Since we’re an app development agency, it’s a question we get asked continuously. And I hate giving the same answer each time: “How long is a piece of string?”. This is replying to a question with another question (grr) and doesn’t help at all. My next sentence is always something like “From £10k to £100k depending on how complex it is”. This is just as unhelpful. Sorry.
I’ve written this article to give you an overview of how much each stage of app development costs. It outlines the required budgets for each phase of the build, based on typical agency costs in Scotland.
This price range will get you a “workshop session” (also called “scoping session” or “discovery session”) with an app development agency. During this session, you will meet with experts such as product owners, developers and designers. You’ll discuss the ins and outs of your idea, who will use it, how your business will work, and what your vision is. Sessions last from a couple of hours to a whole day session depending on your requirements and budget.
The outputs of these sessions vary from a strategy document to a full-blown proposal for your build. At Bad Dinosaur (an agency in Edinburgh where I work) we charge £475+VAT for a 2-hour session with three digital product experts. After this, we will have an internal strategy session without you to build a proposal. The proposal will give you an idea of the cost of building your app, broken down into components like this:
User registration system — 2 days
Admin system to manage products — 4 days
Testing — 5 days
The next phase of the project is almost always a design phase. During this phase, you would work with designers to design the look and feel of your app. This starts with a storyboard, which is a document describing how the users will flow through your application. We will refer to this document throughout the build, to ensure the design and development of the application is on track.
After storyboarding, designers will “mock-up” the user interface. This will result in a clickable demo of the app. You can visit each page and perform each journey, but any data you input won’t be saved. Mock-ups are useful for getting early feedback about your idea or for performing user testing with a focus group.
If you’re based in Scotland you can get funding for this phase in the form of a Scottish Enterprise By-Design grant. This is a 70% funded grant up to £5,000. So for a £7,000 design project, you could claim back £5,000! More information on the grant can be found here.
Once you’re happy with the design, it’s time to start development. You’ll probably want to release on both Android and iOS, and you might need a web-based version of your app too. All that development work can be quite expensive, and it can be very hard to keep all the different versions looking and working the same. On top of this, some extra time should be allowed for verification on the Apple App Store and Google Play store. Apps can be stuck in Apple and Google’s testing and verification for a while, or sometimes forever if your app doesn’t meet their terms and conditions.
You’ll be pleased to know that there is an easier and cheaper way — it’s called Progressive Web Application, or PWA for short. This is a new technology which allows you to release an app on all platforms at once without having to write the code many times or deal with app stores. When you’re using a PWA, it feels just like using a “native” app, and you get access to a lot of the device features such as GPS location, microphone, camera and additionally Android and desktop users get push notifications (coming soon on iOS!).
When potential customers google your brand and end up on your website, they won’t need to visit the app store to download your app. A pop-up will ask “Do you want to add this to your home screen?”. From then on, they can tap the icon on their home screen to start your app. No installation is necessary.
And the best part? Traditional app development starts at around £50,000 to launch a simple app on iOS, Android and the web. With PWAs, because it’s so much easier, it costs more like £10,000–20,000, leaving you with the budget to build more features! There is also help from Scottish Enterprise (if you’re in Scotland) for grant funding for this phase of the project, too.
Software development can be an expensive ride. My biggest piece of advice is to build the least to start with (known as the Minimum Viable Product). Pick the cheapest route to limit your financial risk and try out an idea. Start-up failure rates are very high, so test your ideas with a clickable prototype first, and use a cheap and fast route to market.
There’s also a huge amount of help for funding your project, especially in Scotland, without having to go to the bank or investors. Grant funding is perfect for trying out a digital project idea as you don’t have to pay any money back to the bank or answer to investors just yet. This leaves you to focus on the most important things — your product and your customers.
By building PWAs, you can also iterate fast with design and feature ideas. The code is faster to write, and you don’t have to wait for the app stores to publish changes or users to download your updates. Being a digital start-up is all about being lean and agile, so keep your design and development that way, too.
Still unsure about the price of building a mobile app? Check out this handy price calculator: https://howmuchtodevelopmobileapp.com/
Russ Peterson is a director of Bad Dinosaur, a software design and development agency in Scotland focused on building Minimum Viable Products through lean/agile, a collaborative “co-design” process, and good communication.
Find out more at www.baddinosaur.co.uk