How much does it cost to build an iPad app? It’s a question project leaders are asking a lot these days as they evaluate software options for an increasingly mobile work force.
For this reason, we put together a biased but useful framework to think about the true costs of building and maintaining an iPad app.
Conventional wisdom in IT circles has distilled buy vs. build decision making to one basic question:
Is the contemplated project part of your core offering?
If yes, then the answer is straightforward: put aside this email and go build it yourself. A lightbulb manufacturer should absolutely consider building software required to manufacture lightbulbs. But should it similarly build software to perform other critical functions within the business? For HR benefits administration or printing technology for its brochures or navigation software for its trucks?
The answer, for most businesses, is no. It’s the basis of Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy: do what you’re good at and nothing else. But the reality is a little more nuanced.
At StoryDesk, we well understand the surface appeal of owning software versus subscribing to it.
No one wants yet another monthly bill.
We also have some insight into the true cost of software development. The greatest misconception of app development is that once the software is built and deployed, the development ends.
In fact the opposite is true.
Software lives in a highly dynamic ecosystem wherein users, functionality, hardware, and operating systems come together in web of tremendous complexity and dynamism. As a result, software must constantly be evolved, reinvented, and rebuilt. All those app updates on your iPhone? Each can represent hundreds of development hours and tremendous expense – even if the changes appear trivial. When the first version is delivered the development isn’t over. It’s just beginning. Software is the home remodel project that never ends.
Like it or not, mobile software is an ongoing service rather than a build once and done product.
Given this, the question then becomes: do you want to develop this service capability in house, or would you prefer to partner?
It depends what all this costs, of course.
In truth, doing an apples-to-apples comparison of building your own presentation app versus buying StoryDesk is very difficult.
StoryDesk has been built over 2 years by a cross-functional team of 15 developers and designers. Our HTML5 content management system, web-to-tablet sync technology, design and usability expertise, and analytics platform represent meaningful technical achievements. Replicating it won’t be easy or cheap, and by the time you’ve done it we’ll have evolved our platform a half-dozen times based on in-market learning.
But what if StoryDesk weren’t around? What would it cost to build an interactive presentation app for your team with the ability to centrally manage it?
Here are some rough numbers for version 1:
$25,000 for UI / UX strategy
$30,000 for design
$100,000 for iOS Development
$50,000 for server development
$30,000 for project management
Expect it to take about 6 months, start to finish. What you’ll end up with is a fairly basic 20-25 screen presentation app that has some video built in and hopefully some interesting interactivity.
(As a side note, some pharmaceutical companies are spending an average of about $500,000 for apps like this because they’re paying ad agency markups.)
But here’s the worrying bit: To maintain and evolve one interactive presentation app, with one presentation, you’ll need the following staff, either in house or via an agency:
1/4 time project/product manager ($25,000/year, annualized)
1/4 time iOS developer ($30,000/year, annualized)
1/4 time designer ($25,000/year, annualized)
1/4 time back end developer ($30,000/year, annualized)
1/4 time QA ($20,000/year, annualized)
In house, this adds up to $130,000 per year — assuming you’re able to attract and retain these people and can deploy them to other projects in their ¾ time. If these resources are engaged via an agency, expect that figure to be closer to $250,000.
Can an app be built and maintained for less? Yes, of course. There are app developers in basements around the globe who will be happy to take on your enterprise project.
If the direct cost comparison isn’t compelling enough, here are some of the indirect costs you should consider before deciding to build:
Doing it in house will take ~6 months.
StoryDesk can have you in market, learning, and improving within weeks. Our average time from project sign off to rollout is 5 weeks.
Mistakes are inevitable.
StoryDesk is singularly focused on apps for presentations. We don’t do apps for gluten intolerance, parking space availability, or ill-tempered birds. We’ve rolled out apps in nearly every industry for thousands of users. We know what works and what doesn’t. Outsource the learning cost to us.
How will your app get better?
We release new features on a rolling basis, nearly every two weeks. This is part of our core offering, and usually comes at no incremental cost to clients.
Cutting edge functionality is expensive.
We’re the only platform in the world to have cracked iPad-to-iPad sharing; our analytics platform leads in sophistication and accuracy; our HTML5 CloudEditor is the only system in the world that allows real-time changes to native iPad apps from the iPad itself. We can achieve these technical milestones because our development costs are amortized across thousands of users.
Interaction designers are hard to find and retain.
Our Lead Designer left Apple to join StoryDesk. Interaction design is a discipline distinct from graphic, print, or web design.
Who on your team will be available 24/7 to address the inevitable bug?
StoryDesk is a supported solution. We’re there to address technical glitches as they arise.
App development can be a time suck for project leaders. Prepare to make a million small decisions each with weighty implications. Plan to devote a significant portion of your day to app-related questions and issues.
StoryDesk has already answered these questions.
Technical Debt Cost
New features don’t just get “slotted in.” Often times additive functionality requires significant changes to the software architecture, resulting in delays and technical debt.
StoryDesk’s modular architecture is designed to evolve with your needs. New functionality can be appended incrementally, and without incurring new technical debt.
What’s been your experience? We’d love to hear about it on Twitter.
StoryDesk is an iPad sales tool that makes presentations, brochures and other marketing materials memorable and measurable.
Based in New York City, our clients include Ralph Lauren, BBC and other major companies, as well as startups and non-profits.