The Hidden Costs of App Development

by Tim Bornholdt · Published on September 17, 2013

As we've discussed before, app development can be an expensive endeavor. A seemingly simple idea could end up being technically difficult or time-consuming to develop. When you're crafting your budget for your next app project, be sure to keep these few things in mind:

App Store Costs

In order to list your app in an app store, you'll need to pay for a developer account. Right now, the cost break down looks like this:

App Store Cost Recurring?
Apple App Store $99 Yes, yearly
Google Play $25 No
Windows Store $49 for Individual / $99 for Company No
Amazon Appstore $99 Yes, yearly

In addition to the yearly fee, all app stores take a portion of your profits in order to pay for distribution costs. Right now, the fees look like this:

App Store Percentage Taken
Apple App Store 30%
Google Play 30%
Windows Store Sales $0 - $25,000: 30%
Sales $25,000+: 20%
Amazon Appstore 30%

Back-end Development

The app development process is often broken up into two distinct processes: the front-end and back-end. The front-end development is almost always the app itself. The back-end, however, is typically a separately-hosted program that synchronizes data between the app and a bunch of databases.

We won't get too technical with our discussion on the back-end, but if you're planning on using any of these functionalities in your app, be sure you discuss any potential costs with your developer:

  • Push Notifications
  • Syncing Devices
  • Group Chat
  • Search

Server Costs

If your app requires a central service to keep data in sync, or if you want to perform tasks like push notifications, you'll need to deal with the costs of operating your own server.

For starters, all sites will need a domain name, which is generally as low as $8/year. However, if you have a specific domain name in mind but someone else already owns it, expect the cost to go way up. It might not be as ridiculous as buying a site for $350 million, but a five-figure price isn't out of the question.

Next, you'll need to consider what type of server infrastructure to use. A low-use, low-traffic website could cost as little as $4/month. If you're looking to build the next Facebook, however, the cost is significantly higher. This is the type of thing your developer will help you decide, but it's worth keeping this in mind while you're crafting your project's overall budget.

One way to cut server costs is to integrate a third-party solution like Windows Azure and Parse. These services are specifically designed to transfer data back and forth between apps, provide the infrastructure for things like search and push notifications, and allow you to scale your infrastructure for when your app really takes off.

Regardless of what infrastructure you choose, you should be sure to budget a monthly amount of money to put towards your server expenses.

Design Work

At a minimum, developers will build your app using basic, "stock" design elements. If you are looking to really stand apart in the market, you might want to consider hiring a separate designer to build a more unique layout. Bring this up with your developer while you're negotiating your contract.

Game Development

Games are among the most expensive types of games to develop. Grand Theft Auto V reportedly cost $265 million to develop and market. An average Xbox 360/Playstation 3 game costs as high as $28 million

Mobile games aren't that expensive, but they can soar quickly into the six figure range (and beyond) depending on what type of game you have in mind.

Are you looking for something like a trivia app or something with very low graphical requirements? You might be able to get your app developed for less money than if your app required 3D graphics, augmented reality integration and multiplayer support.

Supporting Multiple Platforms

Porting your app from, say, iPhone to Android, is not as easy as you'd think. In most cases, the entire app needs to be re-written in a completely different language in order to jump to another platform.

While you're in the initial stages of development for your app, think about the platforms that make the most sense for you. Are you looking to make more money per user? Perhaps you want to stick to iOS. Do you need to reach the largest-possible audience? Android might look more tempting to you.

Even within just "iOS" and "Android", you'll need to discuss which devices you need support for. Are you looking for both iPad and iPhone support? Does your app need to function on every Android-powered device on the market? Can you just build your app to run on the latest operating systems (iOS 7 / KitKat) or do you need to support legacy devices and customers?

Ask your developer which devices you should be supporting with your app. A great way to reduce costs in this area is to test the waters by targetting only the most recent devices and operating systems. As your app grows in popularity, you can add more devices and operating systems.

What other costs have you come across as a developer that we missed? Have you been charged for a feature that you didn't expect until later on in the project? Let us know in the comments! And, as always, if you'd like to discuss your project with our experienced team, head on over to our contact page.