In this article we discuss tips on how to reduce the cost of developing mobile apps. This could be applied to building any software in general. The cost of developing mobile apps can vary greatly depending on many factors, but generally speaking, they can average between $38,000 to $171,000 according to Clutch. Thus investing in a mobile app for your business can be a risky and potentially expensive endeavor if you are not careful.
To be able to control costs, it’s important to understand the mobile app development process and what goes into making a mobile app from start to finish.
“Measure once, cut twice”
Having a plan can drastically reduce the app development cost. App developers are the biggest cost in most app development projects. If you don’t have a plan they can understand and follow, a lot of (billable) time can be spent on planning for you before they can even get started. Planning can involve many things including strategizing about the business model, researching what competitors are doing and how they are pricing, to thinking about the features and functionality of the app itself.
App development cost can balloon or be a huge unknown for app development agencies when the requirements are loose or unknown. That’s because when things are not clearly defined, it can be interpreted very differently. Put differently, if you don’t know what you want, you might change your mind. Just like a contractor will have to charge you for the labor and materials of a kitchen remodel if you keep changing your mind about how it’s laid out and the materials, so will an app development agency have to charge you for the cost of going back and forth. To reduce cost, it’s best to be very clear and precise on what you want and make up your mind before starting the project.
“The lesson of the MVP is that any additional work beyond what was required to start learning is waste, no matter how important it might have seemed at the time.” - Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Another reason the app development cost can be expensive is that you are trying to do too much with the first version of the product. What you often see when you look at a competitor’s product is years of development to get to that state. In the startup world, it is recommended that you build the MVP or minimum viable product before investing too much money into the full vision of the mobile app. A minimum viable product (MVP) is a version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers who can then provide feedback for future product development. The reason to do this is that you have an idea of all the features that a customer wants, but without validating the idea with some early customers, it’s really impossible to know if all the features you are cramming into the app are actually useful to the customer.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”
It can be hard to articulate your vision of your mobile app to a person or a team. Words have a certain level of fidelity, but words can be left to interpretation. Having a design to show the app development agency will give them a much better idea of what you are trying to build instead of just describing the app or even having the requirements. They don’t have to imagine what it will be like. Imagine hiring a construction company to build a home or building. What would be more successful: showing the construction company the design of the building and having the complete architectural diagrams or having a word document and talking them through it?
Doing the design work before starting the app development process can significantly reduce the cost. You can break up the app development process into two phases. The design phase is where you can hire a UI/UX design agency to design everything from the wireframes, the user flows, the pixel-perfect mockups, and the clickable prototype. Once you have all of that ready, a mobile app development firm can take those designs as directions they can follow with little or no ambiguity on what it will look like.
As you know, the app development labor cost is one of the most expensive line items in the app development process. A Mobile Engineer salary in the US is estimated to be about $94,776 so reducing the time an app development agency has to spend on engineering can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Fortunately, building a mobile app in 2022 is more cost-effective than ever before. There are many SaaS (software as a service) platforms that can perform specific features of your app that rather than having expensive engineers build those features from scratch, you can just rent/lease those pieces of software to reduce not only upfront costs but time to build.
A great example of this is chat. Chat or messaging is such a common feature of most modern mobile apps that it’s sometimes taken for granted. You can hire an agency to build the chat feature in your app from scratch or you can leverage existing chat software development kits (SDKs) such as SendBird, Twilio Programmable Chat, or CometChat. The price can vary from a tiered monthly fee or even a per-usage fee, but the cost of plugging this software into your app will most certainly be less than having the agency build it from scratch. These companies that build chat SDKs and APIs build their whole business on building the best chat tools. A general-purpose software development agency is not going to build a better chat than them.
Just like building something from scratch is going to be more expensive than leasing a software library, designing a mobile app from scratch is going to be more expensive than working off an existing design. Fortunately, there are so many design kits and libraries for any idea you might have that you probably don’t have to start from scratch here either. Design template sites such as UI8 , ThemeForest, Creative Market have huge collections of UI Kits and design templates for all sorts of app ideas that you can have a design agency modify instead of having them design from zero.
Building an app for both the Apple ecosystem and the Google Android ecosystem is expensive because you are essentially building the same app twice for two different platforms. Although some backend infrastructure can be shared, the mobile apps themselves have to be written for each specific programming language: iOS Development for Apple, and Android Development for Google, respectively.
However, there are technology platforms that allow mobile programming code to be written once while being able to work in multiple operating systems and platforms. React Native is one such development platform that allows developers to write code once and create both native iOS and Android apps. React Native development is a great way to reduce app development costs if you HAVE to launch with both iOS and Android versions and because React Native is a very widely adopted technology, there are many React Native app development agencies to choose from.
If you do not have a technical background or have someone in your company that can help vet freelancers, developers, and agencies, picking the right one can be difficult and potentially an expensive mistake. Find someone in your network who can act as a sounding board to help vet the agency but also to see if how they plan to approach your project is not only sound but aligned with your needs.
The cost of labor is going to be by far the most expensive line item in any app development project and one of the biggest decisions is going to be: do you outsource the development or do you build a team?
Building an in-house team is a long-term decision and requires a commitment to budget for all the roles that are required to build a software product. Typical roles that are required to build software include front-end developers, back-end developers, solution architects, designers, project managers, and QA testers.
If the project is still exploratory or perhaps you don’t have the budget to build a team, hiring an external team to build the initial version of the app can be a viable option. If you have some internal resources, you might not have to outsource everything, but only the parts where you lack experience and expertise.
Once you’ve decided to outsource, there are more considerations as well? What type of firm would you want to use? A large IT shop that can do everything or a small boutique firm with niche specialization? Are you thinking of outsourcing to offshore firms due to cost or budget constraints? Are you prepared to work around huge timezone differences? Perhaps nearshore agencies might work better for you. If you are concerned with potential communication issues with non-native English speakers and cultural differences, then maybe US-based development agencies might work best for you. Or perhaps you prefer being able to meet and work in person and a local agency works best for you.
When you have an idea, it’s very easy to think that your idea is so unique that there couldn’t possibly be anything out there like it. And perhaps that is true for the complete solution, but parts of it might already exist as software you can buy. (See the Build vs Buy section). Another way to drastically reduce the cost of building your software is to see if there is an open-source alternative you can build off or customize rather than building from scratch.
Examples of these include:
So before embarking on the build route, explore the open-source-and-customize route to see if that’s possible. That will not only save money but time as well.
There has been a growing trend in the software industry around no-code development platforms that enable programmers and non-programmers alike to create software applications through GUI (graphical user interfaces) and configuration instead of traditional computer programming. Oftentimes, using a no-code platform to build your software application can be substantially cheaper. You are making some tradeoffs as your application will be running on the no-code platform and you might be stuck with its limitations. Bubble.io and Webflow are some examples of popular no-code platforms. If your software application can be built using a no-code development platform, finding no-code agencies can be another way to reduce development costs.
We’ve presented many ways to reduce the cost of your mobile app development. By implementing some of these tips, you can not only shave down the cost dramatically but also shorten the time to market which can be crucial in many projects.
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