll: What is your opinion?

What do you value in your tablet?

What does it take to make an App?

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Are you thinking of creating an app?

In this post we outline some readiness factors to consider before getting started.

Since 2010 we’ve had lots of people approach us with great ideas for apps. Many clients share our vision that the future of accessing content is on mobile devices, and they visualize their own ideas or content as engaging, beautiful, stunning apps.

But before launching straight into developing an app, we help our clients understand the mobile market as a whole, and also help them assess their own readiness to launch a mobile strategy for their business. With this we introduce our assessment tool, and also invite you to download our comprehensive and free “Mobile 2012” white paper.

Mobile Devices? It’s humans who are mobile.

Mobile devices are still relatively new.  The fact is humans have always been mobile.  It’s only now we have the technologies that allow us to access the content we value 24/7 in exciting ways.  This has been possible only in the last couple of years…. thinking here of how the iPad has transformed publishing, news, social media and just about everything else the internet allowed us to do in limited ways.  Apps on mobile devices allow us to interact with content and people in much more compelling, more beautiful and playful ways, wherever we are and whenever we want.  Pretty powerful stuff.

Transform Your Existing Content

If you are already mobile savvy and have fresh app ideas or novel app concepts, you may like following our app design process to create rapid wireframes & prototypes. Many others, like authors or leaders in their field, may be less mobile savvy but already have content they believe is of value to people.  Perhaps the following examples resonate with you:

  • It could be a book you’ve already published, or want to publish
  • It could be training materials that you have developed
  • It could be you have a particular methodology or tool kit that has helped clients in your professional field
  • It could be you have curated a photo or art collection of specific era, or subject matter
  • It could be you have a hobby that you want to document and share with others who share the passion
  • It could be you are a specialist in your discipline of health, fitness, education, medicine, history, astrology, biology, anthropology, or any of the sciences.
  • It could be you have a children’s story that you’ve created and want to interactivate it!

So the question to ask is “How mobile ready are you?” You want to give yourself or your business the best launch possible into the mobile space.

If you have the dream, a strong belief and the content, that’s what counts

Polymash has had 100s of conversations on this topic with individual content owners and businesses.  After years of building relationships and educating clients, we have been able to distill the key drivers to successful app creation to six major dimensions.  This assessment takes a very real look at what it takes to make a successful app in a still relatively new, yet rapidly growing market place.  The self-assessment is not for the faint-hearted.  And, it’s not to say, if you’re strong in few dimensions that you can’t start.  If you have the content and a strong belief and a dream, that’s what counts.

What does it take to make an app, and how ready are you?

  • Know your market – who your users are and what they will do with your app
  • Compelling content – what assets can you provide – images, stories, models, videos, graphics
  • Organization culture – the supportive work context – leadership support, finances, timeframes, innovative mindsets
  • Mobile Device awareness – experience consuming content on mobile, so you’re able to discern good user experience
  • Marketing and Social Media Savvy – a product launch is a product launch, requiring marketing investment and social proof
  • Aligned Strategy including Web – going mobile is a strategic undertaking; a holistic integrated web strategy is important

What does it take to make an app?

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Readiness Assessment Tool

What does it take to make an app? Take Polymash’s Assessment Tool to find our your current state of readiness.

  • Discover where your strengths already exist.
  • Find out what opportunities there are for you to prepare yourself for your greatest success.
  • Learn from our experience and how we have helped many like you who have created apps to serve their user base and grow their global reach.

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As part of the free Readiness Assessment Tool and in addition to your results, you will also receive a comprehensive report and state of the mobile landscape as of July 2012.

Get ahead now in understanding mobile trends and position yourself for the future!

FilmOneFest II Smart Phone App

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FilmoneFest iPhone Home ScreenFilmOneFest II – iPhone, Android and iPad App

Available Now on iTunes and Google Play

FilmOneFest II – a celebration of the one minute film as an art form.

Polymash created the first FilmOneFest app for iPad in 2011. It was such a huge success that people without iPads were asking for it to be available on their smart phones. We listened. And so this year, for the 2012 film festival, we have designed FilmOneFest II as a universal app, now available on iPhone, Android and iPad.

FilmOneFest App on Google Play

There’s no doubt that the world loves film. Now think about films that are one minute long! Just imagine what it takes to tell a story, deliver a message, connect emotionally and successfully in a film of one minute! It takes talent. So to help share such talent across the world, we have created an app for the FilmOneFest film festival, curating and showing the work of talented filmmakers as a way to inspire others to question, experiment, explore, laugh, cry, and unite us in our common humanity through this medium.

App features:

  • One-minute films from artists from all around the world, categorized by year and award
  • Interviews with selected artists about their passions and inspirations
  • Ability to save videos to your favorites
  • Meet the esteemed selection panel to learn their criteria for award nominations
  • Post to and comment on your Facebook page and Twitter stream
  • Find out how to submit your own work for future FilmOneFest festivals
  • Keep up to date with ongoing submissions throughout the year

Social Media

Most importantly, you can let your friends know what you think about each film by linking to and commenting on your own social media pages from within the app.

Ongoing Submissions

Visit the app often, because we’ll be adding one-minute films throughout the year in preparation for next year’s event. And, if you are a film-maker or know one, you can apply to submit to FilmOneFest from within this app.

