By Tobin Harris
Managing Director, Pocketworks
July 19, 2021
Updated November 22, 2023
This article is for people who want to develop an app in the UK and need to know what it will cost. We take a look at how much it costs to develop an app in the UK.
Before jumping in, I'm going to give you the summary: The cost of developing an app in the UK can be pretty much as much or as little as you want it to cost. I know this sounds like a trick answer, but it's true.
I say this based on 10 years of experience in the app development business. I've seen people spend £1,000 on the first version of their app, and I've seen people spend £2m on solving the same problem.
If you don't believe me, go onto Fiverr and request that someone build you an Uber app for £1,000. You'll be shocked to find 5–15 companies agreeing to do it. If not more.
Then, try calling one of the top UK app agencies and ask for a ballpark estimate for an Uber-style app. Once you've made it through a sales qualification process, you'll find that they estimate £1m-£3m.
So what should you do?
I think it depends on your situation, so let's consider a few common scenarios.
Your overall 1-year business budget is probably £100K-£200K, so you probably only want to invest £15K-£50K in establishing some kind of market fit with your idea. This means building a small app to prove your concept - an MVP if you like. I would recommend you find an independent app developer looking for out-of-hours work, or a very small 4-6 person app development agency. Finding a good one isn't easy, so I'd recommend spending a LOT of time with them before investing your money. Or do a small trial. Ask yourself; Are they reliable? Have they a good portfolio? Are they easy to get along with? What do their apps feel like to use, is the experience reasonable?
Startups with £300K-£1m seed funding can reduce the risks a little more by finding a small app development company to work with. I'd lean toward a company over a freelancer because you probably have a 12-18 month runway and need to hit a user acquisition milestone to make your next round easier. So moving quickly is important, as is having some guarantees that they're going to stick with it.
A budget of £100K-£200K should be more realistic for building an MVP. This can easily escalate to £600K over a few years. We're still in "small app budget land" here, so a small company may help you get more for your money. Be careful to take time to build rapport with the business owners and make sure you like their principles, and work ethic. Because they're small, see how many clients they are running at once to make sure you get enough attention. Also, discourage a highly competitive quote because you don't want to stretch them too thin. Keep the scope small, this is the universal rule of app success. Not a lot can go wrong if you take small steps. And this helps the budget and plan need to be sustainable.
Small businesses often want to invest in streamlining operations or improving their customer experience. These things often need quite a bit of knowledge transfer, and the budgets can easily range from £100K-£200K and even more. This is a lot of money for a business earning under £5m in revenue, especially if the business case isn't solid and the ROI might not happen. I'd personally look at no-code agencies and tools for streamlining operations before looking at custom app development. If building apps that improve the user experience, I'd consider finding a good small app development agency and building rapport (see above).
Assuming you're in the £30m-£100m revenue range; Budget £100K for trying a new idea in a small experiment. Or, £200K gives you room to iterate a little. Budget £300K-£600K for building out a bigger transformation initiative over 1 year. Budget £1m-£2m if apps are a cornerstone of your business, need continuous development and generate large revenue. Obviously, these numbers will vary, but this is based on my experience. You probably don't want to take too many risks when selecting an app developer. You can also afford to have a company apply a more robust process involving research, quality assurance etc (see below).
Note that a lot of organisations that are this serious about apps build digital product teams in-house. Some will invest £2m-£4m in salaries alone, some will invest a lot more.
We've put together an infographic that might help larger organisations plan how much to invest in their app.
Yeah, I Googled it too. There are sites with cost calculators that will tell you an app on both iOS and Android, connected to a web portal with custom design costs less than £50K. There are graphs that show the median cost. That's all fine, these are right too. Remember an app can cost you whatever you want it to cost.
So, if some pay £1,000, others pay £40K and some people pay £3m, what's going on? An example might help you understand.
This table gives you an idea of what can affect price, even for a similarly scoped app.
The £1,000 App
The £100,000 App
The £1m App
|Offshore dev team with low-cost labour
|UK or mixed dev team with medium-high cost labour
|Larger UK or mixed dev team with medium-high cost labour
|The team consists of an account manager and one or two developers.
|The team consists of a designer, a few developers and a seasoned expert (probably the agency owner).
|The team consists of a researcher, multiple designers, multiple developers, quality assurance professionals, a project manager and seasoned digital experts and specialists in particular areas such as payments.
|The developer will be dedicated, but the account manager may handle several projects
|The team may be on and off the project over time, but you should see reasonably consistent progress
|A major part of the team will be dedicated to your project and you will see continuous rapid progress
|You provide a detailed app specification
|You create the app specification together, and they share their expertise to inform what will work.
|You build the app specification together, but they provide market research, customer research and expertise to inform what will work.
|You do the testing and manage quality. You have to report bugs and manage them throughout the process.
|They do some testing and manage quality, although might not have anyone dedicated to this. You still have to test quite a lot and manage quality.
|They research the required test coverage, provide ongoing testing, automated testing and manage product quality. You rarely see any bugs. They have someone dedicated to quality.
|You provide the wireframes and designs upfront.
|They produce the wireframes and designs and you sign them off.
