What does it cost to build an app?

Mobile 101: This post is part of our educational series on mobile technology. If you are new to the smart phone/app arena, this series is a good place to start.

I’m often asked, “What does it cost to build an app?” This question is tough to answer because it’s like asking “What does it cost to build a house?”

Short Answer

In my experience, you’ll probably pay north of $100k for a polished iPhone app with good functionality, but you could pay $20k for something really simple. Multiply those figures if you also want your app on iPad, Blackberry, and/or Android devices.

Long Answer

Read on for some of the criteria I’ve learned to consider.


If we built an app with the very basics — just some text on the screen — users wouldn’t return. We needed more complex functionality (a news feed, feedback forms, polls, and the ability for our sponsors to update the app “on the fly”).

What I learned: Functionality is expensive, especially in apps.

Graphic Design

It’s not hard to remember what websites looked like twenty years ago:

Good graphic design is one of the first things a user notices when visiting an app.

What I learned:  You really need a good graphic designer to make your app look professional.

Interaction Design

I knew that graphic design was important, but it took me a while to appreciate “interaction design”.

Think of interaction design as the “big picture” thinking of an app. It’s the blueprint (wireframes) for how everything works.

What I learned: Design is essential at the beginning of the process. You may spend a lot of time up front, but this forethought will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Design vs Coding

I dove into our app development underestimating the difference between designers and coders.

In short, coders don’t design apps. They build apps. You wouldn’t tell a carpenter to build a house without blueprints from an architect.

What I learned: You can’t give a coder a general idea for what you want and expect that he or she can read your mind.  Spend the money to draw up good plans first.


I knew that I wanted our app on more than just the iPhone. If we had developed for only one platform, we’d exclude a whole bunch of users who don’t have that phone.

What I learned: The coding for one platform is not easily transferable to another platform, so you need a different coder and designer for each platform.

Maintenance Costs

Unlike building a house, when you build an app, your foundation is constantly changing (maybe it’s like building a house in California?).

At least once a year, the “OS” (operating system) is updated. The OS is like the foundation that all of your code runs on. Your code needs to be updated every time the OS is updated.

Also, when new phones are released, your code may need to be updated. For example, when the “retina display” was created for the iPhone 4, it was great for users, but a pain in the rear for us. We spent days updating our photos and images.

What I learned: You’ll need to pay for code updates when the OS changes and new devices are released.

Developer Choice

“Experienced” programmers have three years experience, so determining a competent programmer vs. a “big talker” is difficult.

What I learned: Going abroad is almost always cheaper, but you often get what you pay for in terms of quality, design, and communication.


Building a professional, functional app on your own is expensive. The costs range wildly (anywhere from $50k to $100k+) for just one platform, such as the iPhone. I encourage you to read more articles and posts from people who aren’t trying to sell you an app.

In addition to costs, building a good app takes time and focus. If you’re an organization in the business of X, your focus should be on X.

We’re in the business of apps. We’ve spent the last two years learning what’s important, making revisions and building a great, customizable app called “crib sheet”.

Our prices are reasonable.  Our annual subscription will cost you less than the annual maintenance costs if you built your own app.

With the huge growth in mobile, now is the perfect time to get a mobile app for your organization. We encourage you to check us out.