Mobile app budgeting is a task not many companies are adequately equipped for. Despite the prominence of mobile and the number of organizations that are realizing its importance, it’s surprising how little is understood about what it takes to build a fully functional, user-ready mobile app.
The result of this knowledge gap is that many underestimate – often significantly – the time, resources, and budget they require in order to build a useful product. In our experience, the biggest mobile app budgeting mistakes people make are:
- Ignoring backend development/infrastructure needs
- Misunderstanding the vast differences between apps and websites
- Failing to consider the cross-department involvement required for delivery and ongoing success
- Not enough marketing budget to promote and educate customers about the mobile app
- No plan for updates to meet customer demands after the initial launch
The cost of mobile app development ranges on a case-to-case basis, and factors like scope, complexity, feature requirements, and the firm you choose to partner with all end up determining the cost of your project. We’re going to discuss each of the mistakes listed above and why these areas need to be included when creating a mobile app budgeting plan. At the end of this post, you will have a more holistic understanding of the time, effort, and cost involved in creating a marketable mobile app.
Ignoring Backend Development And Service Integration
Perhaps the biggest mobile app budgeting mistake people make is assuming that it is a standalone product consisting of only the screens that users interact with on their devices. The reality is that the user interface of the app is a very small part of a larger machine that allows the app to function.
There is a variety of moving parts: the content management system (CMS); the backend infrastructure APIs that handle business logic (cloud-based); and third-party integrations (user engagement via push, analytics for data capture, Facebook login, chat, etc.). We’ll look at these in turn:
CMS: The CMS for mobile provides configuration and content services. Don’t think WordPress. Think mobile specific so you can create the best mobile experience. You don’t want to have to republish an app because of an API endpoint change or a backend maintenance window. The mobile CMS should be considered as part of the mobile app: it provides everything from settings, menu details, images and text content to the application.
Backend Infrastructure: Your app will likely need to communicate with a server to handle actions that cannot be done on-device, which includes authentication, business integrations like booking appointments or requesting updates on status, business processes, notifications and messages, and much more. While you would have considered these as core services you should really think of them from a mobile context. Your customers don’t want to wait for answers. Mobile-specific services that are highly responsive are the only true solution in today’s world.
Clearbridge Mobile Architect, Roberto Galeano, describes the backend infrastructure as “a critical piece of mobile app development because that’s where the value is. An app in itself is nothing if it doesn’t manipulate the right data in a timely fashion.”
Third-party Integrations: You don’t want to build everything from scratch so look for third parties that provide best of breed solutions for point problems. Push notifications, Analytics, Authorization, and Authentication are just a few items that should be considered.
Many make the mistake of considering only the front-end when determining a mobile app budget. By doing this, they are ignoring the largest cost factors, which typically lie within the backend infrastructure and integrations that aren’t immediately visible.
We can demonstrate this using everyone’s favorite example: Uber. First of all, Uber actually has two distinct apps. The first is what the users see that allows them to order the service, manage their accounts, etc. The second is the app the drivers use. Even if it were only a single app, the amount of backend infrastructure and integration the app requires to function would surprise many. You have the location and map components; a payment/transaction system; dynamic pricing model based on demand; and much, much more.
Just take a look at Uber’s breakdown of their tech stack (and this is only Part 1 of 2, not including the middleware or front-end components). Applications that require this kind of infrastructure are expensive to build and scale: Uber’s initial funding was 1.5 million USD, with much more capital acquired through follow-up stages.
While Uber is a complex example, it does demonstrate the many facets required for an app to work that many don’t consider when creating a mobile app budgeting plan.
Thinking Mobile Apps And Websites Aren’t Much Different
Not only do apps require the backend infrastructure, but all of these different components also need to be integrated and work together in order for the application to function. Ensuring that all of the moving parts – the front-end, CMS, third-party services, the backend – work together seamlessly requires a lot of time and effort; much more so than a website. The more complex the project is, the more time and effort is involved; therefore the more it will cost.
Mobile apps are not websites. On the surface, this may appear obvious, but it’s important to emphasize when breaking down the technical complexity behind mobile applications and how they communicate with services and networks. There is limited real estate on a mobile screen, and the user experience is vastly different. Information needs to be more focused and content delivery needs to be faster. Mobile apps, therefore, make more network calls more frequently and require services that are able to support this.
In almost every case, the infrastructure will need to be built. Existing services that were not originally designed for mobile are inadequate. Internal and legacy systems will likely need to be recreated to support mobile.