Understanding the Factors Influencing Mobile App Development Costs

As a partner in a mobile software company, I frequently get peppered with the following types of questions:

“So my <brother-in-law/neighbor/roommate/CEO> has an idea to start a company like <uber/facebook/salesforce/youtube> for <dog walkers/tree trimming/loan sharking>… how much will it cost to build a mobile app for it?”

My answer is typically:

“It depends… I would need a lot more detail to be able to give you a rough estimate”

There are a lot of variables that go into building a mobile app. I like to use the analogy that estimating building a mobile application is like estimating a home build out:

  • What kind of house are you building:  Shanty, trailer, condo, McMansion, historic renovation?
  • How quickly do you need your house to be built?
  • How many rooms? How many bathrooms? Garage? Basement?
  • What material do you want to use to build your house: Wood? Brick? Concrete? Glass?
  • What amenities are you looking for in your house:  Jet Tub? Pool? Designer Kitchen?
  • How much are you prepared to pay to maintain your house?

As you start to answer all of these questions, it helps you to narrow down how much it will cost to build your house, how long it will take to build, and how much it will cost to maintain. In software, this is know as the Scope triangle of Resources, Time, and Quality.

When I do scoping of a mobile application, the following are the question areas that we will typically dive into before we try to SWAG out an estimate.

  • General sense of the application flow:  How many screens in the app,  how does the user flow through the app.
  • How do you plan on monetizing the application:  For Sale,  In App purchases,  complimentary services, app will produce lift on existing offerings, user data monetization.
  • Complexity of the data pieces involved in the app:  video, audio, location.
  • Authentication types:  LDAP, Facebook, Twitter, custom.
  • Existing systems and pieces that you have in place:    Data, authentication, payment.
  • What interactions does the app have to make with device hardware: e.g. camera, microphone, barometer, accelerometer, compass, scanner, NFC, RFID, Bluetooth.
  • Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows 10, Windows CE, Hybrid.
  • Performance Requirements: How quickly does the app need to respond to user requests.
  • Availability Requirements:  Does that application need to be available in disconnected states (e.g. offline).
  • Security Requirements: PII, HIPAA, PCI, Encryption, Non-Repudiation, etc.
  • What payment types do you plan on taking: Credit card, PayPal, Apple Pay, BitCoin, etc.
  • Dev Ops:  Capabilities of your current teams,  your current deployment environment, server infrastructure, testing tooling, deployment tooling.
  • Support:  How much support will be required, how will do handle analytics,  how often.

The above are some of the bigger areas we will review as we dive into application scoping with customers. In certain situations, it can take a full week of discovery sessions to get to the point of having a good estimate.

“Wait” you say. “My brother in law doesn’t  care about the above process…  he just wants to know how much it will cost to build an app exactly like _________.”

OK… I get it!  You just want me to give you an estimate of what it would take to copy someone else’s app.

Given that request,  the following are some estimates buckets I think it would cost to clone some popular applications.

Note: I have made some basic assumptions around the work involved.

  • The estimate includes Design (UX and Technical), Development (Mobile and Backend), Testing, and Deployment for one iteration in the current form.
  • For larger companies (e.g. Home Depot, Delta, AmEx) they have existing systems of record for the data, you would just have to build new APIs to interact with that data.
  • For complex apps with new backend functionality, you would need to build that functionality from scratch.

This estimate is to “clone” one of these apps. These guys have all invested a lot of time iterating to get to the point where they are today.

Enough with the assumptions, here is the list:

Less Than $10,000

Apps that cost less than $10k to build are typically pretty simple applications that have one screen and one function.

Flashlight App
Nothing in the app is exceptionally complex or could not be found with some quick research. This app started out pretty simple, but has iterated multiple times with lots more functionality.  If your hired developer doesn’t have a ton of experience, it may wind up costing you more than 10K to clone this one.

Bubble Level
Bubble level uses the gyroscopic sensor in the iPhone to mimic the behavior of a real life level.  I am not sure why you would need to use a level while driving your car, but they seem compelled to include it in their features.

Coin Flip
This app is basically a coin selector with a random flip generator.  I am pretty confident that most developers would be able to clone this for under $10K.

$10,000 – $100,000

Apps in the $10k-$100k range begin to have more complex UIs and integration into data systems.

Yo App
The Yo App is an app for sending a simple poke to your friends when they are in your general vicinity.   Yo has integration with mapping functionality and has contact grouping with some more complex functionality for figuring out where your friends are.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock
Sleep cycle is aimed to help measure your sleep by tracking vibrations caused by movement in the night. Features of sleep cycle include integrating with Apple’s health kit, leveraging the accelerometer on the device, and alarm functionality.

Banana Republic App
The Banana Republic app is a great example of the complexity of omni-channel retail. Easy browse and search features are only the beginning. Users have the ability to buy across GAP Inc. stores with one easy checkout, scan product bar codes for alternate sizes and colors and receive special offers and services.

