Today’s article is part 2 of the 5 Factors that Affect The Cost of Developing an App, picking up from where part 1 left off. Part 2 reaches beyond an app’s functionality to cover the context and related considerations which can affect the aggregate costs related to building and supporting your app investment.
Factor #3: App chrome
When it comes to developing the way that users interact with your app and navigate through it, Apple does provide default interface guidelines and animations which any iOS developer can pull into their app with minimal effort. While using these UI elements or animations means development will take less work and cost less, it also means that your app’s user interface will look and feel more common, similar to the difference of stock photography vs a custom photoshoot (it just doesn’t compare).
App chrome refers to the act of creating custom User Interface elements in your app that will make it feel more polished and professional, which will score points with users as well as app reviewers. The process of adding chrome takes more time because implementing chrome involves creating a new UI vs plugging in the standard variety, and sometimes the developer may need to do some research to determine the best way to implement app chrome. App chrome includes not only visual UI elements such as screens and buttons, but also custom animations which interconnect UI elements and bring the User Experience to life. Animations are one of the best ways to stand out from the millions of other apps in the store and can also help in winning awards or being featured (we wrote a piece breaking down why apps get featured; the biggest takeaway was that good design is Apple’s #1 criteria). And like a fun and unique cocktail made by a deft mixologist verses a standard whiskey coke made by a mechanical bartender, custom animations also (you guessed it!) take time to do right.
Adding app chrome certainly won’t increase the costs by an arm and a leg, but over time, element-by-element they can certainly add up.
For example, the Dribbble app basket surprisingly enough uses mostly non-custom elements, as compared with most of the apps which are showcased on Dribbble itself, such as this filter ability or this slider date selection.
There are open source frameworks for animations which developers can pull in to save time and differentiate from the default elements, however open sourced app chrome that is desirable can tend to be leveraged by many apps and as such risks losing their unique quality. Moreover, custom frameworks take more time to troubleshoot and customize if necessary, as opposed to managing custom work from start to finish, which enables a developer to know the ins and outs and adjust much easier.
Factor #4: Compatibility needs
There are many different contexts when considering apps compatibility, and the more contexts an app must support, the more time it will take to complete. Here are a few examples of compatibility contexts:
- Operating system - supporting older operating systems is time consuming and also difficult in Apple’s case, as Apple replaces or deprecates certain functionality previously available in older operating systems, which forces developers in these cases to create custom operating system logic in the app code to support OS’s that span these Apple deprecations intervals. Because Apple encourages users to upgrade to the newest operating system, it’s common practice to support only the latest 2 operating system versions.
- Furthermore, developing an app that will work well on iPhone, iPad, WatchOS and now Apple TV will cost more to accomplish, as each additional device has a unique interface and user experience. Optimizing from iPhone to iPad devices or vice versa is the easiest device extension to accomplish, yet it does require appropriate logic and also UI to present a quality user experience in different states or arrangements. Developing for WatchOS and Apple TV is significantly more work given the differences in how the operating systems and devices work. Per our study of the January 2016 featured apps, all supported iPhone, while only 43% also supported iPad devices and a slim 9% also supported WatchOS.
- Orientation Optimizing for both portrait and landscape for a phone app will increase the complexity of displaying the UI and information to users and thus the cost of handling it; while tablets have a larger screen real estate which makes it easier to adjust the UI to support different orientation, it is much less common to support both orientations for phone devices that have smaller screens.
- Hardware - in addition to supporting different operating systems or device types, supporting different generations of the same device type can be more expensive depending on the functionality and chrome in the app, as newer generations are faster and can run more complex apps among other variations. For example, older iPhones have much smaller screen real estate and processing capabilities than newer variations and can be a bottleneck in building a seamless User Experience across all user devices. Similarly, while the incredible diversity of hardware found across the Android ecosystem is a benefit to users, it represents a challenge from a development standpoint.
Factor #5: Is it a rush job?
Naturally, squeezing the same development work into a shorter time frame will increase costs to work overtime. Furthermore, rush jobs allow less time for architecting a product to scale without additional work down the road, and leave less time for testing, which may allow more bugs to slip through the QA process. Part 1 delved into the repercussions of allowing bugs to slip through, but to recap: bugs are the #1 cause of poor reviews.
While that wraps up the costs for developing an app, here are 4 Additional factors affecting how much an app costs to build, pertaining to maintaining and growing your app.
Additional Factor #1: App design
Most of what we has been covered in this article until now has been written from an engineering implementation standpoint; however the costs to design an app (UI, UX, animations) as well as the creative elements found in the app listing (icon, screenshots, video) are also cost factors. Every app will include design costs at a basic level, however the skills and time of a talented app designer will command a higher price tag than the average designer.
Additional Factor #2: Support & maintenance
While Apple and Google cover the costs to maintain an app listing (the equivalent of the hosting and domain costs of a website), there are other costs which must be considered, such as:
- Maintenance costs - (covered in part 1): from an app’s backend (e.g. firebase/Azure/your own server), to transaction processors (e.g. Stripe or Braintree) to high volume plans for map integrations (e.g. Google maps or Mapbox).
- Add-on SDK fees - there are hundreds or even thousands of SDKS which can enable additional functionality for an app team, many of which also charge a fee, from A/B testing (apptimize), to user research (Appsee) to push notifications (Urban Airship) to data analytics (Mixpanel), to marketing attribution (Adjust) and many, many more.
- Fixing bugs over the long term - most app firms will offer a short-term warranty on bugs found within a certain amount of days of the codebase being delivered, but some bugs may lay dormant until some user interacts with the app in a non-predicted way and uncovers a bug (which happens far more often than you may think).
Whether the short term cost savings outweigh the long-term costs depends on your business strategy and long-term plan. The best strategy for minimizing app maintenance costs is to invest in the short term, such as architecting your app to run well, be easily extendible and be prepared to scale from the start, as well as taking the time to fully test your app to ensure maximum resiliency.
Additional Factor #3 Marketing
Devoting time and budget to a marketing plan will help get your app get noticed, downloaded and used. While some apps such as Flappy Bird or Crossy Road can achieve success with minimal or no marketing effort, 99.9% of apps will need some marketing help in order grow.
As food for thought, here are a couple examples of user acquisition costs:
Iphone App Promotion with $10,000 via 5 Channels
Image by Stefan Maescher via stefanmaescher.com
The best source of marketing is buzz from people speaking about your app to their friends, family and followers. In order to minimize app marketing costs, invest in a well designed and well built app that wows users, and create a system that is able to effectively capture negative feedback and leverage good feedback through reviews and referrals.
Additional Factor #4 Improvements
In order to improve your user activation, retention, revenue and referral rates and ensure your app continues producing results, you will also need to invest in making improvements to the features and functionality of your app over time. Users will ask for new features, new opportunities will avail themselves to your roadmap or monetization strategy and competition will produce a pressure to innovate, each of which will require time and effort to implement new versions of your app.
App improvement costs can be minimized with effective roadmap planning to incur costs as your app delivers your business more value, as well as prioritizing features that will have the biggest impact and by partnering with an app shop over the long-term, to earn the benefits of a long-term relationship.
Phew! Well that’s all for today - thank you for following along in this 2-part series on the factors that affect how much an app costs; we hope you learned something new that can help you in your first or next app endeavor. Please feel free to send us feedback, questions, comments, new topic requests or anything else at email@example.com, and sign up below for our email list to get updates on new blog posts.
At Incipia not only do we develop and market our own mobile apps, but we are also available for hire as a full service app firm to help companies design, develop and market their apps. For inquiries, please fill out our inquiry form or email us
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