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Stack OverflowHow much does it cost to develop an iPhone application?
[+270] [10] user27815
[2008-10-16 15:54:45]
[ iphone objective-c jobs ]
[ https://stackoverflow.com/questions/209170/how-much-does-it-cost-to-develop-an-iphone-application ]

How much can a developer charge for an iPhone app like Twitterrific [1]?

I want to know this because I need such an application with the same functionality for a new community website. I can do Ruby but have no experience with Objective-C. So it would be interesting for me if I should start reading books about iPhone programming or outsource the work to a iPhone programmer.

(41) Note that the second answer was written by one of the Twitteriffic itself. - garethm
(4) I think this question needs answering in two ways: there is an answer for the micro-ISV (one or two people) and there is an answer for a serious corporation. There is almost always a completely different scope, set of goals, and expectations when embarking on building an iPhone application (or for that matter any type of product). - Marplesoft
(4) This thread is an eye opener, especially for people living in developing countries like me. - Rajavanya Subramaniyan
Good one . I'm wondering the same for Android stackoverflow.com/questions/4857202/… . Responses from developers are welcomed. - Raymond Chenon
I'm agreeing with Mark Rogers. This shouldn't be "closed" but moved to either answers.onstartups.com or programmers.stackexchange.com -- true, it is off topic as a programming question, but it is still a valuable resource. Moreover the answer by one of Twitterific developers/owners himself. - adib
Third time today that I've come across amazingly useful, informative Questions with great answers on SO that have been closed. This site is severely broken, at least the questions aren't being deleted. Also any "Mod" that will put their name on closing an answer like this should be ashamed--rules be damned. Perhaps we just need a new site for this type of answer? - Bill K
[+1007] [2010-10-13 17:53:48] chockenberry

I'm one of the developers for Twitterrific and to be honest, I can't tell you how many hours have gone into the product. I can tell you everyone who upvoted the estimate of 160 hours for development and 40 hours for design is fricken' high. (I'd use another phrase, but this is my first post on Stack Overflow, so I'm being good.)

Twitterrific has had 4 major releases beginning with the iOS 1.0 (Jailbreak.) That's a lot of code, much of which is in the bit bucket (we refactor a lot with each major release.)

One thing that would be interesting to look at is the amount of time that we had to work on the iPad version. Apple set a product release date that gave us 60 days to do the development. (That was later extended by a week.)

We started the iPad development from scratch, but a lot of our underlying code (mostly models) was re-used. The development was done by two experienced iOS developers. One of them has even written a book: http://appdevmanual.com :-)

With such a short schedule, we worked some pretty long hours. Let's be conservative and say it's 10 hours per day for 6 days a week. That 60 hours for 9 weeks gives us 540 hours. With two developers, that's pretty close to 1,100 hours. Our rate for clients is $150 per hour giving $165,000 just for new code. Remember also that we were reusing a bunch existing code: I'm going to lowball the value of that code at $35,000 giving a total development cost of $200,000.

Anyone who's done serious iPhone development can tell you there's a lot of design work involved with any project. We had two designers working on that aspect of the product. They worked their asses off dealing with completely new interaction mechanics. Don't forget they didn't have any hardware to touch, either (LOTS of printouts!) Combined they spent at least 25 hours per week on the project. So 225 hours at $150/hr is about $34,000.

There are also other costs that many developer neglect to take into account: project management, testing, equipment. Again, if we lowball that figure at $16,000 we're at $250,000. This number falls in line with Jonathan Wight's (@schwa) $50-150K estimate with the 22 day Obama app.

Take another hit, dude.

Now if you want to build backend services for your app, that number's going to go up even more. Everyone seems surprised that Instagram chewed through $500K in venture funding to build a new frontend and backend. I'm not.


