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How Much Does It Cost To Make An App?

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In July, 60 Minutes televised a story that explained how anyone in the world can become a multimillionaire by making apps. By the number of enquiries Adapptor now receives, it seems a lot of people watched the show, and are hoping to make that quick buck.

Charles Wooley showed everyone just how simple it was by creating his very own app in a matter of days; The App Revolution. His app wasn’t that amazing, it helped people make decisions by letting them virtually toss a coin. I guess it’s for those people that don’t carry coins around with them anymore.

After the show aired, Adapptor — like probably every other app developer — gets a few phone calls a week from a wannabe “appreneur” with a great app idea. In most cases we disappoint them when we explain just how much that 99 cent app will cost them to make.

So why is there such a disconnect between the 60 Minutes story and reality? It’s what Charles Wooley neglected to mention in the 60 Minutes story that is really telling.

Wooley chatted with “appreneurs” Phil Larson from Halfbrick, Chad Mureta, and also mentioned the success of Angry Birds. All great case studies that surely add weight to Wooley’s claim. However, they’re not overnight sensations.

Halfbrick, a highly successful company with a few mobile app games under their belt, has been developing games since 2001. It’s not an overnight sensation. Nor is Rovio, who’ve been producing games since 2003, almost went bankrupt in 2009, and created 51 games before they created Angry Birds.

Then there is Chad Mureta, a clever guy that’s worked out an interesting business model (based on the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris). Chad’s claim to fame is that he has created a range of successful apps that have earned him a very tidy profit. It’s a fascinating story, based on some savvy business understanding. Chad monitors the market, finds an app that is not only successful but also very simple, emulates them and improves the concept, hires a cheap overseas developer, builds and tests the app, and then publishes it.

It’s a great idea, but still likely to take a good amount of effort. He also creates very simple apps; not the same type of apps that we get approached to build. They’re almost all gimmicks, and not a long term business model.

Chad now lists himself as an author, speaker, consultant and entrepreneur, and sells his book online. So, I’m not sure that he’s as dedicated to building apps as 60 Minutes implied.

So why isn’t it as simple as Wooley makes out? Well, apps can actually be complex pieces of software. In fact Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, those simple games that he mentioned, probably took hundreds of hours to develop and likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce.

Even simple apps like Instagram and Currently Tech News are complex pieces of software.

Kent Nguyen, a developer from Anideo, explains it really well in his article “Dear business people, an iOS app actually takes a lot of work!” It’s a great article that I won’t bother duplicating, but it’s worth a read.

In summary, Nguyen explains that often there are complex systems at work when you use an app, and in many cases these exist on servers on the Internet. These take time and skill to build well, and in essence are the engine rooms of the app. Even the apps themselves take a lot of skill to develop, and without a lot of experience and skill can fail badly.

The long and the short of it is that apps aren’t as simple as they can seem. Not only are they often complex pieces of software, but they also require some clever business understanding.

Coin Toss Charlie’s Choice is actually a great example; it might have ranked number one in the productivity category the day it was launched on national television, but today it’s ranked 295. Highly unlikely to have made Wooley a millionaire.

Posted by Richard in Mobile