Tasker allows you to perform tasks based on contextual rules (application, time, date, location, event, gesture) in user-defined profiles. An example of this would be “when my location changes to office, turn off wifi” or “enable auto-rotate when I launch youtube app”.  The complex set of rules and system integrations makes this a very useful tool.

$100,000 – $500,000

Apps in the $100k-$500k range will typically have complex screen flows and will have data synchronization and security controls in place.

This team communication tool has proved indispensable to us. Features include real time messaging and file sharing, integration with hundreds of app (Dropbox, Twitter, Google Drive) and configurable notification. And it instantly syncs across devices.

Nest Mobile
Nest Mobile App is the best of IoT, allowing  you to control your Nest Learning Thermostat, Nest Protect, Nest Cam and Dropcam all in one place. Integrating thermostat control, smoke and carbon monoxide alarm notifications and security camera footage keeps you connected to what’s happening in your home no matter where you are.

Beyond Pod
The Beyond Pod podcast app lets you access hundreds of thousands of audio and video podcasts from around the world. Extensive search and import features paired with customizable connection settings, configurable “smart” playlists and integration with feedly lets you experience your content the way you like it. 

$500,000 – $1,000,000

Apps in this range start to have some very complex security or data interaction functionality (in addition to a complex UI)

FitBit App
There’s a reason the FitBit app comes to mind first when talking about wearable tech. Features include tracking and recording workouts, monitoring heart rate, food and hydration logs and measuring your sleep. Add to that the ability to set and monitor goals, sync wirelessly and connect with friends and family and you’ve got a powerhouse of recorded, searchable and shareable data.

Streaming TV and movies is a complicated process. The Netflix app accomplishes this pretty seamlessly and includes the ability to predict content you’ll enjoy, separated for up to 5 different profiles, in a multitude of languages.

AmEx Mobile App
Security is the top concern when you’re dealing with banking, payment and financial apps. The AmEx Mobile app includes enhanced security features and fraud alerts as well as the ability to track spending and rewards, find offers and pay your bill.


These are apps I think it would take more than a million dollars to clone. These apps have tons of hidden features and are not as simple as you assume from a functional statement.

The Home Depot App
Take the best of omni-channel (search, BOPIS, product reviews) and add GPS enabled in-store mapping with store specific menus, visual item look up features and voice search and The Home Depot app stands out as a best in show retail mobile app.

Delta App
The recently redesigned Delta app includes quick access to important day-of-travel information, a host of mobile payment features for booking flights (choosing/changing seats, the ability to pay for and track baggage), and complex navigation tools (parking and airport maps, gate and baggage carousel information).

Ingress is an engaging multiplayer alternate augmented reality game that leverages location and real world interactions.  Players have profiles and teams in the “Ingress” reality.  The interaction, mapping, notifications, and large scale of the interaction make Ingress very engaging and hard to replicate.

Google Maps
Your default navigation tool includes comprehensive, accurate maps in 220 countries and territories with real time traffic conditions, automatic re-routing  and transit option information, reviews, ratings and indoor images and mapping for local businesses and restaurants for over 100 million places in 15,000 cities. Now integrated with ride services (Uber, 99Taxis, Ola Cabs, Hailo, MyTaxi and Gett).


A lot more goes into building an app than just “sticking some screens together”.  As you look to price out your mobile app, make sure you understand what features and functionality are necessary and what are the nice to have’s.

Further Reading:

The following are some good articles on the cost of building mobile apps.  Note that some of these are a year or two old, so the figures may be dated, but they still provide some good thoughts around scoping and scale of mobile apps:

The True Costs of Launching a StartUp  from www.fastcompany.com

Development is expensive: Mobile and web applications and stores are interactive and more expensive. Smart web development companies will bill for their services like a law firm—for time and materials. The more time it takes and the more people involved in building your system, the more it costs. Some companies will charge a fixed fee—and then they deliver late and lose money.

To build an online store or application from scratch expect a team of 4 developers to spend at least 6 months designing, implementing, testing and launching it. At $50 per person per hour, working full time each month, the monthly cost is $32,000 per month. In this case you would pay $196,000 over six months.”

How Much Does it Cost to Develop an App? The True Price of Starting from Scratch  from www.thenextweb.com

(Note this is from 2013)

What is the cost of an average app, and why? “You’re likely looking at around $120-150k to do that,”

How Much Does it Cost to Build the World’s Hottest Startups?  From www.fastcompany.com   

(This article talks about cost to build MVP of popular apps, also from 2013)

“If you asked me to build Facebook.com for you, I would quote you $500,000 and nine months of development and design time,” says Schippers. “Others would say one million or a much bigger number. But it’s a very challenging question to answer because what it would cost to build is a small number while operational costs are enormous.”

How Much Does an App Cost: A Massive Review of Pricing and other Budget Considerations from www.savvyapps.com

“Apps built by the largest app companies, the “big boys”, likely cost anywhere between $500,000 to $1,000,000.   “a v1.0 app should cost anywhere between $140,000 to $210,000.”

App Development Cost Estimator:   www.appdevelopmentcost.com