Cost to Build a Mobile App: A Survey

Clutch surveyed representatives from 12 leading mobile application development companies to determine cost ranges of building an iPhone app and the key variables of cost.

To learn more about mobile app development, visit Clutch's App Development resources page.

How much does it cost to build a mobile application? Like any piece of software, mobile apps vary widely in terms of development cost. We surveyed some of the leading mobile app development companies on the cost to develop a mobile app, and found that the median cost range is between $37,913 and $171,450, but could climb up to $500,000 or higher. The best way to find out where your app will fall in that range is to obtain price quotes from several development companies; however, we've included each cost component in our survey below to provide an understanding of what some of the largest cost drivers are.

For a related discussion on mobile app cost, see Experts Explain Key Drivers of App Development Cost.

 

Survey Design

In order to obtain our data, we surveyed a dozen leading mobile app development companies. Rather than focus on all of the detailed variations within mobile app development, we decided to provide top-level perspective to the business buyers who want a somewhat sophisticated yet easy to digest analysis.

In our survey, we asked service providers to report the number of hours required to design and develop various features and aspects of mobile apps. Due to the variation in pricing and hourly rates that exists, we asked the companies to give the number of hours instead of cost figures. We then translated those hour figures to cost using some common hourly rates of mobile app development companies in the United States. Participants were asked to focus on the number of hours to develop an iPhone app for the most recent devices, particularly the iPhone 5, 5s, 6, and 6 Plus. We broke down the development and design into multiple components and asked company representatives to give high and low hour ranges that would capture about 80 percent of cases in their experience. We also asked for comments on what might drive the number of hours up or down within that range. Then, we calculated the median highs and median lows, shown below. We’ve also listed the maximum high values we were given.

We’ve kept the participants' company names anonymous, but more information on the companies is listed at the bottom of this page.

 

Key Findings

Our survey results indicate a significant financial investment for any mobile app, but with a wide range of exact potential cost.

 

Total Cost Range

From the hour estimates that we were provided, we calculated cost based on two common hourly rates in the U.S.: $100/hour and $150/hour. Depending on your development model and the tool or partner you use to develop the app, this will hourly rate will vary.

The calculated median cost at $100/hour for iPhone app development is $25,275.00 to $114,300.00. The median cost at a higher rate of $150/hour is $37,912.50 to $171,450.00. The maximum cost figures at $100/hour and $150/hour, respectively, were $485,000.00 and $727,500.00.

It is important to keep in mind that these figures do not include the ongoing maintenance costs and updates that apps require. These ranges only depict the initial development costs for a single platform.

 

Full breakdown of survey components

The below table displays a more detailed breakdown of each app development stage. 

Stage Component Median Low (Hours) Median High (Hours) Maximum High (Hours)
Planning Research and discovery 8 40 200
  Scope definition 9 27 160
Design Wireframe design - seven screens 14 56 140
  Visual Design - seven screens 14 87.5 210
  User experience design 7.125 28 200
Features Native device features 4 29 100
  User engagement, such as SMS, Email, Push, Social 5.5 30 150
  User login 4.5 28  70
  Use of location data 5 24 150
  Payments 12 40 200
  Sync across devices 16 62.5 200
Infrastructure Initial setup/Basic controls 5 20 50
  Data storage 6.5 40 200
  Third-party API integration 8 50 120
  Access to enterprise data 22 100 400
  Data encryption 10 40 80
  Scalability/Large number of users 24 130 800
App Administration Infrastructure for performance management and analytics 8 20 80
  Web portal or CMS to manage application 35 120 1,000
Testing Internal, user, and deployment testing 30 160 300
Deployment Liscensing, packaging, etc. 5.125 11 40
Total Hours   252.75 1,143 4,850
x $100/hour   $25,275.00 $114,300.00 $485,000.00
x $150/hour   $37,912.50 $171,450.00 $727,500.00

 

Widest ranging cost components

In our study, the following variables had a particularly high range (50-plus hours) between the median high and median low values:

  • Visual design
  • Access to enterprise data
  • Back-end built for scalability of users
  • Web portal or CMS to manage application
  • Internal, user, and deployment testing

The high variation of these five factors highlights that these aspects of mobile app development can be relatively straightforward and basic, or they can be highly customized, challenging, and time consuming. While this is likely true with many factors of mobile app design and development, these ones vary particularly widely.

