A common question I get asked by clients is something along the lines of “How much does it cost to build an app?” along with “Should I build a native or hybrid app?”. If you google the question you will be bombarded with a dizzying array of estimates, dependent on who’s benefitting from the answer.

Firstly, it is important to note that it is entirely possible to build a mobile app yourself without any development experience for free (ad supported) or a low monthly cost (typically £10 a month). Resources such as appypie and appmakr use a kind of CMS to help non developers to build apps. Read more about WYSIWIG app builders here.

If you are in need of a more fully featured app with functionality not available on WYSIWYG builders, the 2nd cheapest option will always be to go with a hybrid app. A hybrid app is a wrapper of a native app (an app coded in the native languages for iOS/Android but with the content inside built using “cheaper” technologies such as HTML. These are cheaper for several reasons, but mainly because they are easier to code, and only need to be coded and tested once, as one version is used in both iOS and android. For a full discussion of Native Vs Hybrid click here. Basically native is going to be significantly more expensive to develop, and really, if you are building a proof of concept or an MVP, a hybrid app will enable you to move much faster and more economically. Hybrid apps generally cannot store data offline, and they tend to be slower. However, a hybrid app should be sufficient to get your concept off the ground – using a philosophy that your early adopters need to be “biting your hand off” to use your app, then they should in theory be willing to put up with some initial slowness from your mobile offering while you prove the concept (and raise capital to build a native app etc).

Native apps are by far the most expensive of apps to build. Firstly, because the developers with such skills are more expensive, and secondly because essentially 2 versions of the same thing is going to need to be built, tested, debugged, etc which takes time and money. If you are going this route, or advised to go this route, be very clear on exactly the rational is behind going native – what is it in a native app that you are doing that cannot be done on a hybrid app. Justify whether your audience really needs this functionality and whether there is a way for them to overcome it.

If you do decide to go ahead, consider building either android or iOS alone first. This should align with your audience and what device they are more likely to have.

Those are some basics principle to consider when asking the question “How much is a mobile app?”. There is plenty more to read about and I will follow up with articles on how various features and functionality affect cost, how you might go out to market to get quotes, and how geographic markets affect pricing.

In the meantime here are 3 resources you might find useful to help understand how much building a custom app can cost.