Thanks for the breakdown - Mike Akers
(84) Good read. But you might want to replace "fricken' high" with "fricken' crazy" or "fricken' stoned" in the first paragraph. :) - Steven Fisher
(9) This should be the most accurate estimation since it is directly from a Twitterific developer - deddebme
(1) @deddebme: I don't know chockenberry, so I won't comment on his credibility, but since when is a developer's view on project cost "accurate"? - Philippe Leybaert
(5) It's not the language at all. iPhone & Mac developers tend to focus greatly on details & polish. It's part of the culture. Make things that work well, and look good -- you don't find this in very many other development communities. - pixel
(64) @Philippe I'm also one of the owners of the business that built the product. Who would have a better view on accurate project costs? And the notion that it's the language's fault is laughable. - chockenberry
(15) Saying the language has nothing to do with project cost is a joke. Don't tell me that writing code in Objective-C takes the same effort as writing in a language like C# or Java. It's a fact of life: developer productivity suffers when using a primitive language like Objective-C. - Philippe Leybaert
(1) @chockenberry: like I said: I don't know you, and you didn't make it clear you are one of the owners. I also said specifically that I couldn't comment on your credibility. - Philippe Leybaert
(24) @Philippe Leybaert not trolling, honest question. How much experience do you have with Objective-C and Cocoa/Cocoa Touch? - Mike Akers
(7) I've written 3 commercial apps for major news papers in Belgium (2 iPhone, 1 iPad), created the official tv guide app for the largest cable company in the country, and currently working on 3 more iPhone and iPad apps for a few top-50 Belgian companies. I could go on, but I don't feel I should have to prove myself here. FYI: I've also created some iPhone apps and frameworks using MonoTouch/C# so I know what a difference a language can make in developer productivity. - Philippe Leybaert
(4) @Philippe Leybaert What's your respective experience in .NET versus Obj-C? I'm a lot quicker in PHP than any other language, but that's because I work in it a lot. - ceejayoz
(11) The last 9 months, I've spent 90% of my time in Objective-C, meaning at least 50 hours a week. My .NET experience can be verified online (Google is your friend). I've also done almost 10 years of C++. I can compare languages, trust me. Why do I feel like I'm being questioned as if I'm in court? - Philippe Leybaert
(1) @Philippe You're not, we're just interested. I'd personally like to know more about MonoTouch or other alternatives for iOS dev vs. Objective-C since many of my projects are becoming cross platform. - Mike Akers
(6) Developer productivity is subjective. If you find yourself more productive in C# or Java then great. But it's a moot point. - dannywartnaby
(27) @Philippe Leybaert You may feel as though you're being questioned in court because you seem to be intentionally try to stir things up with your comments. Guilt's a wonderful thing. - Martin Bean
(2) Great post. It's nice to know I'm not crazy when I provide similar estimates. - Jim
thanks! Great insight - Ralph Willgoss
(6) @Philippe - No disrespect intended but I don't think this has anything to do with developers or languages, the beauty of the estimate above is that its been done with benefit of hindsight. Its hard to argue with a record of the actual time spent on a project. - Ralph Willgoss
(3) Objective-C is slower to develop with than C#. Its the tools. - jamie
(59) To the delightfully misinformed people saying "Objective-C is slower", it's more accurate to say "Objective-C is slower for YOU". Don't blame your ignorance or desire to stick with design patterns learned from another programming environment on the language. - Jeff LaMarche
(29) I've done iPhone and Android versions of the same app on several occasions now, in every single case, the Android app was done second and took longer - anywhere from 25% - 100% more engineering hours and usually the end-product looked worse. In the hands of a competent practitioner, Objective-C is an extraordinarily fast language to develop with. - Jeff LaMarche
(7) @Philippe just because you have a hard time learning and working with objective-c doesn't mean everybody does. Most people find it much easier to work with than any of the other languages you mentioned. I think the comments and community here speak for themselves in regards to this. - coneybeare
(19) Awesome +1 for mentioning the book you wrote without mentioning that you wrote it or that you're one of the two "experienced iOS developers". Humility FTW. - Rahul
(4) To those who think that Objective C is not slower than any alternative: why do you think Objective C is the ultimate in productivity? Or do you think all comparisons of languages are completely subjective? Even assembly language? Brainf**k? - Ken
(2) Ken - I think a lot of the problem is that people can't separate language from expertise. Those coming to iOS from years of OS X development find Obj-C highly productive - they have thousands of hours of useful experience. Those coming from C# and Java backgrounds don't. - JulesLt
(4) (retry) I think a lot of the problem is that people can't separate language from expertise. Those coming to iOS from years of OS X development find Obj-C highly productive - they have thousands of hours of useful experience. For what it's worth, the productivity strengths of Obj-C are a higher degree of runtime dynamism (closer to Smalltalk/Ruby/Python) than C# or Java, and a well-designed application framework and APIs. In contrast, C++, Java and C# are more closely related, which makes a lower learning curve when moving between them. - JulesLt
(6) For such a "primitive" language, Objective-C sure does have some very expedient features. For example, I can send messages to nil without worrying about crashes. This saves me tonnes of null checks, since most of the time I just want a no-op if the object is nil. For Android, I have to write lots of extra code just to check for null at every turn. - glorifiedHacker
(2) There seem to be three comment threads afoot: 1) Objective C(ost) of dev as outlined by the app author. Keep in mind, if $150/hr is negotiable in practice, client cost could fluctuate, but it's still insightful! 2) Subjective C(omparison) of dev experiences across platforms, languages, et. al, which will always be different by definition (e.g., expertise, familiarity are factors). 3) Objective C(ontrast) of language features, apart from individual POVs. As for me: 1) Thanks Craig!!, 2) I have a roughly 2:1-3:1 productivity ratio WRT Android OS/iOS. YMMV. 3) "Go with what works best for you!" - Joe D'Andrea
(3) They worked their asses off dealing with completely new interaction mechanics is the key statement in this answer. But the question isn't specific about whether the costings should be for someone who is new to iphone development. You've got $150 an hour but that certainly isn't the average wage of a UK programmer (itjobswatch.co.uk/contracts/uk/objective-c.do) - I think you should stop over-charging yourself! - Chris S
Chris S: Average rates are for average programmers. When attempting to determine accurate costs, it only makes sense to use whatever their billable rate is. - rpetrich
(2) I always thought the US rates are pretty high compared to Europe. In the UK, people complain having to pay 50 pounds an hour for an experienced dev. - user281300
(1) $150/hour is an insanely high figure. That's well over 300,000 per year. How many devs do you know that make that much? - FreeAsInBeer
(7) @FreeAsInBeer no programmer gets $150/hours for 24/365. That's the wrong way to calculate it. You need to take into account the time people are doing non-billable work (project management, refactoring, getting new clients, writing invoices, etc.). Once you've done that you'll find that the actual rate is much, much lower. - yas4891
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[+323] [2008-10-16 22:03:36] schwa