On a broader level, we found that infrastructure development is the widest ranging mobile app development stage by far.

 

Cost Components and Drivers

Below is an explanation of each line item in our survey, as well as a summary of comments that we received from participants regarding what would cause the cost to fall in the higher range or lower range.

 

Planning

Research and Discovery

Median range: 8 to 40 hours, Max. value: 200 hours

The research and discovery phase typically includes market and stakeholder research. Factors that will drive this number up include a larger project size, such as a higher number of features and screens, any unknowns such as new technologies or client-owned/proprietary APIs, any uncertain requirements that the client needs help defining, and less mature industries. The client may also require more time with this stage if they have less experience with software development, or if they have yet to do a significant amount of market research on their own.

"[The] high figure would include user and stakeholder interviews and analysis."
U.K. Mobile App Developer

"Factors that influence planning tasks almost always come down to a few factors: experience level of the client and overall industry maturity, complexity of the product, and how well defined the product is by the client. If the client only has an idea of what is being built, this will take a long time."
U.S. Mobile App Developer

Scope Definition

Median range: 9 to 27 hours, Max. value: 160 hours

This step is closely connected to research and discovery and involves documenting an agreed scope or plan for the project. This amount of time can be higher for a larger, more complex project, especially if the client has yet to define their vision fully. Existing documentation, wireframes, or code provided by the client may shorten the scoping process.

"This depends on if an RFP [request for proposal] was provided such as for wireframes. Sometimes, we get nothing and, sometimes, we get a good deal of documentation."
New York Mobile App Developer

"This varies based on the client's understanding of the project, on project functionality and complexity, and on project length. To document a project of 100 days, it takes 45 hours, and to document a project of 200 days, it may take three to four weeks."
India Mobile App Developer

 

Design

Wireframing

Median range: 14 to 56 hours, Max. value: 140 hours
(Estimates based on seven screens)

One aspect of app design is developing wireframes, which are minimal models for the layout and structure of each screen. The time required will increase with a higher number of features and greater amount of detail on each screen, and with more complex tasks or requirements. The figure will also be higher if your app has more than seven screens, which is the number we used for our calculation.

"This depends on brand requirements, existing applications, and user base."
Minnesota Mobile App Developer

"The amount of details on the screen and complexity of the task that is being solved [are the key drivers]."
Ukraine Mobile App Developer

Visual Design

Median range: 14 to 87.5 hours, Max. value: 210 hours
(Estimates based on seven screens)

Visual design is the process of creating images, iconography, and other artistic elements of the app. The amount of hours it takes for the visual design of the screens varies considerably. The most often cited drivers of a higher number of hours include a more complex screen and UI [user interface], a larger number of custom-designed elements, and more specific client preferences. Some factors mentioned that would lower the required hours are if there are existing software applications from which design elements can be borrowed, and if a flat design is used. Again, this number will vary if your number of screens is more or less than seven.

"[This varies based on the number of] custom versus OS-supplied elements, and the number of features."
Virginia Mobile App Developer

"Modern applications and flat design have made this step faster. Creation of iconography and hierarchy of text will vary this step."
Midwest U.S. Mobile App Developer

User Experience Design

Median range: 7.125 to 28 hours, Max. value: 200 hours

User experience design involves ensuring the app is easy and enjoyable to use with logical screen layouts and app architecture, and consistent design standards for that particular operating system or device. A number of respondents stated that these hours are not a separate step, but are rather built into each feature’s design and/or built into the wireframing process. So, the time accounted for in this component could include UX design overall or just the initial planning including prototype design.

"User experience design is an umbrella that covers interaction design, wireframing, UI [user interface] design, and so on. On a per-screen basis, UX design would combine the amount of time for wireframe design, visual design, and architecture."
Midwest U.S. Mobile App Developer

"The time given is for initial user experience input for the process. User experience is also spread throughout the process. This [figure] could include prototype development."
U.K. Mobile App Developer

 

Features

The list of features in an app can very lengthy or relatively short. The number of features itself is a driver of the cost it takes to build an app. The complexity of those features and the newness/unknown of features are additional factors that will drive the cost up. In our survey, we highlighted some features that could be key drivers if they are particularly complex.

