Top factors influencing the cost of native app development

8 min read
January 17, 2023

Uber might be a billion-dollar company today, with millions of users worldwide.

But did you know that an app like the one that made Uber a success can be built for a mere $170,000?

It’s a small price to pay, considering the revenue that the original app brought in.

So, how do you determine the cost of building a native app?

In this article, we’ll answer that question by laying out the four cost factors that go into native app development.

The choice of platform

The first thing you might be wondering is whether to opt for iOS or Android.

You may not realize it, but this choice could significantly impact your native app’s development cost.

That’s because, in some cases, it’s cheaper to develop a native iOS app compared to an Android app.

The biggest reason for this is that Android apps usually take longer to develop than their iOS counterparts—up to 30% to 40% more time, by some estimates.

And as you know, longer development times mean you must pay your developers for the added time. This could easily rack up your cost.

development time chart

Source: Medium

Android’s longer development time has something to do with device fragmentation.

See, the Android ecosystem is relatively more open than Apple’s. Google makes it available to manufacturers, allowing them to freely adopt the OS on their devices.

Unfortunately, this results in hundreds of variations in screen sizes, resolution, hardware specs, and OS versions.

android vs. iOS screen sizes

Source: mor10

This is a nightmare for developers who want to ensure their Android app runs smoothly on most devices. It means they need to develop, test, and maintain with device variations in mind.

Unfortunately, this could easily stretch development times and cost even further.

Many developers also consider iOS’s native programming language, Swift, easy to learn and use, which contributes to a shorter development time.

In contrast, Android programming languages like Java and Kotlin are more robust and have steeper learning curves.

This added challenge is partly why some Android developers charge more than their peers focusing on iOS.

You’ll generally see this trend in more developed markets like North America and not so much in emerging regions like Eastern Europe.

Take a look:

The app development team rate for iOS and Android in North America and Eastern Europe

Source: Ego

However, there’s a flipside to this. Sometimes, an iOS app can get more expensive due to several factors.

One is that an Apple developer account is generally expensive—$99 per year for a basic account and $299 per year for an enterprise version.

In contrast, Google only charges a one-time payment of $25.

Apple is also known for its stringent requirements when publishing in the Apple App Store. If your app gets rejected, you need to spend considerable time and effort in order to correct it.

In contrast, the Google Play Store has looser requirements for apps published on the platform. Thus, it takes less time and effort for Android developers.

With all this in mind, it’s no wonder there are more Android apps compared to iOS ones.

Android vs. iOS apps chart

Source: Statista

This, however, creates a problem for Android developers.

Since there are more apps to compete with, it also means you need to spend more time and money on your app store optimization to stand out.

The bottom line is that iOS and Android development aren’t equal. Each has quirks and features that could make your native apps cost more.

The number of platforms

Making a native app available on multiple platforms is generally the more expensive route.

That’s because you must create and maintain a separate codebase for every OS you want to deploy.

It also means you must hire a team for each codebase since it’s rare for an iOS programmer to be well-versed in iOS and vice versa.

Then there’s also the problem of compatibility. An algorithm or feature you coded in iOS may not work as intended in Android.

In that case, you’ll end up spending considerable time tweaking the two codebases to make them uniform.

Needless to say, this will significantly bring your cost up. The larger the project, the bigger the discrepancy, as the graphic below shows:

comparison of native vs. cross platform app development costs

Source: Systango

Contrast this with a cross-platform app, where you only work with one codebase and, therefore, one team.

You can reuse a lot of the core code and backend, which could reduce development time by 20%.

But it doesn’t end with development. In fact, once you launch your app, the cost of having multiple native apps will only go up from there.

If you need to add a new feature to your app, you must do it for every platform.

Testing is especially challenging, as you need to create and run multiple test cases on all target iOS and Android devices.

This is especially critical if you want to update your app to address critical bug fixes or security updates.

Time is always of the essence in these cases, so you’d need to hire larger, more experienced QA and dev teams to keep up.

On the flip side, though, native apps are generally more stable and secure than their cross-platform counterparts.

It’s possible that you don’t need to spend as much time maintaining and fixing your code.

Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to go for the lower cost of a cross-platform app or the better performance (but also higher cost) of a multi-platform native app.

The complexity of the app

Generally, the more complex your app is, the more time, effort, and money it takes to develop.

Although it’s difficult to determine the exact cost based on app complexity, here are some ballpark figures to get you started.

app complexity infographic

Source: DECODE

Often, complexity is measured by the number of features an app has. More features mean added development, design, and testing time, all of which raise costs.

For example, developing an offline app could cost around $12,000 to $25,000 on average. In contrast, a similar app with online functionality can increase the price to $45,000.

The reason is that adding even basic online features takes time to create.

But quantity isn’t the only way to gauge complexity. If your native app has advanced functionality, it’ll fetch a higher price tag.

Take a login screen. A basic implementation with barebones security features can be created for just $100.

But add advanced features like two-factor authentication (2FA), biometrics, or encryption, and the price could easily jump to $10,000.

Here are some other app features and the estimated cost of developing them. Note that these figures were based on an hourly rate of $30/hour (a common rate in Eastern Europe).

app features and the estimated cost of developing them

Source: Medium

As you can see, implementing all these features could add up to a considerable bill.

And this list doesn’t even cover more advanced options like AI and chatbots, which could easily add $6,000 to $300,000 to your development expense.

There’s also another factor at play.

Complex projects are also harder to manage, so you need to get a dedicated project manager. And if you already have one, they’ll probably work longer hours.

With the hourly rate of a project manager hovering between $30-$40 in the US, it could add a dent to your budget.

The complexity of the UI

UI and UX design take up a significant chunk of your budget, as shown in the diagram below. Thus, a complex UI can increase the cost of app development.

Building an app from the ground up

Source: Freshcode

This is especially true for native apps, because developers can access the full UI capabilities of the underlying OS. Thus, it’s possible to create an elaborate app design that makes it stand out.

Of course, achieving that requires significant time and expertise.

At the minimum, you’ll need to hire UX designers and graphic artists. For a more visual-heavy app like games, you’ll probably require an animator or 3D artist.

As expected, these don’t come cheap. Since you’d want to go with a designer with intermediate experience at least, the hourly rate for hiring them is around $70 -$110.

Experts would easily charge well into the $500 territory.

Average hourly design freelance rates chart

Source: Morgan Overholt

Some professionals, like skilled 3D artists, are also relatively hard to find. This allows them to charge a higher professional fee.

Also, it’s challenging to create an elaborate UI for multi-platform native apps. True, you can reuse graphic assets across platforms.

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senior software developer

But you also need to spend time and effort implementing the UI into each OS, which has its own rules and restrictions.

Plus, it’s best to adhere to iOS or Android design conventions whenever possible (see below for an example).

People are already used to them, and changing them presents a huge cognitive challenge.

iOS vs Android primary action button UI differences

Source: Learn UI Design

Ultimately, it’s best to consider if you need a UI to stand out or if a simple UI that can be built using free, native libraries will suffice.

The exact cost of developing a native app is tricky to determine

The truth is that what we’ve discussed on this list are just benchmarks and ballpark figures.

They may apply to your project or not at all.

What’s important is that you discuss your project with an experienced and reputable app development agency like DECODE that could help you nail down a more accurate cost estimate.

Need help figuring out your app development costs?

Get in touch with us today, and let’s crunch some numbers!

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Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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