Mobile App Development

Custom App Development: Estimating Costs and Timelines

Custom app development requires research, planning, and following a process. Learn about development costs and timelines and get started.

The process of custom app development may sound daunting, but it doesn't necessarily need to be. We've written this overview to help decision makers like you estimate potential project costs and timelines so you can effectively plan for development and set your team up for a successful product launch.

Here's what we'll cover:

Associated Costs and Timelines

Picking a Platform: iPhone or Android

Getting Started: Build Your Own Estimate

The Final Numbers

Cost Breakdown Worksheet

While reading through this article, please note:

  1. The purpose of this content is to provide you with a very rough frame work for estimating a price for your project as well as a potential development timeline.
  2. These estimates are not exact or specific to your project, however, they will help you ballpark an eventual investment.
  3. The development process we reference in this article is the process we follow internally to provide clients with initial time and price quotes for their projects.

Custom Apps: Associated Costs and Timeline

How much does custom app development cost and how long will it take?

These are two of the first questions our prospective clients ask during our initial development discussions. It is challenging to give a simple answer, because there are so many variables that go into developing even just an estimate for custom app development as well as a timeline. To better illustrate this point, consider the following scenario:

Custom Apps are Like Custom Homes

You want to build a new home, so you hire a contractor. If you asked your contractor how much it would cost to build a house, they would have a number of questions for you. Do you have a blueprint? If not, how big is the house? How many floors? How many bedrooms? Will there be a pool or a guesthouse?

Just as a building contractor would require details to provide an accurate estimate, app developers will have a hard time giving guidance without comprehensive information and details. However, we recognize that building an application is a big project and that you’re looking to gather some information on the process before making a final decision.

Custom App Development: Things to Consider

Typically, when it comes to custom app development, there are 4 separate software applications included with every development project. There 4 applications include:

  1. iPhone
  2. Android
  3. Customer/Admin Web Application
  4. Back-End Database

To get started on putting together a price and time quote, it is important to note that you'll need to ask yourself some questions including, but not limited to:

  1. Do you need an iPhone app?
  2. How about an Android app?
  3. Do you need an admin portal (web application) to view analytics or manage users and content from inside the app?
  4. Do you need a database for users to access their content from multiple devices (and to see the same information on every device like Facebook, Linkedin, Quickbooks, ect.)

Custom App Development: Rough Cost Estimates

Roughly speaking, we find each software product (iPhone, Android, Web App, and Database), starts somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 depending on its complexity. Oftentimes our clients start with one custom application (for example, an iPhone/iOS application) and the database. In this scenario, and keeping in mind averages, the entire project would likely start between $20,000 and $40,000.

Conversely, if you need all four products mentioned above, and your app is relatively complex, your project price could be in the $80,000-$100,000 range.

Keep in mind, baseline estimates are based on MVPs (minimal viable products). Cost may differ greatly depending on the complexity of your custom application as well as your feature requirements.

For more specific pricing on your custom app development project, book a project call.

Custom App Development: Rough Timeline Estimates

Development timelines can be more difficult to estimate as they vary depending on the complexity of the ideas and features to be included in the app. In other words, if the developer has built these components many times in the past, it will be more routine for them to build it out again.

On the other hand, if the set of development features is out of the ordinary or new (such as virtual reality or photo recognition software), then the costs have the potential to increase substantially.

We typically find that if you are developing multiple software products to support a mobile platform, each block of $10,000 in cost roughly equates to one month of development. For example, if you are building a simple iPhone app with a database, you could be looking at $20,000 in development costs and about two months of work. Therefore, if you believe your project will roughly cost $80,000, development could take upwards of 6-8 months.

For a more specific timeline estimate on your custom app development project, book a project call.

IMAGE/Diagram 1.1

Picking a Custom App Platform: iPhone or Android?

This may be the most common question, and heated debate in the custom app development industry, but it’s critical to consider before kicking off your development project. Like most questions, it’s also challenging to answer, and the answer will ultimately depend on your specific business goals and requirements.

We asked our past clients, tech consultants, and developers for their opinions, and they agreed that these are the the critical factors to consider before deciding to develop and app for the iPhone, Android, or both:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What is your timeline?
  3. What are your feature requirements (vs. feature wishlist items)
  4. What's your budget for maintaining your application?
  5. What are your target revenue goals?

Consider these Statistics


Should You Develop for Android, First?

Looking strictly at the total number of users and global market share, Android seems like a smart to start your custom app development project. However, dozens of studies have been done and show time and time again that iPhone users spend the most on applications and in-app purchases.


In fact, it’s actually been reported that in the 3rd quarter of 2019, Apple’s iOS apps generated $14.2 billion in revenue, whereas Android apps only generated $7.7 billion in the Google Play Store (TechAhead, 2019). (FIND NEW STAT)

When it comes to the question of which platform to start with, iPhone or Android, we suggest that you conduct some thorough analysis and research into your core customer base. That way, you will have a sense of what products they use most often. For example, if you are building an app for a fleet of truck drivers and they all use Android, then begin with Android.

Getting Started: Build Your Own Estimate

Now that we have provided you with a quick crash course on the products you will likely need to include in your platform, you can run the numbers for your required products against the cost structure and the potential custom app development timeline in Diagram 1.1.

Question 1: How Many Products Do You Need? (iPhone, Android, Web, and Database)

eg) 4

Question 2: On average, will the products be simple. or complex?

eg) simple

If the products are simple, multiple each product by $10,000. If the products tend to be more complex, multiply each by $20,000. Remember, this exercise is simply to help you create a very rough estimate for development costs and should not be taken as the final cost structure.