Native device features

Median range: 4 to 29 hours, Max. value: 100 hours

Native device features are those features of the app software that interact with the device hardware. A higher number could indicate a more complex feature or a newly available technology.

“Two years ago [in 2012], the native features on a phone were dialing, networking activities, location aware, and accelerometer. A year ago, we got gyroscope added to that, we got more accuracy on location aware, and we also got a low energy Bluetooth. Now, we have two accelerometers, we have a barometer built in, and we have multiple NFC [near field communication] chips. So, the native aspect of development gets more and more ambiguous. Interacting with a native component is usually pretty simple because the APIs are very well set up. With a new feature that comes out, like Apple Pay, dealing with an NFC data chip, now all of a sudden it’s a new framework for Apple. Developers haven’t developed against it yet, so that’s going to be refined during the next two years, and the API is going to change drastically. So, it’s harder for us to estimate ambiguous native functionality without knowing specifically what it’s going to do. If we’re saying we’re going to do Apple Pay, that’s kind of an unknown. But, if we want a location aware app, we’ve been playing that game for four or five years with Apple, so we get that.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

"There are quite simple features, such as camera or location, and complex ones like CoreAudio or AVFoundation."
Belarus and U.S. Mobile App Developer

User Engagement (SMS, Email, Push, Social Media)

Median range: 5.5 to 30 hours, Max. value: 150 hours

Engagement tools are sometimes used in consumer apps such as email, SMS, push notifications, or social sharing. Simpler solutions involve native features and standard mechanisms. More complex features might have a third-party API or might need to be coded from scratch. Sometimes, you can integrate cost-effective paid services for these features to simplify the solution and decrease development time.

“Sharing features can vary drastically based on the required functionality. Is the SMS requirement going to use the built in messaging provided natively or are there more robust requirements necessitating integration with a messaging service like Twilio? Similar situations can exist with email. Social media can get tricky as Facebook is sometimes a moving target as to what they allow API users and developer access to.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

“Multiple notifications, social network integrations, and automated logic-based notification systems will drive up the cost of development.”
Midwest U.S. Mobile App Developer

“Tools such as Parse or Urban Airship can be used as a simple solution for push messages.”
New York Mobile App Developer

User Login

Median range: 4.5 to 28 hours, Max. value: 70 hours

User login can also be simple or complex. Most respondents indicated that additional features, such as “remember me,” “forgot password?,” and session expiration increase the price. Social login is also a more difficult feature. A more-detailed visual design and customized animation are additional drivers that increase cost.

“If login is only going to be on the device, and not backed by a server, this will be a lower cost item. If the login is backed by an existing API, this could fall into a mid-range estimate. The higher end is that if the API does not exist for a required online login and registration requirement.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

“There are a number of disciplines that are brought to bear when you’re designing and delivering the login feature. For example, when do we present the user with a login? Do we want to keep a barrier to entry to the app? The answer is no; generally speaking, we want users to come into an app and start using the app right away without a prompt you to register and login and become a user until you’ve gotten a feel for what this app does. Too many apps make the mistake of a login as the first thing they hit you with, and you don’t even know what the app does and you’re kind of put off by that. So, there is user experience thinking that goes into something as seemingly simple as user login.

Then, you must decide how to deliver the interface behind that. Do we login with Facebook or not? Is there a back-end associated with that? Do they currently have an account with these folks in some other place, like maybe on the Web? So, there are UX, design, interface design, graphic design, and, obviously, development considerations all around a feature like login.”
New York Mobile App Developer

Use of Location Data

Median range: 5 to 24 hours, Max. value: 150 hours

The cost of using location data in your app depends greatly on the functionality will be triggered when the data is received. In other words, how the location data will be used. Higher-end costs include emerging tech such as geofencing and iBeacons, as well as any complex visualization or functionality required.

"What is the location data being used for? Mapping the current user? Triggering an event?"
Chicago Mobile App Developer

"The cost depends on required functionality: just detecting a coordinate is simple, but geofencing is a bit more complicated."
U.S. and Belarus Mobile App Developer

Payments

Median range: 20 to 40 hours, Max value: 200 hours

Solutions for in-app payments can quite customized or standard out of the box. There are online services for payments, such as Stripe and Authorize.Net or native solutions like Apple’s In-App Purchase. Each payment processing method such as PayPal, credit cards, and Google Wallet, requires separate time to integrate, so the number of those options that you wish to include can also drive up the number of hours required. Recurring payments require additional development time versus one-time payments.

