What is the Real Cost to Build a Mobile App

May 18, 2021

By:  John Tomblin, Senior Solutions Architect
PhoenixBizz, a division of Sofvue, LLC

What is the number one question that a small business or start-up wants to know when they take up the conversation about developing a mobile app for their business? That question is, invariably, the cost. This is why ten minutes into most conversations, the question "How much will it cost to have Phoenix Bizz build my company a mobile app?" comes up.

For mobile app development in Phoenix, generally speaking, costs typically fall somewhere between $10,000 and $1,000,000. When I give this answer to callers, most are shell shocked, and for good reason. They have asked a valid question, but I have given them an answer that is so broad in scope, they have no way of knowing what to do next. It is the proverbial chicken and egg scenario. So, here are the questions you need to ask yourself before picking up the phone to start the process.

First, you must decide whether your mobile app is going to be developed using a cross-platform solution like Xamarin, Flutter, or React, or if you plan to develop natively, and if you are planning to develop natively, are you planning to develop a solution for Android (Google), Xcode (Apple), or both? The answer to this question can have a significant impact on cost, and the decision is based on a number of factors beyond the scope of this article. That said, answering this question can impact your development costs from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, and if you do not know the answer to these questions, you will begin to understand why any company, including Phoenix Bizz, is so broad with our estimates.

Second, there is other variable costs beyond the (coding) costs of the mobile app. Apple and Google both have application requirements, fees for those applications, and varying fees based on the type of application you are submitting. They also have annual licensing renewal costs that you must pay, and for e-commerce sites, they charge anywhere from 15% to 30% per transaction, so in addition to the development costs, you must also know whether your product offering can support these add-on costs. Additionally, before you even submit your Apple application, you must provide your Dun & Bradstreet ID, company identification details, and numerous other information, as well as your corporation details. These are additional costs to your project that must be paid long before any coding work begins.

Third, you must know whether your mobile project is going to have an accompanying web application and or marketing website. After your mobile app is built, how, exactly, do you plan on marketing your mobile app to the world? How will people learn about your mobile solution? How will they contact you with questions or concerns, and if you do plan on having these accompanying components, have you established your brand identity, purchased your domain name, and met the legal requirements for setting up your corporation (LLC, S corp, C corp, non-profit, etc.)? Consider national brands like Uber and Grubhub. When most people think of these companies, they naturally think about ordering a ride-share or placing a pizza order using their mobile apps, but did you know Uber and Grubhub, along with millions of other mobile brands, all have an accompanying website? Go to www.uber.com or www.grubhub.com and see for yourself. If these entrenched brands have a website, do you think your mobile app will need one? Hint -- we have never built a mobile app, ever, that did not have both an accompanying website and web-application management system. Have you considered these assets as part of your overall market strategy?

Fourth is the need for and completion of a design schema, UX/UI architecture, and or the creation of the Master Scope Document (MSD). Here is a brief overview of each.

1. Design Schema:
Are you the type of business owner who wants to control the color palette, font styles and colors, and the general overall aesthetics of the mobile platform? If you are like most of our clients, the answer is a resounding yes. With this assumption in mind, do you know how to produce a design schema that a group of coders can follow? In 99% of our client projects, a design schema is not just necessary, it becomes an integral part of the project, and although it can involve as little as a few hours to assemble, we have had other projects that require ten, fifty, and even a hundred hours to create the design schema. Again, it all comes down to the complexity and requirements of your project.

2. UX/UI Architecture:
A gross misunderstanding of application development, whether mobile, web, or wearable, is the need to provide a viable UX/UI architecture. "UX" is tech talk for the user experience while "UI" focuses on maximizing the usability of the mobile or web app for the user. If you have ever heard someone, say, "I love how easy it is to use this app", then you have just witnessed great UX/UI. Developing solid UX/UI takes a unique set of skills and time to uncover how the UX/UI should be implemented for your mobile project. In some cases, particularly what Apple refers to as "Enterprise" accounts, UX/UI can be parsed into "front end" and "back end" architecture, so the amount of time required can take as little as twenty or as many as two hundred hours.

3. Master Scope Document:
For mobile app development in Phoenix, along with the surrounding markets we serve, we require that a Master Scope Document (MSD) be available before any cost or bidding information can be provided. Master Scope Documents (MSD's) are a combination of programming requirements, business requirements, algorithms, user stories, use cases, etc., as well as all the wireframe stack needed to launch your app. A small MSD might only require scoping for two or three weeks, but we have had other projects take as long as a year, and then multiple phases afterward. Generally speaking, though, most MSD's take between 6-9 months, with the number of mobile screens for projects as few as 20 or 30, or for larger projects, 200-500 screens. How these projects are divided is also a consideration since some are performed using sprints and agile methodology, scrum and waterfall, or a combination of two or more approaches. So, yet again, another reason why there is such a wide range of costs.

As you can see, asking how much it costs to build a mobile app can vary widely, and it is analogous to the common construction scenario I share with most of our clients. It goes sort of like this: "If I asked you to build me a 10,000 square foot home, and the size of 10,000 square feet was the only specified requirement, how much would you tell me it's going to cost? Taking it one step further, if I asked 100 builders to estimate the cost of the home, the builder wanting to build the cheapest home possible might tell you $200,000, while the builder wanting to build you the best technologically advanced home, with the most advanced architecture and top-of-the appliances, pool, an ornate theatre-room, and other amenities, might tell you $20,000,000. The question is... which number is the most correct? And therein lies the rub because the answer to this question can only be answered by you... and not until all the above steps have been flushed out and defined. So, with all these points in mind, I will now ask you the same question we get almost daily, "How must does it really cost to build a mobile app?" I look forward to hearing your response.

To learn more about costs for mobile app development in Phoenix, give us a call at 623-845-2747.

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