How long does it take to build an app?

by Tim Bornholdt · Published on August 26, 2015

When people send us inquiries for app development, we are usually tasked with answering two questions:

  • How much is my app going to cost?
  • How long will it take to get it built?

As with all things tech, the short answer is always:

It depends.

This, of course, is not a useful answer. In order to answer this difficult question, we usually need to get further into detail about what kind of app you are looking to buy.

Building an app is like building a house.

We use quite a few analogies when discussing the technical details of app development, but my personal favorite right now is comparing app development to building a house.

If you were to hire a contractor to build your house, they likely will ask you a ton of questions to best determine how long the construction process will take. Here are just a few examples:

  • Where are you building it? (A house built in the middle of a suburban plot of land is likely easier than a house built on the side of a mountain)
  • How fast do you need it done? (Speed generally requires more people, which increases labor costs)
  • How big is your house? (Are you trying to build a small bungalow, or are you looking to go full Richie Rich?)
  • How detailed and finalized are your blueprints? (Are you adding in rooms or switching the position of windows at the last second?)
  • What materials will you be building the house out of? (Sturdy oak logs? Concrete? Particle board?)
  • How worried are you about future-proofing the house? (Will you be installing Cat-6 cable? Are you going to put smart home switches in there?)
  • What will you do for home security? (Just deadbolts in the doors, or a 10 foot gate surrounding the perimeter with closed-circuit security cameras?)
  • How "done" do you want your home to be? (Fully furnished, or do you want it to be done just enough to live in?)

Building a house is like building an app.

Similarly, if you were to approach us for an app development consultation today, we would want to get answers to these questions in order to provide a more accurate estimate:

What platforms are you developing for?

If you're planning on building an app for iOS, Android, the web, Windows Phone and Blackberry, you should expect the overall project to take a good chunk of time to complete.

If you're only targeting a single platform to start, your development time is generally shorter.

What is your deadline for release?

The deadline is always a factor when it comes to app development. If the deadline is a critical factor, you should expect to pay more to bring on additional developers and designers into the project team.

How complex is your app?

It stands to reason: an app with very limited functionality will always be quicker to develop than a fully-featured app. Toning down the complexity of your project can really help to bring your product to market quicker.

How fully fleshed out is your app idea?

Apps differ from homes in one very real way: an app is not a tangible object. Almost every app will require some sort of revision and upkeep, especially once the app is live in the store.

However, if you put more research and thought into the app up front, your development team can move on the idea much faster than if the idea is still murky.

Are you trying to build an app with native technologies or with a framework?

Much like the difference between building a cookie cutter house versus an architectural marvel, using certain frameworks like PhoneGap or Xamarin can greatly increase the speed at which your app is completed.

Building an app with native languages will likely take more time up front, but if you want your "house" to be able to better withstand the "elements" (OS upgrades, hardware improvements and so forth), native is the way to go.

How worried are you about future proofing your app?

Having a complete vision of where you'd like to take the app in the future can help developers make design decisions up front that will make it easier (and more cost-efficient) in the future to get there.

Getting a rough prototype out the door is a great way to get user feedback right away, but if you are looking to build an app that will add features with time, you will want to factor in some time to allow your developers to build it out appropriately up front.

What level of security do you need in your app?

This day and age, users are smarter about using apps which trust their privacy and treat their information with an appropriate level of security. At a minimum, you'll want to include a deadbolt-level of security (using HTTPS, encrypting passwords and so forth), but are you building an app which needs to be HIPPA-compliant? Are you building an app which deals with credit card information?

Nobody wants to be the next Sony/Target/Ashley Madison. If your app handles sensitive data, it's important to budget some time to test your security measures and make sure it's handled right.

What level of polish do you want to have in your app?

Some projects are built with a very "agile" approach to development, where it's more important to get the app shipped than it is for it to be perfect. Some projects necessitate a more "finished" level of polish, where features are tested multiple times and every pixel fits perfectly into place.

The spectrum for the level of polish in apps is wide, and the closer you are to the "finished" side of the spectrum, the longer it will take to develop.


So after all of that, will you tell me how long it takes to build an app?

In 2013, mobile backend service provider Kinvey estimated (with multiple caveats) that it takes 18 weeks to develop an app.

In our experience, the amount of time it takes to build an app lies on a spectrum of somewhere between 3 and 9 months.

The more basic apps, like sales tools and various productivity apps, tend to lie on the 3 month end of the spectrum.

The more advanced apps, like social networks and highly interactive apps, tend to fall on the 9 month end of the spectrum.

Are you trying to determine how long your project is going to take to build? We'd love to help! You can leave a comment below or contact us today for a fast consultation!