How much to develop an iPhone application?

by: dermdaly

I’ve seen this question asked a number of times on linked in groups and other such places. Its a basic question, but it doesn’t have a basic answer. In fact its no different to “how much to develop a J2EE/.NET/COB OL/insert-your-technology-here application”. Look. Here’s the drill

So..You’ve a good idea for an iPhone application? You want your idea to become a reality. How can you make this happen?

An iPhone application is no different to any other sort of application. Before any developer worth his salt can give you a price that contains any level of accuracy, they will need to know what exactly your application is going to do; You’re going to need a spec written.

If you’re not the sort of person who can write specifications, the developer should be able to help you with it. The spec does not need to be “war and peace”, but more detail will get you more accurate quotes. But, depending on the level of functionality, a one or two pager can be enough.

A good spec should have taken what you are hoping to achieve (your “Business requirements”) and turn them into how they can be achieved.

I’ve always taken this approach with customers. I will not take on a development project of any size unless there’s a spec in place, or they will pay me to write a spec. By taking ill-defined requirements and putting together a quote, I’d be doing the customer an injustice. Here’s an approach that I’ve found works well, and hasn’t let me or my customers down:

  1. I work with the customer to write the spec. I try to understand what they are trying to achieve from a business point of view, rather than from a technical point of view
  2. I always charge for this work. If I don’t charge, I don’t value my time, and hence my work. If I don’t value it, my customer certainly won’t
  3. This is all I initially contract to do. What I promise is a spec detailed enough that they can get competitive quotes. I do use the spec to produce my own quote for the application development
  4. As an offer, if the customer uses me to develop the application, I take the price of the specification off the price of the development work. My quotes are very transparent. This is not an exercise in playing with the numbers to make this look like a special offer; it is honest and true (the only way to retain customers)

The good news is that if you get the spec done up front, you can take it to more than one place for a quote. You now have something that in theory you are comparing apples to apples when you get competitive quotes.

Of course, choosing your development partner should not just be a case of who gave you the lowest quote. Often less expensive equates to cheap in terms of quality. So, if you get competitive quotes, take a look at a number of things; The quality of the response, and what exactly are they doing for the price (for example, do they expect you to do full QA, or will they also help with writing test plans,etc.)

Remember software is very rarely a case of “fire and forget” and iPhone apps are no different. You app may need bugfixes or new features added in future, so consider your new development partner as a potentially long term relationship. Make sure you will be happy to work with these people for the foreseeable future.

If you’ve anything to add to this, please feel free to add a comment.

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  1. Fred Herrera

    good post to clarify early enquiries!

  2. Ryan

    Cost to develop an iPhone app can vary dramatically. It completely depends on what you’re building and the level of expertise you have in the areas of 1) programming, 2) requirements development, and 3) project management.

    If you are not proficient in these areas be cautious because you could end up 1) footing a large bill if you’re outsourcing, 2) spending more time than you anticipated working on it yourself, and/or 3) releasing a less than satisfactory app which in today’s App Store, won’t get you anywhere. Gone are the days of just throwing anything in the App Store and having it sell. There are simply too many good apps out!

    My company, Triplicity LLC spent several months creating a virtual slapping iPhone App we called SlapApp. It was released in the App Store on April 27, 2009. We spent a long time paying attention to the smallest of details just so we could create the best iPhone slap application on the market. If you get time, definitely go check it out ( It’s flying off the shelves! We are extremely pleased with the response we’ve been getting, and can’t wait to make updates that take it to the next level!

    Learn more:
    App Store:

  3. Finbarr

    Great post.

    One question though. How do you factor in the cost of maintenance? Since all updates to iPhone app’s are free, most clients might not want to pay the developer to do bug fixes since they shouldn’t be there in the first place. Or do you have any way to factor that into the initial contract with them?


    • dermdaly

      Hi Finbarr,
      Many thanks for taking the time to post. Its an interesting question that I was about to reply to when I realised its worth a blog entry in itself. Watch this space, and I’ll have the full answer to this real soon now.

  4. Fred

    Great post Dermot.
    The pricing situation is something very typical these days, enhanced by the economic climate. Have a laugh here 🙂
    I believe step number one is crucial, not only to cover your arse in the event the client doesn’t choose you for the app but also to set a standard and make sure the client values your time as you said.
    This practice could turn a bit hard for some companies to apply but’s worth giving it a try.


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