|They provide the wireframes and designs, and they adapt them continuously based on your feedback, new information and customer feedback.
|You manage the project.
|They manage the project and arrange meetings every month or few weeks. There might not be any dedicated project management.
|They manage the project, risks & stakeholder demos. A mature team will arrange regular review meetings, even without a project manager present all the time. However, they will have a dedicated project manager to steer things.
|If you missed something in the spec, you get quoted for it.
|Some wiggle room in the spec although this will probably be a "waterfall" project and you'll get quoted for new requirements.
|The spec was fairly loose anyway, and changes in response to customer feedback and changing business priorities.
|This process will require 2-3 days of your time a week.
|This process will require 1-2 days of your time a week.
|This process will require < 1 day of your time a week.
|Once they're done, the team moves on to the next project
|You'll need to arrange support separately
|The team will continuously support any existing app that is out there, whilst iteratively developing the new parts of it.
This is about what affects the cost of your app regardless of complexity. A bigger or more complex app will always cost more. But what if you get three quotes for the same app but the prices differ widely? Let's look at what might be creating this huge app pricing disparity.
An app development company based in the UK will have higher overheads in the UK compared to somewhere like India. For example, an app developer earns £40K to £60K in the North of England, and £50K-£120K in London. In India, this can be as low as £5,000 a year, meaning a single UK salary could pay 8-24 offshore salaries.
A bigger team is going to have higher overheads and therefore cost you more. A small team might only have an account handler and a developer. A larger team could be four times the size with researchers, UX designers, UI designers, mobile developers, web developers, data engineers, quality assurance people and agile coaches. As you can imagine, the latter team is going to cost a lot more but produce a lot more work to a higher standard. Also, the risks might be lower because progress won't grind to a halt when someone is off sick or leaves.
If you're hiring a mobile agency, then they'll want to make a profit in return for giving you a team that's ready to rock with a blend of expertise, and all the pains that come with building digital teams and helping them thrive.
Bigger agencies have bigger overheads, they have to provide equipment, software licenses and training to their teams. Also, they need to run a sales team, which costs money.
Similarly, if you use a consultancy to provide a team on-site, or even a recruiter to build a team, they have additional overheads to cover and profit to make.
You might know what you want to achieve, but you might not know how to select and apply the right mobile technologies. Many mobile app companies will offer app consultancy to educate you about the technologies and select the right ones for your situation. This consultancy comes at a price, mainly because the information should greatly impact the results you get.
User research can help shape the mobile strategy (what is the goal?) and also the tactics that execute that strategy (what should we build?). It usually involves qualitative or quantitative customer research such as focus groups, interviews and surveys. It can be a great tool to help business leaders and startup founders find the right direction for their apps. Of course, it comes at a cost and maybe 5%-10% of the overall app budget.
UX design is about the flow of the app. Often, a UX designer will prototype and test an app on users to make sure it is easy to understand and flows well. This can increase the cost by 10%-20%.
Visual design is about visual aesthetics. It's about being on-brand with a clean layout that is easy to understand. A dedicated UI designer can add 5%-10% to the cost of a mobile app.
Project management is there to help ensure that the app developers focus on the right things and deliver to specification. App agencies may hire project managers to check everything is on track from a scope and budget perspective, and to steer the situation if not. In contrast, founders of small startups are often advised to keep a very close eye on any independent app development contractors they hire, to stop things veering off track. So, this role can be done by you to reduce the app development cost, but most professional app development companies will have someone to do this for you.
App testing can be 15%-30% of the overall development cost. A top app development company will have dedicated quality control professionals who will make a test plan for your app, determining which devices your app needs to be tested on, and what operating system versions. They will also document the test cases so they can be easily repeated, and test the app regularly. All this essential work will save you time, but also increase the cost of app development.
An app developed in an agile manner may cost more to run because the specification unfolds as the product is developed. Agile development is not about reducing costs, but instead delivering value to end-users as fast as possible, and being able to respond to change in order to optimise the value delivered.
That's a good question. Here're three things for you to go away and think about:
And here's an example scenario.
You raised £100K from your family and have a great app business idea. What's the worst that could happen? You're not under much pressure to deliver. But you really want your idea to succeed and don't want to waste the generosity and support of your family. Nobody is going to fire you. However, if it works you're certain to generate £200K in year one and £500K in year two. This is your first app project so you don't really know what you're doing, someone with experience might be a good idea. Someone reputable. The idea is complex and you'll need to be close to your developers. You need really good communication.
The answer? £100K might get you a small boutique UK app agency, but it might also be a bit on the low side. So you probably need to get quotes from UK app developers and also be prepared to head into the lower-cost options such as offshore European providers. If the local quotes come in a bit low, I'd probably find a good reputable app adviser or app consultant. Allocate £10K-£20K of budget for them to help you navigate difficult waters and deliver the project. They can help you design your app idea and then select a partner to deliver it, and also manage them. Pick a consultant who's delivered technical projects with remote teams. Ask for references.
Righty, that's it for now. I'll add more scenarios in the coming weeks to cover enterprise apps for large organisations, apps for seed-funded startups, and apps that are part of digital transformation efforts.
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