Native vs. Cross-platform – Which Mobile App Development Strategy is Best for Your Business?
Natam Oliveira | May 18, 2023
If you’ve ever considered creating an app, you’ve probably wondered, “How much does it cost to build an app?”
At Cheesecake Labs, we know a thing or two about building apps, so we can help you answer this pressing question.
In this guide, we’ll cover the true app development cost and go into factors that influence the cost, things to consider before getting into app development, how much famous apps cost to build, and much more.
First, let’s take a look at how difficult it is to build an app.
After all, countless apps have been developed by a single person on a computer. And there are just as many apps created by the biggest companies worldwide, with several teams working together to bring an app to life.
Whether someone is building an app themselves or relying on a large design/development firm to build it for them, there’s always a risk of failure. The chances of failing when launching an app are far greater than the chances of success.
This shouldn’t prevent you from building an app but serve as a reminder that app development is a serious investment. To see your app succeed, you need to invest big and continually, do your research, and work to create something that will genuinely excite potential users by solving a core problem.
On average, app development can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000. Of course, you could build an app for next to nothing by doing it yourself at home. Or, if you’re a major tech company, you might invest millions into an app if it is a primary part of your business.
But if you’re not either of those parties, then this is the range you can expect your app’s cost to fall within. And if you want to get more specific, a narrow range for a custom designed/developed app is $100,000 to $300,000 for an MVP.
Our experience is that most app MVPs fall within this range, though they can be higher or lower depending on a few different factors. We’ll get into these factors in a minute.
The biggest factor that influences the cost of your app development is the complexity of the app. A simple app will fall much lower on the price spectrum, while a more complex app will wind up costing more. That’s because complexity takes more time, increasing person-hours and, by extension, the overall cost.
|App type||Average cost||Timeline|
|Simple app||$75,000 – $150,000||3 months|
|Average complexity app||$150,000 – $250,000||3 – 6 months|
|Complex app||$300,000+||6 – 9+ months|
Now that we’ve looked at how difficult it is to build an app and how much it costs to build an app, let’s look at the various factors in custom app development that can influence the price. There are a lot of factors to consider here, and all of them are important.
The first major factor affecting the cost of building an app is which platform you will distribute it on. And right now, your two options are Android and iOS devices and it will come down to which platform is most used by your target customer (hint, it might be both!).
There is some debate over which platform is more expensive to develop for. Some report that Android is the simpler, better-supported system, making it more cost-effective, while others report the opposite.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Neither is necessarily better or more cost-effective than the other. Instead, it depends on your chosen developer’s experience with each platform.
If you’re launching an app with a developer with lots of experience developing for Android, then going with that platform will be more cost-effective, and vice versa. Remember to keep in mind which platform is used by your target customer.
Plus, you don’t necessarily have to choose one platform or the other. You can develop for both platforms simultaneously by choosing a framework that allows you to build your app once and then compile it for both iOS and Android. This is what’s known as native vs. cross-platform development.
Native app development is when you build an app for a specific platform. For example, you decide early on that you will design your app for iOS, and you stick to that decision through the end of your app’s development. Or you go with Android and build for that specific platform.
On the other hand, cross-platform development is when you create an app for both platforms simultaneously. You could accomplish this by making two nearly identical native apps for each platform, but more often than not, you’ll want to go with a solution that lets you develop once and deploy to multiple platforms.
React Native and Flutter are great options for cross-platform development since they let you build your app and then translate your code to be readable by other operating systems.
Cross-platform development can be more cost-effective and can also pay off if your app succeeds on both platforms.
When asking yourself how much it costs to create an app, features and functionality are some of the most important considerations to bear in mind.
You can think of each feature you will implement into your app as a unique project that your development team will undertake. They’ll need to figure out how the feature fits into the app, determine how to build it, develop an interface for it, integrate it with the rest of the app and its other features, and so on.
For this reason, keeping your app simple can go a long way toward reducing app development costs (and potentially help to increase strong early adoption). The fewer features you request, the lower investment your app will need initially, and more likely than not, the faster development will go.
If you’re on a fixed budget, consider only including your required features. Say you want to add five features, but you only need three for your app to work as expected. You might launch your app with three and deploy the fourth and fifth features later with updates once the product is proven.
Of course, this isn’t always an option. If you’re building a complicated, feature-packed app, and there is no way around that, expect to invest more.
Not to mention that the price is going to jump up if you include cutting-edge features, like
These are great features to include in an app, but because they are new, niche, or require specialized development, they cost more to include in an app.
Along with your app’s features and functionality is your visual design. This is usually a bit easier for your development team to nail down because they will wireframe your app’s design early on. Remember, design leads to technology so you will design the app first and then go into development.
Wireframing an app is the process of creating an image that resembles what your app might look like (sort of like a blueprint), though this image has no functionality. It’s just a basic design to start understanding the visual language of your app.
Just as with features, the more complex your visual design is, the harder and more investment will be needed to create it.
Fortunately, minimalist designs are popular and accessible to users, so there’s no reason to overcomplicate your app’s visuals — it’s often best to keep things simple.
Working with a UX/UI designer to create the visual details of your app is the best way to manage costs, and it is best to bring a design system to your developers, who can modify them to fit your app’s functionality.
Another factor that can influence the cost breakdown of average app development is your backend infrastructure. Generally, the type of app you’re creating will impact your backend complexity more than the overall complexity of your app. However, a complicated app is likely to have a complicated backend since the Front end is only a visual representation of the magic occurring on the backend.
Your app’s backend is the nitty-gritty code, frameworks, libraries, SDKs, APIs, and other technical bits that allow your app to run.
However, if your app is pulling data from various places, using features that others have built, and more, then you’re probably going to end up investing more in the backend of your app.
