How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? A Case Study

From Anne Giles Clelland:

We first asked and answered the question, How much does a mobile app cost?, in November of 2010, three months after the launch of our first mobile app, a directory with contact information for all the people and companies featured on Handshake 2.0.

Based on our research and experience at the time, I wrote, “A mobile application that took 500 hours to develop at $100 per hour would cost $50,000.”

We would like to update our post with some background, a case study of one, and answers from others to the question.

The Context

I sketched the basics of our first app in 2010 with a black marker on a whiteboard and sent photographs of the whiteboards to our developer, Alex Edelman.  He translated my stick figures and flow charts into code and created a user interface with simple graphics.  At the time, I thought “develop” just meant “give it to Alex” i.e. give an idea to a mobile app developer and he/she will make it happen.

Over the next two years, we became more ambitious with our mobile apps, developing new versions of our directory app, a puzzle, a social network.  Drawing conclusions about the mobile application development business model from that almost two-year history, I wrote:

“Mobile app development” is mobile software application development, i.e. it requires the writing of lines of code, line after line after line, by a programmer with the hard-won know-how to write those lines. And that’s only part of the process of taking an idea to Store or Market. Every step, from design (our mobile app design infographic shows even that step has steps), to coding, to testing, to uploading for distribution, takes human labor and human time. Kent Nguyen writes, “Dear business people, an iOS app actually takes a lot of work!” And that work costs. Whether a company has a paying client or start-up founders are paying with hope, somebody’s paying.

The Case Study

SCV-on-Thought-FullA core team of 3 of us, with additional or occasional help from half a dozen generous developers and marketers, bootstrapped the design, development and marketing of one of our most recent mobile application releases, Thought Full(TM). All of us worked on the app part-time.  From our first meeting to release took 7 months.  We worked for free, but if someone had contracted with our company, Handshake Media, Incorporated, to develop Thought Full, we estimated our total billable hours at 1000.  At $100 per hour, that’s a $100,000 app.

At $.99 per download, we would need over 100,000 paid downloads to break even on our labor on Thought Full.  Per Apple’s agreement with developers, we cannot reveal our numbers.  But you can see in the iTunes App Store that Thought Full has one customer review.  So you’re welcome to draw your own conclusions about profitability.

And those 1000 hours are just for the iOS version.  We have yet to release an Android version.

How much does a mobile app cost?  Here are other answers, most recent listed first.

Emily Wampler contributed to the research for this post.

For further reading:

On the Mobile App Development Business Model
On Inventing Mobile Apps
Mobile App Design Infographic
Getting Started in the Business of Mobile App Development
How Much Does a Mobile App Cost? (2010)

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