"This factor depends on the number of different payment methods required."
U.K. Mobile App Developer

"Using online services, such as Stripe or Authorize.Net [will be on the lower cost end] versus native payment options such as [Apple's] In-App Purchase or some other integrated payment system."
Chicago Mobile App Developer

Sync Across Devices

Median range: 16 to 62.5 hours, Max value: 200 hours

This feature means that the data in the app is synced with a back-end system and, therefore, the data can be accessed consistently on any device. Complex and large amounts of data, the necessity of a custom API, and a high number of API calls required will all drive up the cost of this component.

“It depends on the architecture of the sync, such as P2P [peer-to-peer], iCloud, custom server in the middle, bidirectional or not, and conflict resolving.”
Belarus Mobile App Developer

“We almost never do an application without this aspect. Almost all applications we develop today have web services integration, which means that data will work across all devices, so this means all applications that we build have that capability already.”
Minnesota Mobile App Developer

“Sometimes, native tools like iCloud will work (rarely). In other cases, building inter-platform sync is a long process that depends on the variety of data, type of synchronization, and so forth.”
Ukraine Mobile App Developer

“We call this device parity. It is highly dependent on API availability for this feature. There might be APIs for updating the content, but if there is nothing specifically outlining parity, it will have to be built out. Working with those APIs as they are developed will take more time.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

 

Infrastructure

Initial Setup / Basic Controls

Median range: 5 to 20 hours, Max value: 50 hours

The amount of time necessary for baseline setup is relatively minor. A larger-size project and higher number of controls, integration with any back-end system, as well as customization will drive up the cost somewhat.

"The number of screens and number of controls per screen can vary this cost."
Belarus and U.S. Mobile App Developer

"This depends on custom versus out-of-the-box solutions."
Virginia Mobile App Developer

Data Storage

Median range: 6.5 to 40 hours, Max value: 200 hours

Data storage solutions for an app can become more costly if the dataset is more complex. The method of storage and security level can also increase the cost.

“If we're talking about on device storage only, that would be somewhat easier. It also depends on the complexity of the dataset. Does the data need to live off device or online? That's going to bump up the cost significantly. If we need both offline and online storage, which is quite common, that will be the most expensive.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

"It depends on data complexity and the number of different data types."
Belarus Mobile App Developer

Third-party API Integration

Median range: 8 to 50 hours, Max value: 120 hours

Most apps use APIs to integrate a certain functionality or data set that a third party can provide. An API can be easier to cope with if it is well established, if the developer has utilized it before, especially if it's very common, if the documentation is detailed and up-to-date, or if it is included with a native SDK [software development kit]. High-quality third party support services can also make a difference in limiting the development time required.

Note: Some respondents stated that these hours were accounted for in the estimates that they provided under "features."

“If it's a well established API like Yelp, that would be somewhat easy. If it's a proprietary API from the client or a private service provider, significant discovery time will be required to investigate, understand, and integrate this into the application development and deployment scenarios.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

“This normally adds complexity to building each function in the app because API call is always a part of some functionality. It is mainly some basic network logic (send request, process response, handle general errors). Sometimes, third-party systems may already have frameworks that simplify work with that system.
Ukraine Mobile App Developer

Access to Enterprise Data

Median range: 22 to 100 hours, Max value: 400 hours

For enterprise apps, accessing data from a proprietary API can be an unknown in terms of the number of hours it will take. The range depends on the available API and the clarity of its documentation, the structure of and amount of data, and the system to be integrated with.

“If it's a proprietary API from the client or a private service provider, significant discovery time will be required to investigate, understand, and integrate this into the application development and deployment scenarios.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

“This figure depends on the set up/structure of the data and how it is being accessed.
U.K. Mobile App Developer

Data Encryption

Median range: 10 to 40 hours, Max value: 80 hours

Data in a mobile app may need to be encrypted for security purposes. More complex and larger datasets, as well as a higher level of security and encryption required can increase this figure.