The Barack Obama app [1] took 22 days to develop from first code to release. Three developers (although not all of them were full time). 10 people total. Figure 500-1000 man hours. Contracting rates are $100-150/hr. Figure $50000-$150000. Compare your app to Obama.app and scale accordingly.

[1] http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10056519-38.html

(32) Votes for my answer should be given to this one, mine is estimated, schwa does this for reals. - Rob Drimmie
(2) My example is an extreme case. I included development time, graphic design time, project manager time, etc, etc. An app of the scale of the Obama app can be developed for significantly less. - schwa
(3) You state that there were 3 developers, not all of which were full time, but 10 people in all. What was the other 10 people doing? I would guess that you'd have one graphic designer, and a PM. That leaves 5 people unaccounted for. Surely those 5 shouldn't be billed at $150/hour. - Aheho
(2) UX, server/web dev, etc. Not everyone was full time on the project - but a few folks - maybe 1/2 the group (myself included) were. - schwa
(5) Still, $50k-150k tracks reasonably with the final bids I've seen in other serious projects. Something that integrates with Twitter doesn't require server-side work or sysadmins, so I'd estimate on the lower-side of that range, but I'd be shocked to see it completed for under $50k. That's only about 12 staff-weeks at $100/hour. Getting something "working" on iPhone is pretty easy. Getting it polished takes forever. I've seen guys spend an entire day getting one flip animation to work correctly, or the keyboard to dismiss smoothly. I spent many days on an intermittent tableview animation crash. - Rob Napier
I never use this app before. Will try then.. - Chanok
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[+61] [2010-10-13 19:31:48] Jeff LaMarche

There are ways of paying less to get an application, developed than paying the going rate, but very often you get what you pay for - inexperienced developers who leave you with a mess of spaghetti code that's impossible to maintain, or experienced developers with whom you have to communicate across a cultural and language gap.

