App Development Cost: 10 Hidden Costs of Mobile Apps & How to Handle Them

Traditional mobile app development can be costly, slow and frustrating. How much does it cost to build an app? A single app development and deployment may cost anywhere between $50,000 and $1,000,000 and it can take from half a year to upward of a year to be completed.

The core issue here is that app development itself is just the tip of the iceberg. The app development process consists of development, deployment and app maintenance. Most people only focus on app development, so the cost of the latter two phases surprises them. This causes app developers to go above their initial app development budget.

Some studies estimate these ongoing costs of app development:

  • In the first two years of a typical mobile app, app development only represents 35% of the total cost (source)
  • The ongoing app maintenance cost for medium-sized enterprise app ranges from $5,000 to $11,000 per month (source)
  • Annual legacy costs can be up to 50% of the original app development costs. This means that if you spent $300,000 on your traditional app development, support and maintenance will cost your up to $150,000 per year!

The key is to understand how mobile apps are built and maintained and what is the relative cost, benefit and downfall of each option.

We want to introduce you to more efficient methodologies and tools to give you control, reduce risks and save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars! We want to enable you to evaluate all your options and find the best app development solution for you.

How much does mobile app development cost? Let’s dive into the details so we can show you how to reduce your app development cost by up to 90%!

Use the BuildFire free app cost calculator to get an accurate estimate of how much your app will cost

App Development Cost: Hidden Categories in the App Development Process

Before we get into the biggest hidden costs of app development, it’s important that you understand the mobile app architecture.

This is critical when you are looking for a vendor or talking to your IT department for help in developing, hosting and supporting your app. This way, you will understand what they are and aren’t providing.

Keep in mind that for most traditional custom app solutions, the majority of these services need to be purchased and assembled separately. They can be divided into four categories:

  • Functional services (SMS, Push Notifications, etc.)
  • Administrative services (to make updates to your app, manage users, etc.)
  • Infrastructure services (servers, CDN, etc.)
  • IT support services (updates to your app, bug fixes, etc.)

How can we estimate app development cost? Let’s drill deeper into each of these to see which individual roles they play in your mobile app costs. 

Functional Services

Functional services are those needed to execute the functionalities and features of your app.

While your developer may provide you with a certain functionality, it will not work unless you subscribe to a service that will provide a delivery mechanism. These services may cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars per month, and the number of such services you may need is almost endless.

Here are some most common examples of app development cost based on real features and services. You can use this information to help estimate the cost of your own app development project.

Push notifications. It’s hard to imagine an app that does not utilize this essential mobile capability. Push notifications increase your users’ engagement with your app and encourage the desired action, such as a purchase. If you want push services, you will need a service like UrbanAirship or PushWoosh.

Annual cost: $2,400

Social and chat. You will want to use these services to encourage sharing and upvoting your content through social media. If you want social interaction in your app, you will likely require a subscription to a service like one-to-one chat, group chat and bot integration, provided by Applozic and SendBird.

Annual cost: $1,200

SMS. To integrate SMS messaging into your mobile app, you will have to use a service like Twilio.

Annual cost: $500

Email. To integrate email feature with your mobile app, you will need a service like Mailgun or Sendgrid.

Annual cost: $1,000

Administrative Services

Plain and simple: you need an intuitive, powerful, accessible and user-friendly administration dashboard.

As a creative professional, you want to be in control and avoid calling the IT department every time you want to access your data or update content.

These costs are the most difficult to anticipate as they will largely depend and differ based on each individual app. However, just like with all the other app costs – they do add up and you will incur them on an ongoing basis. The traditional app development solution doesn’t offer a way to save up on these costs. Simply not including these in your app management isn’t an option as it would take away your control over the content, users and data.

Luckily, this isn’t the only way to develop and maintain an app, and we’ll cover the method to prevent these costs further below.

How much does it cost to build an app? Consider the following essential dashboard features:

Content management. Changing content should be as easy as click and edit. If you can edit a Word document, you should be able to edit your app content – this capability is a must for your dashboard.

Dashboard emulator. You will definitely want to see how changes you make look on the app before pushing them out live to the user community. A previewer app is a must!

Functional services management. Separate dashboards for each of your services are very impractical. Capabilities like monitoring social behavior and sending push notifications, emails and SMS are vital for your app, and routine tasks of managing these services should all be available from a single dashboard.

Dynamic updates. if you are like most app owners, there will be constant updates – it’s the nature of business! Some apps require an elaborate resubmission process every time a simple content change is made. Ensure you build in a dynamic update process whereby a simple click of a button on the app dashboard pushes out the content changes to all apps automatically.