“Encryption of small text is simple, but encryption of a database is a complex task.”
U.S. & Belarus Mobile App Developer

"If it's encryption for API usage, such as HTTPS, this is fairly straightforward. If it's something more robust, like encrypted data storage, it must be done in accordance with laws and regulations for encrypted algorithm export.”
Chicago Mobile App Developer

Scalability/Large Number of Users

Median range: 24 to 130 hours, Max value: 800 hours

This factor applies to the server-side or back-end that supports the app, and not the app itself. The app infrastructure is able to deal with rapid user acquisition. A higher number of supported users required can increase the number of hours, whereas more flexible third-party libraries can help limit this figure.

“Apps are built to scale in usage and to be extended in terms of scope, with a layered coding model, as standard.”
U.K. Mobile App Developer

“This relates only to backend that supports the app, but not the app itself. As with any optimization this always depends on your needs, and there is no need to make the app able to work with 1 billion users.”
Ukraine Mobile App Developer

 

App Administration

Infrastructure for performance management and analytics

Median range: 8 to 20 hours, Max value: 80 hours

Most consumer apps are built with analytics to understand user behaviors and assess performance. Tracking can be quite detailed and specific, causing the cost to increase, or more general and top level, with more limited cost required. Developers often utilize third-party services, such as Google Analytics or Flurry for this purpose. A more complex app or a larger number of desired parameters to track will increase the cost.

"This normally just depends on how many parameters you'd like to track."
Ukraine Mobile App Developer

"Lower value assumes 'out of the box' functionality. High value assumes more granular tracking like individual touch events"
Midwest U.S. Mobile App Developer

Web Portal or CMS to Manage App

Median range: 35 to 120 hours, Max value: 1000 hours

Sometimes a mobile app will require a Web application to manage app users, drive content, and more. The size and cost of the Web app or content management system depends greatly on the app’s purpose and the complexity of the needed solution and, therefore, can vary widely. Additionally, a relatively stylized and custom user interface is more costly than a standard or raw one.

"The size of a CMS can vary widely depending on the purpose of the app"
U.K. Mobile App Developer

"This depends on the amount of user roles, permissions complexity, CMS flexibility, custom/standard UI, and amount of custom features."
Eastern Europe Mobile App Developer

 

Testing

Internal, User, and Deployment Testing

Median range: 30 to 160 hours, Max value: 300 hours

The amount of time for testing is dependent on both the purpose of the app and its complexity. Many companies view testing as a certain percentage of the total app development time. Some specific percentages the respondents volunteered were 25 to 30 percent, 15 to 20 percent, 10 to 50 percent, 10 to 25 percent, and 30 percent.

Greater quantity and complexity of features and higher number of screens can increase testing time. Additionally, specific use cases, such as interactive games or highly secure apps, warrant additional testing time. Because this factor depends mainly on other decisions regarding the complexity of the app, the range of hours is very wide. While our survey conveys the development time for an iPhone app specifically, additional operating systems and device types will increase the testing time required.

"Testing time is determined on a percentage basis based on the total amount of development time required, taking into account use case and number and type of platforms as well."
U.K. Mobile App Developer

"Testing is 10 to 25 percent of total app development time, based on the complexity of app, level of security, and other issues."
Virginia Mobile App Developer

Deployment

Licensing, Packaging, and More

Median range: 5.125 to 11 hours, Max value: 40 hours

This component requires a relatively small amount of time, accounting for the administrative tasks of submitting the app to the App Store, if relevant.

"This includes any specific configuration required before sending to the App Store."
Ukraine Mobile App Developer

 

Survey Respondent Details

Below is some information on the companies we surveyed:

Count Country/Region Number of Employees Average Hourly Rate (USD)
1 U.K. 50-249 $100-149
1 U.K. 10-49 $100-149
1 Eastern Europe 50-249 not listed
1 Eastern Europe 10-49 $50-99
2 Eastern Europe and U.S.* 50-249 $50-99
1 Eastern Europe and U.S.* 50-249 $25-49
2 U.S. 50-249 $100-149
1 U.S. 10-49 $150-199
1 U.S. 10-49 $100-149
1 India 50-249 <$25

*Company has a strong engineering/delivery team based in the US in addition to overseas presence.