Total rough development cost:

eg) $40,000

Divide the total rough development cost by $10,000

eg) 4 months

This is roughly how many months your app could take to develop.

Getting Started: Write Your Technical Requirements

Feeling motivated to dive even deeper into your potential development costs? Give your future developer a head start on estimating your development costs by listing each feature that you think should be included in your software. What does that entail? It begins with writing your own basic requirements document.

Epic Story vs. User Story

Epic Story: An Epic. is a high-level story that acts as initial descriptions for desired application behaviors that are to be created.

User Story: A User Story is a more specific story that describes the exact interactions with the product needed to produce the result by the Epic that they are a direct derivative of.

Write Your Epic Stories and User Stories in 4 Steps

  1. Write an Epic for each of your major features. As a general rule of thumb, one Epic will be focused on one specific screen in the app and it will encompass every feature in that screen.
  2. Write User Stories for each of your Epics, describing every feature or action that can happen in an Epic.
  3. Refine until you are sure that each Epic and User Story includes everything you want it to. Look for areas where you have missed details, make sure User Stories are well organized into their respective Epics, and create appendices to refer to when it’s necessary to provide more information.
  4. Once your document of technical requirements is complete, send it over to your app developer. They will ask you some clarifying questions, and possibly edit the document to add some technical details where they are needed. Once you are happy with the finished document, your chosen developer and designer can start building wireframes for your application.

examples of user tories

Classify Your Features

Classify every feature on your list by the difficulty level you think it will be to build it. Keep in mind that you will probably over and/or under estimate some features. As a rule of thumb, in order to get the most conservative number, go with the higher level of difficulty, especially if you are not 100% sure. To give you an idea of the amount of time it takes to build a feature, consider this:

1. Easy features take 5 hours

2. Medium features take 10 hours

3. Hard features take 20 hours (or more).

examples of feature classification

Sketch Your Custom App Features

Once you have determined which features you will want in your application, sketch out every screen of your application and what you think it should look like. We’ve included several sketches on the next page. Your sketches don’t need to look quite as polished as these; the purpose of this is to help you ensure that you have mocked up all potential features for you application.

After you have finished your sketches of every screen inside your application (don’t forget the web application if you know you will need one) check to make sure that you have correctly captured the details of all features. Also, confirm that you haven’t missed any features. If you have, go back to your list and see what you need to add in to make it complete.

Keep in Mind

You don’t have to be a UX/UI designer to create sketches of your app features. Some of the best sketches our clients have given us start on pen and paper. Don’t worry about how it looks in this phase, but prioritize capturing every feature you need. Your design and development team will be able to bring this to life in a wireframe prototype early on in your project.

Start Tallying Your Data

At this point, go ahead and tally up the hours for each product in your mobile platform. Now, whatever it is, go ahead and double that number. Why you might ask? We can safely assume that there are several if not dozens of features you might not have considered in your initial list, such as; security software to keep your applications safe from hackers, or maybe the forgot password feature, integrated analytics for tracking, ect.

Additionally, you will need to add hours to the total to account for graphic design and project management. It is safe to assume that 30 hours of design is necessary for each software application that is consumer-facing, and about 40 hours of project management being the minimum necessary for delivering an application.

Once you have a rough estimate for the amount of time required for your project, consider the following information that should give you a bit of insight into the costs depending on the developer you chose to hire.

Picking an App Developer: Freelance, Boutique, or Large Development Company

Freelance Developers

Freelancers will run you $80-$120 per hour. The benefit of this option is that freelancers tend to be more affordable, but the downside is that you often don’t have total control of your technology. This means that if anything happens to a developer, it will put you and your company at risk, potentially costing you time, money, and loss of intellectual property.

Futhermore, each of the software platforms we discussed earlier requires

different code languages. It’s imperative to find a freelancer that knows how to write all 4-5 languages - if they don’t have that knowledge, they might be learning on your time and money or might be using less common languages that many developers don’t know.

Boutique Mobile Development

Companies such as AppIt Ventures typically run between $100- $200 per hour. The benefit afforded with this option is that they often provide more reliable, stable, and high-quality software products. Another benefit is that companies, especially those with nearshore, offshore, and onshore staffing capabilities have the bandwidth to scale (up or down) the time that we devote to your project, depending on the work you need done and your timeline.

Futhermore, we have skilled experts.

What can we infer from all of this?

in every area concerned with application development, from developers to project managers, and graphic designers. This means that you will receive a tremendous amount of attention and support throughout the entire development process.

Large Development Companies

Large development companies will usually run between $150 and $200 per hour. While you will get the skill and quality offered by smaller mobile app development companies, you will most likely end up paying substantially more in the end. In addition, these companies usually take on larger projects with a more significant workload, and might not take on projects below a minimum budget of $100,000. As you can imagine, if they do take on smaller projects, they may not provide the same level of service to a small client that they would to a larger client.

Your Custom App Development Cost Breakdown Worksheet

Download our free worksheet to calculate the number of hours required for your project, including development, project management, and graphic design hours (don’t forget to double all of the development hours). Once you have a total number of hours, multiple them by average rates for each of the different types of development companies in order to get a rough cost estimate for your project.

Get a Free Quote for Your Custom App Development Project

Overall, these exercises and resources will help you gain a rough idea of the time and money required to bring your product to life. To get a real price quote for your project, contact our team today and we would be happy to review your requirements and any preliminary work you’ve done to give you an accurate idea of the time and financial  involvement of developing your application. Book a Project Call.

Talk to our team to scope your next project.