Why Are Apps So Expensive?

I must be mad. When you look at an app on Apple’s App Store, or Google Play’s homepage, you may instantly disagree with the title of this post. 69 pence is about a third of the cost of a local bus ticket and cheaper than a can of Coke.

Contrast this with an average development cost per app of between £100K-£350K. Yes, that ‘K’ means ‘thousand’, it’s only a few pictures and a bit of code, right?

Short answer:

No.

Long answer:

Keep reading.

I should note that not all apps are expensive to develop, it depends largely on whether or not you’re building a native or web app, the specific technologies required by the client, and whether or not you’re trying to build a virtual monolith of content like the next Facebook, or you’re going for a much simpler application with a few bits of static content.

So, native vs web apps. It’s not that hiring someone to build a mobile web app will cost you less than hiring someone to build a native app, but if you want your app to be available on both major platforms (iOS and Android), plus Windows Phone and any other minority platforms if you want maximum reachability, you will need to hire a developer, or developers, to write the app for each platform. So that’s 3X the cost to have it running on 3 platforms.

Of course if you had a development guru who was able to build native apps for each platform, you might think that might cut things down, but that developer would still need time to build 3 different versions of the same thing, from scratch. These all-rounders are a lot harder to find though, and their day rate often reflects this.

The client who commissions the app might also require certain, specific technologies, that perhaps the development team don’t possess the skills to do in house, which means another contractor to build a specific part of the app. For instance, if your app needs to have a login system hooked up to a database, or further web based functionality, you might expect to have to hire a developer with this specific skill set to build the server end.

When you want to build an app, of course you have a reason for wanting to build it. You could want a companion app for an existing website, a game, or something completely new. Either way, you will have an idea of the content. Even if your application is relatively simple in function, for instance an encyclopedia app, with basic page swiping and no real foreseeable complications, you still have a whole lot of content, that somebody needs to input at some point, and more likely than not, they won’t be working for free.

Mobile technologies are part of an ever expanding, ever changing universe. In order to develop an app that will work on one of multiple platforms in this universe, a developer must constantly be learning and updating their skill set. This makes it clear that a development team can be a costly purchase. Don’t forget to add this on to the cost of graphic designers, UX designers, project managers, copyrighters, sound engineers and the pizza delivery man when everyone is crunching in the last minute because something does always, yes, always, go wrong.

Of course, what you’re left with at the end is, hopefully, a beautiful, stable application that you’re proud to submit to the various app stores as a representative of your business. If you have an idea and the capital to do it properly, it’s a great way to get access to millions of users via their phones and tablets.

Just don’t skimp out and try to do it for £20 and an IOU.