User profiles. You’ll need a way to manage your users’ profiles. Details like password reset forms get easily lost in the design process – a good designer won’t let it happen!

Analytics/event collector. Do you want to be able to understand your users’ in-app behavior, like the activities taking place in the app, the number of downloads, which users access which screens, and more? This information should be easily accessible.

Access controls. It is unlikely all administrators or users will be the same. You will want to control roles and permissions to manage who can access and change what within the app. This also includes what users can access; what screens they see, their private user information and/or access to premium content.

Data segmentation. You will want to classify users into different categories based upon activity, profile and other parameters. This is useful for messaging and push notifications to users based on a segment they fall into.

Build a profitable mobile app in less time and at a lower cost than traditional solutions with BuildFire

Infrastructure Services

These services include infrastructural components such as where the app is hosted, where data is stored and how the data is delivered. All of these also need redundancies and load balancers for backup and security servers, which add both the cost and complexities.

Servers. These are the basics – servers are where will the app be hosted. Unless you are with the largest of enterprises, you will want to outsource hosting to the likes of Amazon, Google and Azure.

Annual cost: $12,000

Data storage. Data is king, and your app will collect and contain a lot of it. It is crucial that you understand how and where the data will be stored.

Annual cost: $3,600

CDN. A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers that deliver content to the app based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the content and a content delivery server. In short: if you have users all over the world and they have to keep coming back to one far off location to access content, the app will perform poorly. CDN services are provided by companies like Akamai, CloudFront and Dyn. These aren’t app development companies, but still provide crucial services that impact your development costs.

Annual cost: $3,600

Images data. Most apps use a lot of images. You will need to have a place to download, process (resize, crop, etc.), and deliver images. Such services are provided by companies like, Google and ImageX.

Annual cost: $4,800

App development tools, libraries and support. If you’re using paid deployment tools like IBM MobileFirst, Kinvey, Kony or Appcelerator to develop your apps on, you will need to subscribe to it over the life of your app.

Annual cost: $1,200-100k+

IT Support Services

While these services aren’t an actual part of the app architecture, ongoing technical support is the critical component of any app deployment and it may account for large costs over time.

Your resources should always enable you to address the following:

iOS and Android updates. Both platforms constantly release updates, each requiring maintenance; sometimes significant.

Annual cost: $10,000

App update submissions. Even if you have a dynamic update process, there will be times when updates require resubmission. This is not trivial.

Annual cost: $2,400

APIs. Every app usually has multiple third party APIs they interact with, especially at the enterprise level. Changes to any of these applications will require periodic app maintenance of your APIs. For example, Facebook updated their API version 4 times in 2016; if you integrated with Facebook, you would need to update your app to accommodate those changes. Additionally, over the lifetime of the app, most enterprises will expand the number of applications an app interferes with over time.

Annual cost: $5,000

Bugs. Every app has them; sometimes they go undiscovered for months or even years. User communities are not kind to apps that are slow to address the issues they report.

Annual cost: 10-20% of total app development budget.

Maintenance costs (Dev Ops). We’re talking about IT-specific maintenance costs for infrastructure: servers, data storage, CDN and image data will all require some level of monitoring and maintenance.

Annual cost: 20%+ of total app development budget.

10 Biggest Hidden Costs of Mobile App Development

You now know the components of app development and the average cost of each. Let’s look at the ten most expensive ones!

10: Social & chat integrations – $1,200/year

9: App development tools, libraries and support – $1,200/year (minimum!)

8: App update submissions – $2,400/year

7: Push notifications – $2,400/year

6: Data storage – $3,600/year

5: CDN – $3,600/year

4: Images data – $4,800/year

3: APIs – $5,000/year

2: iOS and Android updates – $10,000/year

1: Servers – $12,000/year

Does your plan to develop and maintain a mobile app include these costs? Do you have the budget to cover for these? Do you have the extra budget to ensure you can cover any unforeseen bug fixes and developer hours?

These costs can also grow exponentially based on the growth of your app, the integrations you add over time, the increased data requirements and additional features.

Your growth will keep costing you more, and it will get more difficult to predict your app’s expenses and plan your budget. You can’t help but ask – is there an easier way?

Other App Development Costs

Beyond the hidden mobile app development costs discussed above, there are lots of other factors that need to be accounted for to calculate your total app cost. Some of these are associated with the mobile app development process, while others go beyond the scope of the basic app development stages.