App Support:

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FilmOneFest I App

Please find out more about the original 2011 iPad app and download it from iTunes. FilmOneFest partnered with Polymash to create a festival iPad app available through the iTunes store since 2011. The FilmOneFest iPad app is a collection of one-minute films from filmmakers all around the world with supporting stories, artists’ statements and interviews.

Help your app rise to the top

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What does it take to give your app the best chance of being visible?

App markets are still new, yet there is already a lot of noise.  That’s all great, as it shows how significant this market has become in such a short time.  Just as Websites became a must have for businesses, service providers and advertisers after 1995, apps are becoming a must have for businesses, institutions, content owners and curators today.

Six App Promotion Tips

The 6 points Peter Baldwin lists below for giving your app a leg up, reflect absolutely our experience in designing and developing apps for clients.  (Link to Peter’s full article below.)  And, I add a 7th point to Peter’s list.

1. Focus on Product

The best way to get your app noticed is to build a unique and engaging product.  Content is still king. As Peter says, “focus on product” is another post or two!

2. Allow Users to Engage Other with your App

These days, more developers are using social media as part of the app as a major key to its success. Your customers’ word-of-mouth multiplies your network a hundred times over without costing you a dime, so be sure to put mechanisms in place that allow users to talk about the app and share experiences with friends

3. Get Media and Blogger Attention: Make it Simple

Media attention and especially reviews of your app can really help to spread recognition. To get that kind of attention, though, you have to have a solid app to begin with, a great story around your app, and it absolutely must be easy to talk about.

4. Continue your Marketing Efforts

The important thing to remember is that app marketing windows are perpetual, meaning you should establish marketing vehicles that you can trigger at your discretion over long periods of time. That means plan, plan, plan.

5. Use Analytics

Become a student of the Android and iOS category rankings (e.g., entertainment vs. games). Each category has its own nuances for determining “top” rankings, so be sure to evaluate each one.

6. Prepare for Success

Think of your app as a brand that will enable you to leverage brand extension opportunities. Build your apps to welcome future cross-promotion opportunities, rather than intrusions on the user experience

And I would add

7. Design, Design, Design.

Presentation of the product.  Look and feel matter. Branding, imagery, and an aesthetic eye help make an app attractive and invite engagement.  Quality features contribute to good user experience.  (UX).  The design of the icon,  a searchable app name with good key search terms are really important considerations.

app promotion tips6 Ways to Give Your App A Leg Up on the Competition: Since the app stores themselves control which apps are elevated and highlighted, how can you ensure your app gets time in the spotlight and the attention it deserves? Here are six tips drawn from experience. [button link=”http://mashable.com/2012/01/30/app-competition-tips/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29″ color=”silver”] Read the Full article at mashable.com[/button]

The Crankacmacallit Title Page

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So here is the title page for the Crankamacallit, our interactive children’s story

Early Icon Concept

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The Crankamacallit Hangar

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The Crankamacallit Hangar is where it all happens! Inside is the “Cranka Works” inventor’s workshop, complete with interactive toolbenches, drafting equipment, windmill parts and a mysterious device called the “INFLATATRON”. I wonder what that does?

Digital Magazines and Books need to Evolve!

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This was a week for some great ideas to emerge on how tablet platforms and digital readers need to evolve in terms of functionality, features, user experience, social media integration.

Now that the iPad has been on the market for some time and a slew of other tablets are about to drop, usage and behavior patterns are starting to emerge, and ideas on extending tablet functionality are becoming more concrete.

Here at Polymash we have been humbly completing work on extending tablet magazine reader functionality for the information product and educational market, adding plug-in features such as in magazine notepads and social media integration for Apple and Android platforms.

But for a more comprehensive and compelling glimpse at future possibilities, I’d invite you to check out this video from IDEO entitled “The Future of the Book”

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

My favorite concepts here:

  • The idea that interactivity needs to extend to participatory and community based discussions about the material being read. (Ideo calls this “Nelson”)
  • The idea to link to book clubs, reading lists and recommendation engines (Copeland)
  • Ideo also proposes a concept (Alice), which allows for co-creating the story, affecting the plot, interacting with characters and so on, and while I love the idea I do see it more in the realm off app and game development.

However long term the creation of truly interactive content will blur the line between app development and content creation…

Frankfurt Book Fair

Also this week the Frankfurt Book Fair took place, and following twitter feeds and blog entries it was apparent that there was much tablet talk and discussion. I’d like to share Joe Wikert’s presentation he gave “My eContent Wish List–Frankfurt TOC 2010” as posted on slideshare, which mirrors some of VIMEO’s vision in a perhaps more pragmatic way:

Having worked with, and around, the limitations of today’s tablet reader technology, the critical element to me is to create platform independent APIs that allow developers to directly access and interface to the publications content

My favorites:

  • Platform independent readers, with platform independent APIs
  • Better Social Media integration, for example tweeting from within and article or story
  • The ability to highlight and annotate content, and then be able to share, archive, collect and search these annotations across publications

There are some great ideas in these presentations, and I hope publishing houses and tool makers in the tablet industry are listening and adjusting to the market needs being formulated.