Developing an app like Twitterific is not easy. It's an extraordinarily polished app with a lot of attention to detail that most people - indeed many developers - would fail to notice or realize the effort behind. You may be able to get a Twitter iPhone client written for $3500 or $5000 by going offshore or by being willing to "work with inexperienced developers", but you're not going to get Twitterific for that, and it's doubtful you'd get even a halfway decent application for that amount.

And you likely will end up spending a lot of time managing the process, going back and forth on requirements, and fighting to get what you really want instead of what they want to give you.

There's also a risk with "cut-rate" development, whether it's offshore or just using inexperienced developers - you may very well end up with something you can't use, or something that gets 1 star ratings because it crashes or behaves erratically. You might find the occasional underpriced gem of a developer, but they won't stay underpriced for long given the sheer demand in this market right now.

By virtue of my books and blog, people often reach out to me when they need help with their iPhone applications. I get, on average, 4 or 5 inquiries a month from people asking for help fixing applications they had developed either over-seas or by inexperienced developers here in the States. In most cases, I end up having to tell them they'd be better off throwing their code out and starting over with a developer who knows what they're doing rather than trying to fix the code they bought on the cheap. If they insist on trying to "fix" what they have, I decline the work.


(12) lamarche knows what he's talking about. he wrote the book on iphone development. :) - mt3
(3) I'm debugging right now one of these spaghetti code apps. The previous programmer left my customer with a "finished" app. And I tell it's a pleasure. Now, let me go out a moment to hang myself off that tree. - Diego Freniche
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[+37] [2010-10-13 19:20:48] Hiltmon

I am a very good iPhone app developer, and I charge over $150 per hour for my services. I have a ton of experience building iPhone apps and their server side components. I have also been called in on several occasions to fix offshore developed apps. Here's my take.

  • Design costs money, good design costs lots of money. Expect several designer weeks of work per app screen. Offshore teams do not do design.
  • Server development and infrastructure is critical if the app is to succeed. A slow server response, or an overloaded server will hamper your app, and crimp sales and satisfaction. The server side of the equation will cost the most and take the most time to develop. Those who offshore their server development will find that quality and uptime are both terrible, in my experience.
  • App development if done right takes time too. A professional developer will ensure all HIG [1] rules are followed, the app is properly structured and contains no known errors, it performs well, and it passes the app store validations. Offshore teams just cut code.

I'm just about to release a shopping app for a client. The design work was done by 2 client in-house designers over 2 weeks, quick because they had all the image assets already. Think 2 people x 10 days x 8 hours = ~$24,000. The server side had to be modified to provide data for the iPhone app. We used their in-house team and in-house platform and in-house API, 2 developers, 4 weeks, or about $50,000 and that's because they already have a web shop and API. Cost them about $400,000 to get there (excluding platform). And I wrote the app side in 3 weeks, given that a lot of my code is duplicated from previous projects, another ~$25,000, the cheapest app I ever did.

Total spent: ~$100,000, and that's insanely cheap!

And they will give this away for free so clients will buy from their store from their iPhones.

For your app, Peter, if you have the servers and the APIs and the design, I'd guess at $30,000 to $60,000 depending on complexity. If you do not have the design, double it. If you do not have the APIs, double again...

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_interface_guidelines

That's in the states tho. In europe you would only expect 250 - 400 pounds a day tops. - user281300
(1) Rates in London are reaching the ones in States, at the moment getting work for £550 is not an exception and have been offered £750 already, so it depends (as usual). - Pavel Sich
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[+23] [2010-05-04 05:12:56] Wayne Carter

I am an account exec at a web and mobile development company and hear this question everyday. Unfortunately, iPhone apps are not cheap. You can expect around $100 per hour if you are staying on US soil. I have seen some offshore Indian developers out there for as low as $20 per hour. It all depends on the number and complexity of the functions you wish the app to perform. Simple one function apps are normally around 4-5k. They are so expensive because you are paying a team of people a healthy hourly wage and any type of raw prototyping, development, and coding takes time. Apps can exceed 60-100k pretty easily. Southwest Airlines making an app with a full ecommerce platform that allows you to buy tickets over your phone is an example. All of that porting into their IT is a big job.

