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Four tips for reducing mobile app development costs

Don't get stuck with hidden fees and unnecessary designs with mobile app development. Cut off the high sticker price by focusing on the user experience and going cross-platform.

Developing a mobile app can be a pricey undertaking.

Just consider the multiple platforms and device types on which the app must run, not to mention all the differences in screen sizes, resolutions, storage, performance, security and countless other details. This is on top of negotiating the coding languages, software developer's kits and technologies that come with each platform.

Given these factors, it's no surprise that mobile app development projects come with such hefty price tags. Here are four tips for driving down the mobile app development cost for organizations.

Design first, build later

Before writing any code, have a good sense of what the plan is for the app. Try to sketch out the app's workflows and interfaces early in the design process. Sketching is an incredibly cheap and easy way to iron out an app's initial design and flesh out its requirements.

Produce as many sketches as necessary, and explore design options with the app's stakeholders as part of an interactive process, while incurring few upfront mobile app development costs. Be sure to define directions and rule out dead ends. At this point, there's no need to come up with a high-fidelity representation of the final interface.

If freehand drawing sounds intimidating, device templates provide a structure to work within. Interface Sketch offers a free set of downloadable sketch templates for desktop and mobile platforms.

Focus on what's important

Teams that are new to mobile app development often try to mimic desktop software or fill their apps with features that they think are cool but have little to do with the app's primary objectives.

When building a mobile app, minimize functionality, and include only those features that are in line with the app's main goals. The less complicated the app, the less mobile app development cost overall. It's better to build an app with fewer features that work well versus one with lots of features that are mediocre at best.

Consider taking the minimum viable product (MVP) approach. MVP products include limited functionality but have enough to meet the app's main goals. Teams can add more features in subsequent releases, if needed. Doing so gets the product out sooner, saving time and money along the way.

Organizations should fully understand how users will be using the app to avoid incurring the type of "feature bloat" that can sabotage any development effort.

Think cross-platform development

A mobile app project should be able to target multiple mobile platforms and device types, while minimizing the development effort necessary to implement those different versions.

First, figure out exactly what devices the app should support -- iOS, Android or Windows -- then determine whether to deliver a native, hybrid or HTML5 web-based app. Native apps tend to perform the best and deliver functionality more efficiently than hybrid or web apps. They are also the most expensive to develop and maintain. Web apps are the cheapest to develop because they can run on any device with an HTML5 browser, but they tend to be the least performant of the three options.

Cross-platform development is a given when developing a web app. Regardless of the development tools used, incorporate a responsive design into the app. Although cross-platform frameworks are often associated only with hybrid apps, some frameworks support native development.

Don't reinvent the wheel

Professional developers clearly aren't the only ones building apps nowadays, and it's easy to find prebuilt templates, third-party plug-ins or integration adapters for back-end systems. Any of these tools can help ease the development process and subsequently lower the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Leveraging existing technologies can be particularly useful when it comes to test automation; testing a framework helps produce a better product and saves time and money. Best of all, it can uncover open source solutions, such as Appium, which provides a test automation framework for native, hybrid and mobile web apps and supports iOS, Android and Windows platforms.

Even open source mobile app dev products come with hidden costs.

Also consider a rapid mobile app development (RMAD) tool from such companies as Kony, Mendix or OutSystems. RMAD takes the idea of cross-platform development a step further by providing a complete framework for developing and deploying mobile apps to different device types. With RMAD, anyone can build apps using drag-and-drop operations to add different types of functionality, without writing any code, which can help reduce the mobile app development cost in the long term.

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Cheap apps don't have to be cheap

Be aware that many components, tools and services out there come with subscription or licensing fees, which can add up quickly and result in a higher TCO over the long haul. Even open source mobile app dev products come with hidden costs.

Do a careful cost analysis before deciding on any development technology, but don't shy away from using them. The right technologies can help keep the mobile app development cost down by a significant amount.

And don't forget about the users; not taking their needs into account can lead to a failed app, which can be one of the costliest mistakes of all.

Next Steps

Why web apps are king of the app development hill

Get an introduction into mobile app development

How user experience influences mobile app development

This was last published in September 2017

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What tricks do you use to keep development costs minimally low for app development?
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Yes, indeed the app development process is a costly process. Thanks for such a useful write up, it will surely help people to reduce the costs.
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