There are some questions we get asked regularly here at Createful. And one in particular we hear almost every week – “How much does an app cost?”

It’s a common question for a few reasons:

You Can’t Buy an App in Tesco

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which industry you work in!) you can’t walk into any high street shop and ask them to build an app for you. App development is not a subject that most people come into contact with, until they think they’ve got a great idea and want someone (like us) to build it for them. In that sense it’s a perfectly valid question to ask, but it also leads onto the next point…

Every App is Different

I’ve never had a suit tailored to fit me. The reason for this is because it’s too jolly expensive and I have more pressing things to spend my money on, but I know that if I did, it would be the best suit I would ever buy. It would fit like no other and would feel great. Apps (at least the good ones) are similar – each one is unique and has been built bespoke from the ground up with code and visuals that meet its requirements. Sure, you can get an app made for you on the cheap from a development sweat shop, but it ends up like the £30 suit I once bought from Asda – cheap, nasty and chafes against your thighs*.

But Seriously, How Much Does an App Cost?

In app agencies all over the world this question is being asked over and over. Some helpful bods have gone as far as building helpful websites and calculators to try and simplify the process, and while these do a good job of educating people, there are still some elements of a project that need fuller discussion and investigation.

When I find myself in these situations I’ve developed a go-to response, and not to sound really annoying, but my answer is another question. When someone asks me how much an app costs, I reply (pausing slightly for maximum dramatic effect) “How much is a car?”

I usually face a couple seconds of silence on the end of the phone after that, and I can hear the cogs ticking over in their heads as they process what they just heard.

You see, you could pay £500 for a car if you wanted to, and it would get you from A to B (so long as it doesn’t break down), keep the rain off your head (so long as it doesn’t leak), and let you listen to the radio while you do it (so long as the stereo works). Or, you could pay £50,000 for a car and travel in the lap of luxury. Both cars in the picture above are Fords. Both have four wheels, a bonnet, windscreen, seats and an engine. They both do essentially the same job, but at very different price points and with a very different end user experience.

I think this way of approaching app development comes, in part, from the method that many digital agencies have used to market their web design services. Too many times I’ve seen “£99” websites advertised, or lists of packages that have capped page numbers or a DIY approach to building pages. Granted, these can suit some very small fledgling businesses who are just starting out, but would that same company drop just £500 on their delivery van, or the cheapest retail unit on the edge of town? Hopefully not, and I think that as part of a business growth plan, a good website should be viewed as an investment, and an integral part of a thorough business plan.

This is just a long-winded way of saying “you get what you pay for”, but the idea is to turn the common question about the cost of app development on its head, and give people a better framework for how they approach it.

So, What Now?

Once people understand that quoting for an app is not something you can look up on a menu, then we can begin the next phase of the conversation – that of functionality. Ideally we want the conversation always to begin here, not by asking “how much is an app?” or “how big is your budget?”, but “what do you need this app to do?”. Armed with a comprehensive breakdown of how an app should function, what different technologies are required, what data sources need to pass in and out and where this data is stored, we have a much clearer picture of the app itself, and how to quote for our time to design and build it.

If you tell me your car needs to seat seven people, and have four wheel drive, I’ll have a much better idea of what you’re looking for.

And if I Can’t Afford The Car?

Of course, if you can’t afford a seven-seater four wheel drive car, then we need to have a separate conversation. And if your budget doesn’t match the requirements for your app, then perhaps we can still help you by building an app prototype, which puts a rich, interactive demo of your app into the hands of potential investors, showing them exactly what the final app will look like, and how it will function.

* Yeah, an app probably won’t chafe. Unless that’s what you want it to do, you weirdo.