I get asked this all the time, either by clients, or more often from people on the street. I decided to date this post as I’m sure anything I mention will be out of date very soon, so hopefully this holds up for the year.
I’ve owned / run Six Foot Three Foot for 14 years now (1999-2004 (USA), 2008-present (NZ)). We’ve made apps for Nintendo Gameboy Advance, Palm, non-smart phones (J2ME, BREW), Mac OSX, windows, (windows 8), iOS, (windows phone), (android). Lately we’ve been focussing on iOS, MAC, and cross platform development for Android / Windows 8 Phone. Our specialty is iOS, as I personally worked at Apple for 5 years, and it is my favourite platform to program for; others are more of a requirement from clients. I also have had a bit of experience and are expanding more into embedded hardware (Bluetooth LE, iBeacon’s, Point of sale, tracking, etc).
Since iOS is my top skilled and most released platform, it’s what I’m going to talk about here. As I always find out with other platforms you end up spending 3 times your development cost, for < 25% of the market compared to iOS (much less if it's a paid app), and much more time on support for Android in particular due to the huge device fragmentation. With that in mind, let's talk iOS.
(you == client, me == myself)
My first question is what type of app is it?
1) Game (Simple 2D) (Logical puzzle game with increasing difficulty in a single level)
2) Game 3D (Simple) (Puzzle or shooter, e.g. logic puzzle, arcade (asteroids, space invaders, etc))
3) Game Complicated (2D or 3D) (multiple levels, progression, saving, levelling up, multiple animations, characters, etc)
4) Utility App (An app that has a single function, (tip calculator, mileage tracker, etc)
5) Database app (An app that has some type of complicated storage (beyond utility that stores a single thing multiple times))
6) Enterprise (Many requirements, security, usually requires offline / online modes)
My Second question is what are your additional requirements?
1) Does it need network access?
2) Does it need to talk to other devices? (Bluetooth, wifi, etc)
3) Offline storage?
My Third question is around what are your 'hype' requirements?
1) Facebook integration
2) Twitter integration
3) fill in the ______ integration
5) other _____ ads
6) Monetization frameworks (outside of ads, spammy things, etc)
7) Analytics (custom, or 3rd party)
How do you see this app in the market?
2) Free with monetization
3) Paid ( < 2.99)
4) Premium paid ( > 2.99)
[At this point most people are a bit exhausted, as they just thought they had a great idea, and I'd fill in the gaps. But my job is to make sure you know exactly what you're getting]
Depending on some of the answers we do dig deeper if need be. My next round of questions is how they see this happening.
How do you expect this app to be developed?
Who will Develop this App?
1) Hire a bunch of cheap devs who say they can do this, and have each got an app on the app store?
2) Use your friend, nephew, neighbour and have me help / mentor them?
3) Have me take the reigns solo?
4) Have me lead it with my ‘people’? [Least chosen, next to #3]
Who will generate the Assets (music, sounds, images, icons)?
1) Me and my resources?
A) Requires lots of art / music which I have to subcontract.
B) Simple and few icons, and images
2) The client has existing things to be retrofitted?
3) They have someone who is a mobile expert in asset creation, and everything will be provided just as I request? (hint, it’s not #3)
Who will test this app?
1) Me and my team, and you’ll have milestone builds to review?
2) You have a set of dedicated testers?
3) You want frequent access and will be hands on in the testing? (Dangerous as this leads to many change requests, and can get expensive)
Who will distribute this app?
1) You will setup a company presence on the app store and I will provide you the final product to be released?
2) You will have me distribute through my company?
How much ownership do you want? (in order of cost, least to most)
1) You want to own the final build?
2) You want to take ownership of source code?
3) You want ownership of source code and custom assets created for the app?
How much involvement do you want?
1) Do you want lots of meetings, and status updates? (How frequent?)
2) Do you want to work in fixed stages?
3) Do you want to physically have the development in your presence? (onsite vs offsite)
When do you want this?
1) ASAP (50-60+ hours a week development)
2) Regular (35-50 hours a week)
3) Casual (10-20 part time light jobs)
(Usually clients don’t say #1, but it always ends up being #1 + others)
[Still at this point we haven't talked about what the app actually is, I respect that people want to feel they have a 'secret' or the next 'big thing'.]
If the client isn’t scared off and we have a rough idea about what they want, now I let them know they can give me the pitch. I always then help them flesh out the idea, technically and suggestion other ideas that could enhance it, or pitfalls to avoid. I try to also raise issues to look out for if they choose to not use me, just as a head’s up with any service / developers they use.
So you probably jumped into this post to get a quick dirty number, hopefully this shows you why there is no quick dirty number.
With all that stated above you can expect anywhere from $10,000 – $250,000+, I’m sure those numbers don’t help too much. But first things first; everything starts at $10,000 even the simplest project in your eyes requires me to stop working on other things, and dedicate those resources to you, and that is the minimum required. Most apps we develop fall between $25,000 -> $75,000.
— I’ll add in some sample cases here for a better idea shortly —