Apps have become ubiquitous. Historically, there have always been ways to make apps on the cheap (web or mobile)—and it still can be done, but the mini-marketing or mono-apps rarely succeed. Users have higher than ever expectations for applications and demand to get utility out of them. While anyone can build an app (or outsource to a dev shop), this isn’t always going to produce the best outcome. The bezel, visuals, and UI are only the tip of the iceberg—most people are unaware of the complexity beneath the surface and the true cost to create an app that adds value to people’s lives.
So, if you are considering a digital application, we’re going to take you beneath the surface and reveal the whole iceberg. Let's dive in.
The cost of developing an app
Pricing app development can be tricky because it depends greatly on how much support you need and the app’s complexity. Based on our experience, the average cost to develop an app in 2021 ranges from $40,000 on the low end for a simple app to over $500,000 for a complex enterprise app. If you need a digital product with high functionality that supports multiple platforms and devices, can integrate with a ton of third-party apps, is visually appealing, based in the cloud, and/or uses any smartphone hardware features (like GPS, motion coprocessor, NFC technology, etc.), you’re most likely looking at the higher end of this range.
Additionally, you’ll need to consider ongoing maintenance. Who will keep your app up to date as technology changes, something goes wrong, or you want new features? If you use a Dev shop for other one-off solutions, you may find yourself reaching out years later and hoping for a response. If you get one, you’ll likely be handed to someone who has never seen your app. Hiring a full-time developer of your own can cost upwards of $90,000 per year.
Having an ongoing relationship with the agency that builds your app certainly makes ongoing maintenance less complicated for you, but there are still associated costs. Just like with a website, there is a monthly hosting cost for apps. A media-rich app may be more expensive to host since it requires more RAM and disk space and a higher CPU server. Additionally, it will cost money to monitor your app performance on an ongoing basis to ensure your audience isn’t running into issues. Unfortunately, people will rarely report bugs—instead, they’ll just delete the app. You’ll also need to plan for updates as iOS and Android evolve, plus any licensing fees that apply to your app.
As you can see, more goes into the cost of an app than just development. Offering your users a well-rounded app will require more than just a one-time fee.
Approach to creating an app
With all of these complicated factors to consider, you may be wondering how anyone manages to build an app they’re proud of. From ideation to creation and maintenance, it can be a lot to manage. There are many ways to approach building an app, from using a no-code platform to do it yourself, hiring a creative agency or dev shop, or working with a digital product design agency that offers a full range of services. In the end, it all comes down to choosing the right approach for you.
Low-code or no-code development platforms may be an option, but they’re certainly not the easiest way to go. You’ll have limited customization, limited ability to update as software changes and new desired features arise, and limited ability to troubleshoot problems. Additionally, you’ll most likely have to manage all of the other ongoing maintenance fees by yourself using multiple third-party vendors.
Working with a creative agency or dev shop will likely be easier, but neither can offer a comprehensive approach. A dev shop can help you create a fully functional app and help address issues that arise. However, they are generally very technically-minded and may not anticipate every user's desire or offer an aesthetically pleasing final product. A creative agency can help you think through the latter, but may not have the technical expertise you need.
A digital product design agency is often the most all-in-one approach. With a digital agency, you’ll get help with brainstorming, user experience, design, and execution. A digital agency can be a long-term partner through the evolution of your app, allowing you to scale and grow.
Going beneath the surface
The truth is, behind every app, there lies a wealth of infrastructure. To build an app that is truly functional and useful for people, you have to think beyond the action you want users to take. This usually requires partnering with a digital agency that can help dig into the research, strategize, create a delightful user experience, and course correct any issues that arise. Going with a Dev shop or a do-it-yourself platform may seem like the easiest and least expensive route, but you’ll likely miss a lot of value that lies beneath the surface.