How much does it cost develop a mobile app? Here’s what else you need to know about developing mobile applications:

  • Who is building the app? (professional app developers, app development companies, freelance app developers, in-house development team, third-party app development team, etc.)
  • What platform and app stores will the mobile app be available on? (Android app, iOS apps, etc.)
  • How much app maintenance is required for your app post-launch? Will you handle app maintenance on your own? Or will app maintenance costs be handled by a third party?
  • The development cost of a complex app will be more expensive than the app cost of a simple app.
  • The app cost of an internal app for business use will be different than the mobile app cost of consumer apps. If other app users will be downloading the app and it’s competing with popular apps on the app stores, your app cost will increase as well.

How to handle hidden costs of app development

The key issue with mobile app development cost is the amount of individual components you need to assemble. Each of them costs hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, and these costs will continue throughout the life of your app.

This is what prevents so many businesses from developing an app that will help them do their work better, and it’s the exact problem we want to solve.

Remember: agencies and developers will quote you the full cost of the mobile app development, but this will exclude the ongoing support or software costs.

You’ve seen in our mobile app development cost breakdown that these costs grow into the most expensive items in your mobile app budget, continuing for as long as your app is available.

Enter your only way to reduce these hidden costs: a mobile app building platform.

How BuildFire reduces your app development cost by up to 90%

The overarching advantage of building your mobile app with BuildFire: we incur all the above costs for you. You only pay us a fixed monthly subscription, which gives you access to all the features and abilities to develop, deploy and maintain your mobile app from a single dashboard. You won’t get this benefit with a traditional app development company or a freelance mobile app developer.

What does this mean for you? It simply means you will never have to pay the high costs of infrastructure and code maintenance, analytics, or expensive developer hours for a simple code fix. With a monthly subscription, you will always know your monthly app expenses without the fear of high additional cost for changes and updates.

And this is just the beginning! Let’s look at some more benefits that will allow you to grow, scale and stay ahead in your business.

Use of any of our many pre-built plugins (app features).

Our plugins are fully functional features that you can simply plug-and-play into your app. They contain functionalities and integrations that allow most of our customers to build 90% of their app without any custom code!

Our plugins are also open source, so you can customize them as much as you need to adjust them to your needs and use cases. You’ll never need to compromise in order to fulfill your app’s purpose.

All devices are covered.

As opposed to native app development, you will only need a single app to work across iPhone  Android phones, as well as iPads and tablets. Not only does it costs less, it is also incredibly less time-consuming to develop and maintain one app over two or three different versions.

As a creative professional, you are in full control.

Accessing data and updating content shouldn’t require a constant contact with your IT department or expensive developer hours.

With BuildFire’s intuitive, powerful dashboard, you can easily manage your content, preview any changes you make, manage all functional services, access analytics and user profiles, segment data, and so much more.

You can scale infinitely.

In traditional mobile app development, each new app you want requires an entirely new project, budget, and many months. You will again incur those same infrastructural costs, and you will essentially need to go through the entire process again (and again, if you need even more apps!).

With BuildFire, you can use the same platform to maintain multiple apps. No extra infrastructure or legacy costs, and no support nightmares.

And if you want to replicate an existing app you built on BuildFire? It is as easy as a couple of clicks. A great example of this is creating an event app and wanting to use it for multiple events, or an HR app that you want to use across multiple divisions of your company. The scalability opportunities are endless!

Final Thoughts on App Development Cost

So how much does it cost to make an app? There’s no single answer to this question.

App cost varies based on things like app complexity, the scope of your app idea, app design, app functionality, app development timeline, building on multiple platforms, and more. Are you using an in-house development team or hiring a custom software development company? Are you building Android and iOS apps? Or just an iOS app? Native apps might cost more than a hybrid app. Complex apps cost more than a basic app.

Are you going to hire a project manager for your software development project? How big is your app development team?

There are other factors that must be taken into consideration for your app development cost estimate as well. This goes beyond app development and includes things like new features, in app purchases, app analytics, app marketing to attract app users, app testing, and more. All of this impacts the cost to make an app.

Fortunately, there is no app that can’t be built on BuildFire. Unlike a basic mobile app development company, BuildFire has everything you need to develop an app on your own. 

Whether you’re looking to create a mobile app to improve your business internally, provide a resource for your audience or clients, grow your brand awareness or increase your revenue, BuildFire simply makes more sense from a cost, scalability, and convenience perspective, both immediately and in the long run.

The best thing? You can start building your app today and try our builder completely free. Get creative!