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5 (more) hidden costs of mobile app development

EducationSummary: As more and more businesses jump into mobile app development for the first time, many make a crucial mistake: They go into the process with a limited understanding of the true costs of developing a mobile app. In fact, many falsely believe that development cost starts and ends with the developer. In this article, we highlight a few more important costs that you should anticipate before starting your mobile app development project.

photo credit: geralt via pixabay cc
photo credit: geralt via pixabay cc

A recent Gartner survey revealed a couple of interesting facts about mobile app development in the enterprise.

First, it found that spending on mobile app development was lower than expected. Mobile accounted for only 10 percent of overall application development budgets.

But, that’s changing. The survey also found that mobile app development spending is on the rise. Nearly half of the respondents expected to increase spending on mobile development.

Why the slow adoption? It’s not that surprising. With any new trend, businesses traditionally lag behind in adoption. Sure, there are always some who jump on board immediately, but many wait to make sure the trend will take off (and I’d say that it has).

As a result, we’re seeing more businesses get into mobile app development for the first time.

But, as more and more businesses jump into mobile app development for the first time, they’re entering uncharted territory. Many go into the process with a limited understanding of the true costs of developing a mobile app. They’re expecting the development costs, but aren’t ready for the other expenses that come with mobile development.

The big question: What unexpected costs should businesses plan for when building mobile apps? What expenses might surprise you during the mobile app development process?

In the first part of this article, we explored 8 hidden costs of mobile app development. These include:

    1. App store costs
    2. Cross-platform development costs
    3. Design costs
    4. Data storage costs
    5. Mid-project changes
    6. Costs for testing across devices
    7. Maintenance costs
    8. Marketing costs

Today, let’s wrap up this topic and explore the rest of these costs. Here are 5 more hidden costs to anticipate in your mobile app development project:

1. Third-Party Services

“During the development of my social networking/chat app, TV Yapp, I’ve been surprised by the number of different paid services I’ve needed to sign up for to handle various back-end utilities needed by my app,” says Brian Hirshman, creator of TV Yapp. “These services can be inexpensive initially but may become much more expensive as your user base grows.”

When building a mobile app, your developer probably won’t create everything from scratch. As explained above, you’ll likely need to include some third party services, which add to the cost.

What type of services?

While it varies depending on the app, this could include things like push notifications, sms/email services, automated password reset tools, and many more.

Why not just build these services from scratch?

It comes down to costs and benefits. While you could build these services from scratch, you’d be re-inventing the wheel. Chances are, someone has already built the solution you need, better than you could build it. Building it from scratch would likely result in an inferior solution, and waste valuable time.

“Most apps communicate with the Internet and a variety of backend services to enable their functionality,” says Anthony Blatner, Digital Marketer for Software and E-Commerce, Modern Media. “Some of these services may be database storage, server logic, push notifications, crash reporting, and code repositories. Many times these are necessary services so that the developer or publisher does not need to spend the time and effort to re-create common functions, such as creating accounts and log-in.”

Affected application types:
This applies to all app types, with costs depending on the application itself and the services used.

2. Integration with existing systems

When you create a mobile app for business use, it shouldn’t operate in a silo. Chances are, you’ll need it to communicate with your existing systems.

The problem is, many businesses still run on systems that were created long before mobile devices existed. Technology and development practices often differ between mobile apps and existing systems.

While it varies from business to business, this is an important area to watch. Integrating your systems with a mobile app might be more difficult (and costly) than you expect.

“In my experience at a company with both a desktop app experience and a mobile experience, the biggest hidden cost or misconception is that executives often underestimate the complexity of adding a mobile environment,” says John Liston, Manager, Strategy and Operations at All Set. “Mobile and desktop are two different delivery systems each of which is accompanied by its own best practices. When adding a mobile app to your portfolio it is important to understand that you are committing to what is essentially a new subsidiary within your company. Your app will need to work seamlessly across iOS and Android while communicating with your existing systems.”

Affected application types:
This cost applies to all application types, but more so to native apps, as you’re restricted in what programming language you can use.

3. Skills

Now, I realize that finding the right skills isn’t exactly a “hidden” cost. After all, it’s a normal cost of any project.

However, it becomes a hidden cost when the business doesn’t realize just how many different skills they need for mobile app development. Some assume their current developer’s skills will translate to mobile.

In reality, it’s not that easy. Sure, your developers could learn a new programming language and create a mobile app. But, it doesn’t end there.

Suppose you want a cross-platform native app. Now your developer must learn two different languages. But…it doesn’t end there either.

You’ll also need design skills, as mobile app design is a critical aspect of any successful app. And…don’t forget about mobile security skills, integration skills, and user experience design skills. Unless you have these skills in-house, this is often an unwelcome surprise in mobile app development projects.

“The biggest hidden costs of mobile development…people think – hmm, what would be easier to launch, a whole website, or a mobile app,” says Josh Haber, Customer Success Manager at All Set. “With mobile apps, you have to develop two separate apps to reach potential users (iOS and Android). These apps require different developers and different tech stacks, meaning double effort, double resources, double organization, and double the dough. Furthermore, the biggest expense of companies is people, and mobile developers are a much harder and more expensive skillset to find than web developers.”

Affected application types:
This applies to all application types, but more so to native apps as you need different skill sets to build cross-platform apps.

4. Decisions by platform vendors

I heard a nice quote recently: “If you pitch your tent in someone else’s backyard, don’t get mad when they turn on the sprinklers.”

This ties in directly with mobile app development. If you build a native mobile app for Android or iOS, you live by their rules. They decide whether or not your app stays in their store. They decide whether or not to change the rules…which they often do.

For instance, they might decide to change security protocols. Or, they might decide to change the criteria for remaining in their store. There’s no telling what will be changed. However, with every change, it’s more development costs for your business.

“Decisions by the platform vendor and those with whom you connect impact your development projects at all the worst times,” says David Radin, CEO & Co-creator at Confirmed Instant Scheduler. “Examples: Apple’s release of SWIFT revisions. You’re trying to stay ahead of the curve — but if you do, Apple might change the code in a way that affects what you’ve already done. It’s not just Apple — it’s any platform vendor. Similarly, the recent malware hack posing as Google Drive caused Google to make swift and powerful changes to the way they allow external authentication — which likely affected scores of external developers who have provided social authentication on their services — because it became more stringent. If you used third party auth services, you might also have had to let the auth service catch up — or make other arrangements for authentication, in either case, a less-than optimal surprise.”

Affected application types:
This impacts native apps, as mobile web apps are not distributed via the app store.

5. Support

In the first article, we touched on maintenance costs. You must dedicate resources to keeping the app updated and running smoothly.

On a similar note, you’ll also need dedicated support personnel, depending on the type of application you’re creating.

For instance, if you’re building an app for wide consumer distribution, you’ll need a support team. After all, your app will likely fail if you don’t provide adequate support for your users.

What if you’re building an app for internal use? Depending on the number of users you’re supporting, you’ll need anything from a support person to a whole team. While this varies on a per-app basis, support is a cost that you can’t avoid.

“Do you have the resources to monitor comments in the app store and online to respond with helpful guidance to enable customer success?,” asks Steve Mezak, Founder and CEO of Accelerance. “If you consider all of these things in advance of developing your mobile app, you will be more successful in your endeavors.”

Affected application types:
While this impacts all app types, native apps with app store distribution require the most support.


In this two-part article, we’ve covered 13 hidden costs of mobile application development. If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.

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