Building a million-dollar app – costs and considerations

Every now and then, a new app transforms the way people live, or how business is done. This software usually starts as nothing more than a great idea.

A great idea unfortunately, is only half the battle won, and a long way from being the next Uber, Spotify, Airbnb, Flipboard or even Tinder. What typically stands between somebody and unbridled success is the actual cost of production.

How much does it really cost to develop a million-dollar app? It depends. If you’re looking to create something on the same scale as WhatsApp for example, something that incorporates messaging functionality and security protocols, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 000 to $200 000. Uber on the other hand, which needs to accurately coordinate millions of drivers and passengers over GPS, and handle about as many payment transactions in multiple countries, all of which need to be secure, will cost orders of magnitude more – somewhere around $1 million to $1.5 million at a bare minimum.

To get a better estimate of what you can expect to pay to turn your innovative idea into the next amazing app, you need to ask yourself the following questions.

What is it supposed to do?

The most important factor to consider – the one you should start with – is what is it meant to do? That will dictate the functionality built into the app and its overall cost.

Will your app need to connect to a database or cloud server, and will a database need to be built and/or pre-populated? Will it need to connect to a website or other apps and services, requiring some level of integration? How secure does the app need to be; will it require registration and authentication of its users? Or, will it need to plug into an ecommerce platform?

There are additional factors worth thinking about too, like customer feedback, support and rating systems, messaging, and voice or video functionality. Lastly, how are you going to monetise your app – via ad revenue, micro-transactions, a one-time purchase, or will it be free?

Where will it live?

Perhaps the most obvious factor to consider is where you’re looking to deploy your app. There are various trade-offs between building a hybrid solution or full native (iOS and Android) versions of your application. Various elements such as cost, usability, audience, functionality, and a whole slew of other aspects may come into play.

This might seem like a simple choice, but it could have far reaching implications. A trusted technology partner could inform decisions like these in terms of highlighting the trade-offs and identifying the tipping points that will determine the most suitable course of action.

How will it look?

A great app is more than skin deep, and there’s no denying that a beautiful looking piece of software is that much more appealing to its users. With that in mind, the more work that goes into making its layout look appealing – custom icons, interface elements, animated splash screens, etc. – the more it’s going to cost overall. Business tools can often get away with being very basic, if not a completely barebones design, but there’s more to design than aesthetics.

The layout, navigation and overall user experience of the app are elements that must be considered, especially for consumer-facing apps, where customer experience is the defining feature. For business apps, productivity and end user acceptance both hinge on a convenient, slick experience.

The development team

Remember what we were just talking about? You will need a variety of skills to build these features, those of senior systems architects, UX experts or experienced developers for example. Talent like this isn’t cheap, but it’s often the difference between a successful and unsuccessful app.

The type of workforce you choose to partner with is also worth considering – freelancers, small agencies, and large firms all have their pros and cons. The bigger the company, the more talent, experience, and technology they tend to have at their disposal. You’ll often be protected by SLAs too, but all of this comes at a cost. The complexity and usability of your idea will probably dictate what the best option would be.


What technology will be used?

These days, apps are rarely built from scratch; they’d take a considerably longer time to develop if they were. Instead, they’re often comprised of custom functionality and layouts built on top of licensed technology. If the technology needed to build your app was built at great expense to the technology partner and isn’t sold in high volume, then you’re going to pay a lot more for your app.

What technology gets used is often dependent on your desired business outcomes and budget, which is why working with a large, experienced company is often preferential. To offer a variety of options to suit your needs, more established companies often have the resources and key partnerships you might need.

It’s only once you’ve considered the full length and breadth of your app – from development to deployment – that you can begin to gauge a cost. There are several tools that can assist, but it’s worth contacting a company that has the experience and insight needed to give you a more accurate cost estimation.


If, more than just the cost, the quality of app, its turnaround time, and transparency are your concerns, then consider working with us at Digiata. Our talent, technology, and proven track record are what you need to see your app developed successfully.