So you’ve decided that your business needs a mobile app to match your customer’s needs — but how long will it take from an initial idea to the moment when your mobile app will live and breathe your brand?
The most common question for all business owners and startup founders would is: how much time and at what cost does it take to create an app?
The answer is not as simple as the question, but let’s try to do some rough estimation.
Data from different studies says that it takes 4–5 months to create a mobile app.
For example, a 2013 survey by Kinvey indicates that a “MVP-quality native app” would require approximately 18 weeks (4.5 months) to build. This figure can be divided into an estimated 10 weeks for “backend” development and 8 weeks for “frontend” development.
Another study by Goodfirm says that:
‘User friendly, simpler apps’ (Tinder, Periscope etc.) take about 3.8 to 4.1 months
‘Medium complex apps’ (WhatsApp, QuizUp) require at least 4.6 months
‘Highly complex apps’ (Uber, Instagram) take from 4.5 to 6 months
All things considered, these studies suggest that an app development is roughly from 4–6 months process to complete. Keep in mind that variations always exist and they depend on the additional features you’d like to include besides the basic ones.
Small apps would have features such as logging in, a news feed and a possibility to connect and interact with friends while a medium-sized app would have all mentioned plus sharing settings (sharing with external platforms), geo-localization, video support and some sort of integration. The most complex apps would additionally feature multiple languages, robust settings, photo/video editing and algorithms allowing to receive tailor-made content.
The more complex the app, the longer it takes to be developed.
As the general answer to the question is that an app requires from 4–6 months to build, the first version of an app (v1.0 app) may be built in less than 4 months but it depends on many factors. Some of these factors are:
- A v1.0 app usually takes about 4–6 months
- Apps range from a few weeks plain apps to years-long masterwork as quality takes time.
- Apps that target many features require more time to build than narrow-scope ones.
- Timeline is somewhat determined by budget
- Team of cross-technology experts speed up the building process.
- More efficient timeline can be achieved with the team with right skills and experience.
Typical situation is that too many features requested for v1.0 app can cause problems since apps that are more focused do perform better. Don’t forget that a long list of features will increase the timeline drastically and also the costs as well.
The goal with the feature list should be to cut out as much as possible — just look for the key features that will help you find the market for your app — this approach will help you stay within the 4–6 months timeline.
Key stages in App Development
Since an app development is a repetitive process with different stages of researching, building, testing, tweaking and releasing your app, let’s list them:
- App Idea!
The very first stage of developing a mobile app is researching your ‘app idea’ or creating a user story. You must be able to list the reasons on why do you want to create an app, how will it contribute to your customers, does it already exist, how will it be different, what will it do for your users and so on.
You will have to do an extensive research on the target market demand and substantiate customer pains, market size and validation of your product idea. You should also research your competitors’ apps and business strategies. This stage is vital because 77% of users never use an app 3 days after installing it.
- This stage will usually take several weeks of research and ideas validation.
2. Feature Set
Now you should think about app’s functionalities — all the features you want to include in your app so the best is to think about what do you want your app to be able to do, which tasks, functions and operations will it perform, how will it handle data etc.
You will also establish ‘use cases’, tailored to function as templates on how your ideal users will interact with the app. You also have to decide whether your app will be available for iOS, Android and/or Windows. Keep in mind that developing an app for more than one OS will take longer to finish.
- Expect for this stage to take 3–5 weeks figuring out core functions and features.
Once you’ve figured out the purpose of you app and the basic feature set, it’s time for you to create ‘Storyboard’ and test your idea against reality.
You should create wireframes — the visual architecture of the app — as it represents the each page of your app and the way they are linked. It’s easy to do wireframes today since there are numerous software tools (Adobe XD, Balsamiq) that allow developers to quickly create prototypes.
After wireframing is done, another research is to be done — testing the prototype work. You let users to ‘play’ with your app and provide the valuable feedback. For example, some people choose to develop wireframes early during the features stage, seeing wireframes as evidently connected to the use of storyboards and other basic visual representations.
- This stage requires from a few days to few weeks depending on the complexity.
4. App Development
The app development consists of frontend and backend.
Frontend consists of that what is visible to users and interactive. Frontend developers are responsible for the look, feel and the final design of the interface.
Backend is composed of the logistics that goes behind making the frontend functional. Backend development focuses on how the app works. It consists of server, database and an application and it is what communicates the information and interaction to the users. It includes all activities happening ‘behind the curtain’ such as database management, server-side logistics, data integration and more.
- It takes approximately 18+ weeks to complete. (it is said 10 weeks for backend and 8 weeks for frontend, but it usually differs depending on the complexity of the app)
5. Beta Testing
During this stage, the app is examined under various conditions to ensure it’s bug-free and that users are comfortable with the interface (UI). You should only launch beta testing once you’ve thoroughly completed alpha testing with your own coding team. You should test the app for usability, compatibility, security, interface checks, stress, and performance.
In user acceptance testing, you discover whether the mobile app works for your end users or not.
Beta testing is crucial for app development. Don’t forget, it’s a good idea to test early and often- it will keep your final costs low. There are websites exclusively dedicated to beta testing like BetaFamily, BetaList, Erlibird etc.
- Beta testing can take 3–4 weeks so to collect all relevant details for further improvement.
Your app is finally finished, tested and ready to launch — by now your app has a name, a short description and some promotional images. The policies for launching an app are different for different application stores, so keep in mind that this may take couple of days.
So, your app is launched? You can celebrate, but your work isn’t done as yet.
- Launching can take few days depending on the app store policies.
As your app will be in the hands of the users, you will get a lot of feedback — you need to incorporate the feedback into the future upgrades of your app to improve the usability and functionality.
It is also important to utilize analytics to track app performance like downloads, user engagement and retention.
This usage behavior will give you insight into how to improve the app and enhance the user experience.
So, in total?
Adding up the times estimated for each of the stages listed would result in the final time frame of approximately 4–6 months to build a mobile app.
As you can see, building a mobile app is rather long and complex process that requires lots of preparation and dedication to do it properly. Bear in mind that on your app journey, you should remain flexible in your timeline expectations and you should have access to your mobile development team in the post-launch stage.
Considering that your app adventure really begins when people ‘taste’ your work, make sure that launch of your app is the start of your adventure and not the end of it.