This article addresses app development cost using the cone of uncertainty. Discover how to minimize risk and get an accurate estimate before you start developing.

How much does it cost to make an app?
We don’t know. At least, not yet.
And neither do any of the other software companies you may have asked.

What we mean is, we need more information.

Everyone needs more information. You need more information. Your boss needs more information. Your stakeholders need more information.

  • What business value will your app create?
  • Is it solving the right problems?
  • Will end-users actually use it?
  • How will it behave on different devices?
  • What makes it easy to use?

The answers to these and other questions determine the app’s purpose and function — what it will do and why. That information is essential to accurately quoting app development cost. With an accurate quote, you or other decision-makers can determine what form the app should take for it to be worth the investment.

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Accurate quotes allow businesses to filter out app ideas that are not worth the investment, or that they simply can’t afford. If you’ve ever been prevented from building an app you can’t afford, then thank your lucky stars! You’ve avoided wasting potentially thousands on starting a project that you can’t finish (or at least finish in a way that will produce real value for your business).

>> Check out our exposé on Why Software Projects Fail.

So, the most accurate, helpful answer to the question “How much does it cost to create an app?” is not the quickest one. But knowing the real truth about app development cost could save you a lot of time, money, and maybe even your job.

Accurately Estimate App Development Cost using the Cone of Uncertainty

Accuracy of an estimate depends on how far along you are in designing the app. At the beginning of your project, you’re still figuring out your idea and basic value proposition. That is the Product Definition phase.

During the Product Definition phase, the answers to questions about the validity of the app and how exactly it will prove valuable are uncertain. Perhaps you have hunches, but those hunches are largely based on assumptions.

If you get an estimate during the Product Definition phase, that estimate will likely be off by as much as 400% in either direction. In other words, the $100,000 quote you received from EazyApps down the street could actually become any amount between $400,000 to $25,000 by the end of your project.

At this point, a quote is not trustworthy because there is simply not enough information about the proposed app to know how difficult or time-consuming development will be.

Years of research by software-cost gurus Barry Boehm and Steve McConnell describe this phenomenon using the “Cone of Uncertainty.” We use the Cone of Uncertainty to coach potential clients on getting accurate estimates for custom software development and avoiding risky situations with app development vendors.

The Cone of Uncertainty

App Development Cost Cone of Uncertainty Praxent

Once you’ve solidified the concept and purpose of your app, you’ll move along the Cone of Uncertainty from the Product Definition phase into the Requirements Gathering phase of the project. During this phase, you’re producing detailed descriptions of exactly how you imagine the app will interact with users. You may write user stories or other forms of documentation, often with the assistance of a professional technical writer.

As a result of Requirements Gathering, the accuracy of app development cost estimates is narrowed quite a bit — variance moves down from 400% to 100%.

But for most businesses, committing to a quote that could be off by 100% is still too risky. While your project plans are far more detailed now than they were during the product definition stage, these details are based almost completely on conjecture about the app’s value and usability.

It’s simply not responsible to commit to a quote before or during the Requirements Gathering phase of product development.

Any software company that provides you with a hard and fast quote during this stage is likely to end up resetting your expectations later through change orders. Written software requirements leave a lot of room for interpretation. On their own, they are not a safe foundation for entering into a development contract.

>> Usability Testing: How to validate your assumptions and build software with confidence

So how much does it cost to make an app? The answer is in the prototype.

We’re getting closer!

It’s not until after you design the user interface and prototype that projects reach a 20-50% level of variance between what the anticipated app development cost and what it will actually cost. At this point, the risk of failing to develop an app that is both functional and affordable is low enough for most businesses to responsibly commit and move forward.

>> Learn more about ClickModel, our trademarked solution for software prototyping.

What makes the User Interface Design Stage so climactic? Up until this phase, almost everything about your product is untested. So the likelihood that you will receive a valuable return on your investment is uncertain.

Engaging with the user interface via a working prototype provides your team with the opportunity to conduct usability testing and course correct your custom software development project as needed. You’ll be able to make smart decisions about the purpose and limitations of the app. And the information gathered during user testing will illuminate the path toward relevant design that succeeds with end users.

Interacting with a prototype allows you to experience a level of engagement that’s impossible with a wireframe or mockup. With hands-on testing, you’ll face areas of the design you hadn’t even thought about yet such as on-screen behaviors, transitions, form interactions, viewport resizing, and conditional display of elements based on screen size.

(Many businesses are understandably reluctant to spend money on wide-scale usability testing via focus groups or other means. Not to worry. We’ve found that having our team, your team and stakeholders interact with the prototype is often enough to get the job done.)

>> We’re convinced that user experience design is crucial to the success of your app. Not only does it ensure user acceptance, it informs development at every stage of the project before you even release the app. Here’s more on how to gain insight from user experience design.

Our Pricing Timeline

At Praxent, we prioritize keeping our promises and meeting your expectations, especially when it comes to app development cost. Here’s how we carefully and thoughtfully answer the question of how much does it cost to make an app:

Product Definition Stage
No quote

Detailed Requirements Stage
Estimate general cost based on client’s ability to pay and perceived difficulty of the project

User Interface Design Stage

  • Create a ClickModel prototype within the estimated budget
  • Re-prioritize project objectives and features where appropriate
  • Finalize the quote at the end of this stage using findings from ClickModel discovery

Development Stage
Confidently develop the app with clear vision and minimal risk!

App Development Cost | How Much Does It Cost to Make an App

Keeping Your Development Team Accountable

Many app development companies let the meter run with no end in sight, while others handicap the project with a fixed price. At Praxent, we develop apps that have the greatest impact possible on your business objectives, allowing budget and timeline to guide that process.

Together with our clients, we identify the features that will have the greatest impact on the app’s success. We agree on “project principles” to keep development focused on those features. If discoveries down the road reveal alternate features or processes that would better serve project goals, we work with you to re-assess our current course and perhaps change direction.

>> Learn more about project principles for on track, flexible, and results-oriented development.

We won’t put you in a position where you have to report to the company’s vice president without an app that returns on investment. With a balanced perspective on budget and timeline, we make ourselves more accountable to your business objectives than those companies who offer a fixed price or let the meter run.

Learn more about ClickModel

Our “see-it-before-you-build-it” ux prototyping approach