Last but not least, there are hidden costs of app development. These are the costs that an app development company might not necessarily tell you about early on but that you’ll end up finding out about as development progresses.
One of the first hidden costs to consider is your app’s security. This might not have crossed your mind before, but yes, your app will need to be secured, and security isn’t free.
Marketing is another common hidden cost. After all, you want people to know about your app, so you’ll need to invest in marketing your app.
Hosting your app on an app store, purchasing 3rd party software licenses, backend services like AWS, and maintaining your app are other costs that can creep up when you aren’t expecting them. When deciding on a developer, ask about these sorts of costs to get a more accurate answer to the question, “How much money does it cost to build an app?”
Now that you have an idea of the costs that will go into building your app let’s explore your options when choosing an app developer. After all, there are various app development companies, each with unique costs, workflows, and pros and cons to consider.
The first approach you can take when developing mobile app products is hiring an in-house team. At first glance, this might seem like the way to go. After all, you’ll have more control over how your app turns out. You can personally select the talent building your app and have more control over the cost.
If these benefits are important to you, this might be the way to go for your app development cycle. However, it’s important to note that this route has a few challenges.
Finding the talent you need to build your app might be more complicated than you anticipate. The average person doesn’t know how many people are required to create an app, let alone the specific roles they need to fill along the way.
Additionally, it’s probably not worth the effort unless you’re planning on building several apps. Searching out talent, hiring staff, organizing and managing a team, and then the actual development cycle can take months or even years to accomplish.
At the end of all of this, you may find that you’ve spent far more (time and money) than you anticipated on a single app. So, in general, this approach may not be the best, except in cases where you want a permanent development team. And even then, an outsource partner could be the springboard you need on the way to building your internal team.
That’s why the second option, outsourcing, is so common. It doesn’t require you to hire anyone but rather partner with a development firm that has already created its own expert team of developers.
Partnering with a local development company to handle the app development process can be a great option. This is known as onshore development.
Onshore development can be (and often is) an expensive process.
Working with an offshore development company is another common option. This is when you choose an international team to build your app for you. This has several benefits — as long as you know how to choose the best offshore partner.
Offshoring often refers to working with developers in countries quite far from your own, potentially spanning multiple time zones. One of the primary benefits of going this route is that it can be more affordable to work with developers in other countries than ones on your own — which can be great if you have a budget that you are trying to stretch.
Another variation of offshore development is nearshore development or working with a development team in a similar time zone with overlapping working hours. Nearshoring also often has the benefit of creating good culture matches between clients and development teams.
Nearshoring development is what we do at Cheesecake Labs with our dedicated development team and full product delivery options. Our location in Brazil makes us an excellent fit for companies in the United States and even Western Europe due to similar time zones and cultures.
Interested in hiring a nearshore team? Learn all about how our dedicated team offering works in this post!
So far, we’ve done a pretty solid job of exploring the question, “How much does it cost to make an app?” But what are the price differences in different countries? After all, depending on where you source your development, your costs will vary.
Below is a quick breakdown of the per-hour costs per country for some of the most popular places to build an app in the world.
One of the final costs you’ll want to bear in mind when pursuing app development is the cost of maintaining your app. After all, an app is never really “finished.” And it’s certainly not finished right after launch. That’s when bugs, feature requests, and other complications pour in.
Fortunately, maintaining an app isn’t nearly as expensive as building it, though it is a hefty investment to consider. And it’s one of the many reasons that monetizing your app is probably a good idea.
Before closing out this guide, we wanted to look at some real-world app costs from apps you definitely know. These are reported figures, so they aren’t exact. Still, from our experience, we believe these figures to be within the realm of reality.
Airbnb’s app is a blend of an online marketplace and an on-demand app. Their short-stay getaway app includes features like:
An app like Airbnb would cost around $200,000 to $300,000 to develop.
Uber raised around $200,000 in seed funding, which likely went entirely into developing the beta version of the app. The Uber app is fairly complex. It has intricate features like routing, pairing riders with drivers, handling payments, estimating times, etc. It’s also an app that continues to expand its feature set every year, making it a heftier investment.
Tinder is one of the most popular apps in the world, and it’s achieved that popularity with a fairly simple framework. It’s a great example of an app that brings a simple idea to life with good design and engineering.
When it comes to Tinder, all of the complexity is under the hood. The interface is basic, while the algorithms that go into it are complex and likely constantly changing.
Tinder required $485,000 in seed funding to be developed. It also likely took thousands of hours of development before the app was released to the public.
TikTok, uniquely in this list, is a social media app. An app like this would generally cost around $300,000 to develop. And similar to Airbnb, it relies on uploads from its users to fill out the app. This leads to lots of maintenance, which is why monetizing this app is so important.
Throughout this guide, we’ve covered general costs and estimates based on industry standards. However, we haven’t gotten too specific, as every developer will have their own fees and rates.
We can tell you how much we charge here at Cheesecake Labs. So, before closing out this post, here’s a quick breakdown of how we calculate the cost of an app.
Generally, you can expect to invest anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 in a Cheesecake Labs app development project. It could be more or less, depending on which type of development you need:
As you can see, a lot goes into answering the question, “How much does it cost to build an app prototype?”
One thing we know for sure, though, is that you get what you pay for. If you’re looking for a premium experience and an app to meet your goals and expectations, we’re ready to help! Reach out to the team at Cheesecake Labs today and tell us about your app!
Jeremy Stephan is no stranger to building digital products. In fact, he's worked with Disney, NBC, Mercedes-Benz, HotelTonight, and many other companies in helping to guide them through the app design and development process. Jeremy has led client engagement in the digital space for over 10 years and served as a mentor within the TechStars network.