Lex Melnykow Head of Web

    Estimating Mobile App Development: Requirements and Steps

    After deciding to create a mobile app, you must carefully evaluate your project. How much will it cost? What are the time frames? A well-done estimation can provide correct answers to these problems. Continue reading to learn how to estimate mobile app development, what you will need to do beforehand, and which price models are most typically utilized by developers.

    How to Estimate the Cost of App Development

    The price of building an app depends highly on its functionality and the wages of those who are going to build it. Every feature takes several hours to program, and the more complex the app, the higher you should estimate the cost of building and maintaining it after release.

    For additional information on why one app costs $10,000 and another one costs $100,000, see our article Mobile App Development: How Much Does It Cost?


    The number of hours needed to program each app feature determines its price, which is more or less fixed. The more sophisticated the feature, the more expensive it will be.

    For example:

    • Push notifications with links to specific app screens: $1,000–1,500 (25–30 hours).
    • Text messenger and media sharing: $6,500–7,000 (160–170 hours).
    • Integration with Apple Pay and Google Pay: $1,000–3,200 (25–80 hours).

    Supported Platforms

    If you plan to develop an app specifically for one platform, native development (Kotin for Android and Swift for iOS) is the best option in terms of performance, stability, and cost. However, if you want your app to be available on both Google Play and Apple Store, consider using a cross-platform framework like Flutter, React Native, Xamarin, and others. Building a cross-platform app is slightly more expensive than building a native one (in the United States, for example, cross-platform developers earn about 10% more than their colleagues working with native languages), but you can reuse large chunks of codebase on both platforms, which cuts the development time down to 30–40% of that of native development.


    Every app requires updates to ensure complete compatibility with new devices and operating systems (OSes), and regular bug fixing, because bugs are always present. Typically, these charges account for roughly 15% of the initial development cost each year.

    In addition, most apps store user data, so you’ll need a secure server or cloud storage. The annual cost of renting server space starts at $1500 and varies depending on the volume of data and the number of users.

    Development Team Size

    The complexity of the project should determine how big your app development team will be. You can find out more about who you’ll need on the development team in our article on this. Typically, a team has:

    • 2 developers (iOS and Android, or cross-platform).
    • The QA (Quality Assurance) Engineer reviews all specifications and technical documents as well as creates and plans all testing activities.
    • The backend developer oversees data storage, payment systems, and the logic of app operation.
    • The UX/UI Designer creates a user-friendly interface for the app.
    • The project manager manages the development process and communicates directly with the client.

    Team Location

    The team’s geographical location influences the development costs. For example, software engineers in North America typically charge more than $100 per hour, whereas developers in Western Europe deliver code of comparable quality for half the price. When looking for developers, consider hiring an offshore development company or freelancers, as this can significantly impact the ultimate pricing of the project. To learn more about talent acquisition, read our article on where to hire developers.

    The Process of App Cost Estimation

    Before estimating mobile app development costs, you must analyze all ideas and concepts and convert them into a precise technical specification. The more thorough the information, the easier it will be to estimate expenditures. Software requirements and specifications typically include the following aspects.


    This part briefly outlines the product and app concept. The team involved in the project creates lists of all app features, different user types, their roles, and classes. An overview also includes information about the app’s hardware and software requirements, design and implementation constraints, and a list of user guides that will be distributed.

    Functional Requirements

    This section offers a full description of all of the app features, including their purpose, how they work (what triggers them, what they do), their implementation priority, and use cases.

    External Interfaces

    This part focuses on all types of interfaces in the app.

    • Screens (user interfaces). Prototypes and descriptions of each app screen.
    • Software interfaces. Specifications of APIs, operating systems, databases, and third-party software.
    • Hardware interfaces. Technical characteristics of how the app interacts with the device’s hardware. How physical controls help operate it, what communication protocols it uses, and differences depending on the device model.
    • Communication interfaces. Descriptions of the app communication features (email, browser, messaging) and server exchange protocols. Configuration of the app’s communication with an external server.
    • Other parameters and their specifications. Use of geographic data, push notifications, in-app purchases, data security, and performance measurement.

    Estimation Process

    When you have the technical specs in hand, it is time to make estimates. To be precise, the process should include numerous stages, each of which clarifies the development needs more and more.