And offshoring the project is definitely not always a better option. If you do so you better know who you are dealing with. Do not get me wrong there folks over there who do a bad ass job for a way better deal, but they are not that easy to find. Those guys could fuck around for 5 months on a simple project that would take 6 weeks here, or just not complete it at all and hand it over half finished. I have seen this scenario many times where we finish the work. The project management becomes a challenge. It can be difficult to communicate exactly what you want the app to do.


(2) Wayne, unfortunately, I can empathize with the offshoring sitch. Often times you end up sharing enough prerequisite "supplementary info" (read: "expertise you thought you were paying for") that, by the time you're done, you could have just written the thing yourself. You get what you pay for. "Appeat Emptor." - Joe D'Andrea
(1) I'd say it's no wonder to get 5 times lower quality if you're a 5 times lower price ... It still amuses me people expect the same quality for 20% of the price they usually pay :) - Marin Todorov
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[+16] [2010-10-15 04:31:50] Dylan

River of News for the iPad took about 400 hours of development to get to version 1.0 and I don't know how many hours my designer spent (20-50?). At US labor rates that's at least $40,000. But that sort of tight development was only possible because it was a one man operation. There is an enormous amount of overhead added when you separate the person writing the code from the person deciding what the product is going to do.

If you are going to send it offshore you'd better know exactly what you want. With the language and time difference it's very hard to do iterative design where you are exploring what is possible.


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[+9] [2008-10-17 09:31:15] Paul M

Appsamuck iPhone tutorials [1] is aiming for 31 days of tutorials ending in 31 small apps developed for the iPhone all the source code for which is available to download. They also provide a commercial service to build apps!

If you want to know if you can do the coding, well at least you can download the code and see if anything there is helpful for your needs. On the flip side you can also get a quote from them for developing the app for you, so you can try both sides of the coin, outsource and in-house. Of course it all depends on how much time you have too! It's certainly worth a look!

(OK, after my last disastrous attempt to try and post a useful piece of help, I went off hunting around!)

[1] http://www.appsamuck.com/

(3) I tried that but those aren't very good.. what you need is "Beginning iPhone 3 Development: Exploring the SDK" (book). - mk12
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[+8] [2010-10-13 19:17:37] davidstites

I am the developer for Coupious mobile coupons iPhone app and with the amount of time that I spent on that application (v1.0 - v1.5), it was probably a $15,000 - $20,000 investment. However, to be fair, I do admit that I was the only developer working on it and when I started the project, I had never seen or used Objective-C before. Despite that, three months later, it was released so the numbers are probably a little skewed because there was a fair amount of learning going on as well as coding.

However, iPhone competent developers run in the range of $80-$150 depending on their skill and time with the platform. I would say that for a simple application, an app would probably run 2K-5K, a medium complexity app would run 5K-15K and a fairly complex app running 15K-30K. Game applications could be even more.

The reason it is so high is that the skill is fairly specialized and not everyone is able to do it


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[+7] [2010-10-13 18:46:59] avance

I hate to admit how little I've done an iPhone app for, but I can tell you I won't be doing that again. The guy who said that "simple, one function apps can be done .. [by solo developers]... for $5K" is correct; however, that is still lowball, and presumes almost no project design, graphic design or network backend work.


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[+4] [2009-07-09 20:35:07] Matt Campbell

The rates that were quoted above are what you would expect to pay US developers; however, I do know some people who have been able to get their apps built for as little as $4,000 by using offshore developers.

Here is a blog post from a group that did this: http://www.lolerapps.com/why-outsourcing-iphone-apps-was-a-no-brainer-for-us

Also, Carla White wrote a fantastic eBook about the process she used to outsource her app called "Inside Secrets to an iPhone App". She talks about how she got a great deal because she was willing to work with a team that was still learning iPhone app development.

So, there are alternatives to the higher price developers discussed above.


(6) While the app development bids I've seen from India have been lower (sometimes substantially lower), they've still been in the tens of thousands of dollars for a serious app. My experience working through such contracts on other platforms is that they require the requester (you) to have a very specific thing in mind at the start. If you don't know exactly what you want in detail (and you usually don't), then the change fees can rack up quickly. It can still be cheaper than US development, but the initial bid isn't the whole story. - Rob Napier
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