    Stage 1. Breakdown

    First, the provided technical specifications are decomposed into small and easy-to-estimate parts of the app. Usually, project teams break the specs down by screens or by functions.

    By screens. The project team analyzes the wireframes of every screen for present functions (login, record audio) and UI elements (buttons, text fields).

    By functions. The team analyzes every function of the app: how a function works, its design in the UI, and on what screens it is present.

    Then, all features or screens are sorted by priority: must-have items, serving the app’s main purpose; «cool-to-have» features, and low-priority items.

    Stage 2. Developer Estimation

    Next, developers estimate how long it will take to program each function of the app and present their assessment as a range (minimum to maximum) of hours. 

    Stage 3. Project Manager Estimation

    It is common for developers to slightly overestimate the required amount of hours to develop, and, at this stage, the main priority of the project manager is to find the balance between price and quality. The PM reviews the development team estimates and includes the hours required for design, internal and external communications (team meetings, client demonstrations), focus group tests, code testing, and bug fixing. Also, such processes as code merging between developers, refactoring, and release are taken into account at this stage.

    Stage 4. Final Estimation

    The project manager confirms his estimation with other team members, makes necessary corrections, and presents the results to you.

    The mobile app development cost estimate template may appear to be an actual cost and time breakdown:

    Other teams, however, provide less detailed and more flexible estimates for mobile app development costs. This eliminates the need for extended customer approval of minor adjustments to the list of works and allows the team to focus on producing a high-quality result rather than simply completing a list of chores. After several years of development and multiple completed projects, Surf prefers this strategy.

    It is nearly impossible to predict the precise number of hours required for each item in advance, because factors other than app code, such as UI/UX design and backend complexity, have a significant impact on the time costs of development. In our experience, a higher-level estimation yields more accurate results and improves client satisfaction.

    Since the time of development depends highly on aspects not related directly to the app code, such as UI/UX design and backend complexity, it is quite impossible to name the precise number of hours required for every feature beforehand. In our practice, a more top-level estimation offers more accurate results and better customer satisfaction.
    Vadim Mazin

    Chief Commercial Officer at Surf

    Pricing Models

    The two most used pricing models for estimating app development costs are fixed price and time & materials.

    Fixed Price

    A fixed-price model determines a precise list of features, their implementation, and costs defined during the estimating process. If development grows to require any more works, it incurs additional costs and necessitates a thorough agreement procedure with the customer, resulting in development team downtime and an increase in development cost and time. If any planned works are shown to be unneeded, the client’s final payment remains the same. The set price model lacks flexibility, carries significant financial and time risks, and is primarily suitable for small and short-term projects.

    Time & Material

    Time & material is a flexible model that focuses not on building the exact list of features but rather on the result. The development process is reflected in monthly reports, and developers are allowed to build additional features without going through the full agreement process. 

    1. The development team provides a rough top-level estimation divided into stages (sprints). The client agrees on the scale of work.
    2. The team starts building the app, presenting the work done to the client at the end of every sprint. The client pays only for what was done during the sprint.
    3. If necessary, the team suggests additional work and, upon the client’s agreement, includes them in the next sprint.
    4. Finally, the client receives the finished product, adapted to the current technical requirements and market demands (which may have changed since the estimation).

    Since the majority of apps are complex projects, some small details (an additional button on a screen or the logic for an uncommon user flow) are inevitably neglected during the planning process, and the time & material model enables developers to include them in the process quickly and easily. Furthermore, if the fixed-price model estimates each feature with potential issues that may not occur, the time and material model reduces such risks for the development team, allowing it to offer more comfortable prices to the client.

    Summing up

    Mobile app estimation is a process that takes into account all aspects of the future project and is based on a detailed technical specification. The process is conducted in several stages, beginning with the breakdown of the project by screens or features, followed by an appraisal by developers, and finally by a project manager. Although the development team may provide the client with a precise cost for app development and work along the guidelines of the fixed-price model, a top-level prediction based on the time & material price model bears fewer risks for both parties. It is also more flexible to make essential modifications after work has begun.

    Surf has over 13 years of expertise in designing mobile apps for different types of businesses, including e-commerce, banking, and streaming platforms. Fill out a quick form, and we will calculate the cost of your project.