When it comes to app development, some of the main questions that entrepreneurs want to know answers to are “How long does it take to build an app?” and “How much does it cost?” In this article, we’re going to answer the first question.
An important thing business owners should understand is that there’s no standard app development timeline. Read this post to find out what development time depends on, what average time you can expect to spend building an app, and how you can reduce this time.
Factors that influence app development time
Although the average time to develop an app is considered to be 4-6 months (if we speak about an MVP), it may vary dramatically. Let’s consider the main factors that matter when estimating app development time.
Factor #1. Understanding your business idea
Before trying to estimate an app development timeline you should have a clear understanding of your business plan. While you might not have all the details in mind, you should at least know what type of application you want to build, who will use it, and what pain points of your customers it would solve.
To structure your business idea, you can take advantage of creating a business plan. Although this big document can take a lot of your time, it will help you see the whole picture of your business. When creating a business plan, you can think through all aspects of your business, from your company goals to the ways you’ll make money. Moreover, a business plan can serve as a solid representation of your business idea to investors.
In case you don’t have much time for a detailed business plan, you can use a Lean Canvas to structure your main thoughts. Being a one-page document with 9 sections, a Lean Canvas helps you assess your opportunities, foresee challenges, and look for ways to overcome them.
If you don’t know what exactly you want from your business, and as a result, a mobile app, you’ll have to find it out together with a business analyst or project manager of a company you’ll hire for development. And the fewer ideas you’ll bring with you, the more time it will take you to work out your business requirements.
Factor #2. An application type
When it comes to deciding on an app type to build, you have three choices – native, hybrid, or web apps – that directly influence the development time.
Native applications are the ones that are built to be used on a particular platform: iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, etc. Both mobile and desktop apps can be native, and to build an app that will be compatible, let’s say, with two platforms, developers will have to build two different apps.
Hybrid applications are compatible with different operating systems thanks to the wrappers that are used during the development process. Consequently, there’s no need to build a new app every time.
Web applications run on browsers and are compatible with all devices and operating systems. The only requirement for the successful operation of a web app is a browser built in a device. Web apps are the easiest to build among all types, and can be truly called “universal applications”.
Speaking about app development time, we would say native apps take the longest to build, web apps take the least time, and hybrid ones are somewhere in the middle.
Another thing you shouldn’t underestimate is the domain of your app. If you want to build a reading app, which is considered a simple one, you’ll spend less time on development. However, if your app belongs to navigation, analytics, data visualization, or another complex category, be ready to spend a lot of time (and money) to build it.
Factor #3. Application complexity
When developing your app, you should decide on the number and complexity of the features to implement into an app. There’s no point in saying that the more features you want to build, and the more complicated they are, the longer it will take to develop an app.
While the list of basic and advanced features varies from app to app, we can point out some of them that are more likely to fit almost any application.
Among basic features, one can list registration, login, creating and editing a user profile, push notifications, and the ability to configure settings. As for advanced features, they are in-app payments, search functionality, phonebook/social media integrations, and many more.
Factor #4. Development team
There are three ways to organize your development team to build an app:
- Hire in-house developers
- Cooperate with freelancers
- Hire an outsourcing company
Hiring in-house developers is the most time-consuming option among all the listed above. If you don’t have a team yet, it may take you months to find professionals who will meet your requirements. Add an average app development time, and you’ll get a year, to say the least. Moreover, working with an in-house team requires you to manage their performance on a regular basis, which will take you more time and effort.
Working with freelancers can seem attractive. However, freelancers can not always be dedicated and engaged in your project. They often work at their own pace and schedule, so there is a risk of poor communication and missed deadlines.
Hiring an outsourcing company is the most promising option here. Development companies usually have extensive experience and reputation. They can provide you with the team you need to complete your project in time. Another advantage of outsourcing is that you aren’t restricted by borders and can reach out to a company anywhere in the world. Such a variety of choices allows you to cut down expenses since you can choose a company with a rate that meets your budget.
Now, as we’re acquainted with the aspects that influence app development time, let’s move directly to the timeline.
From ideation to release: all stages explained
Building an app is not only about software development. To build a high-quality application that will meet your business needs, you and your team will have to go through all stages from requirements elicitation to maintenance and support. Let’s dive into details.
Business requirements elicitation
The time needed: 2-3 weeks
You need this stage to communicate all your wishes and requirements to your development team. Usually, you don’t speak directly to developers (unless they’re your in-house team). At this stage, you keep in touch with business analysts or project managers who clarify your expectations, define the scope of work, prepare a feature breakdown list, estimate the approximate time and duration of your project, and outline the expected workflow.
The time needed: 5-7 weeks
The design stage of app development consists of two steps: UX and UI design that go one by one.
UX design is all about a great user experience. UX designers think through the app’s layout, create mockups, improve them in accordance with customer feedback until the design meets app’s business goals as well as customers’ needs.
UI design is responsible for a visual appeal of an application. UI designers work on the application interface so that users like what they see. They work out an interface in detail including shapes, sizes, textures, colors, fonts, etc.
Back-end and front-end development
The time needed: 8-10 weeks (for an MVP)
Being the most difficult part of an app development process, back-end development takes the longest time. It’s a massive piece of work that requires developers to work hard on the smallest processes to provide flawless app performance. Back-end developers work with servers, databases, third-party services, and other building blocks to ensure that an app will respond to every user request in a fast and correct way.
Once a back-end team finalizes the database structure, it’s time to start the front-end development. Since this time, both processes go in parallel so it’s possible to cut the overall app development time. Front-end developers bring to life the application prototype UI and UX designers created before. Their main task is to make users’ interaction with the app convenient and hassle-free.
The time needed: 2 weeks
While QA engineers perform testing throughout the whole development process, they need approximately a couple of weeks to test the final version of an app. Before release to the public, they make sure an app operates properly. If testers find any bugs at this stage, developers fix them to ensure everything works as it should.
The time needed: 1 week
People might think that launching an app is a fast process. However, it can take several days or even a week to publish an app to app stores. The thing is that app stores have a moderation that consists of numerous checkpoints including security checks. If an app fails to pass the moderation, developers will have to finalize minor issues for a successful launch.
Maintenance and support
The time needed: unlimited
Hardly any software development process stops after releasing the first version of an app. Operating systems update regularly, so it’s important to ensure your app is compatible with them. Moreover, there’s always room for perfection, so you are likely to improve existing features as well as develop new ones.
If we add the duration of all stages, we get almost 6 months. This is an average app development time estimate. Depending on numerous factors, this time can be reduced or increased by several times. For those who want to build their application in the shortest time possible, the next section will come in handy.
Ways to reduce app development time
It’s impossible to build a high-quality app in several weeks – that’s true. However, you can hope to launch your app in half a year. Let’s see what steps you should take to make it possible.
Build an MVP
MVP, or a minimum viable product, is a program, app, or any other software that includes only main features that meet the basic users’ needs. Thanks to a small number of features, it’s possible to significantly reduce time to market. Moreover, by launching an MVP, business owners can gather feedback from the first users and improve their product in accordance with users’ expectations.
Opt for cross-platform development
Cross-platform development allows you to cut up to 50% of the time on such stages as front-end development and post-launch maintenance. By choosing cross-platform development, you don’t have to build different apps for different platforms. You can build one app and use particular frameworks (React Native, Ionic, Xamarin) to make it compatible with different platforms.
Outsource development process
We have already mentioned that outsourcing is one of the fastest ways to build an app. You can spend some time looking for a software development team you can trust. Once you find the right team, they do the job for you. Not only they provide you with professional developers but also can offer other ways to reduce app development time taking into account your situation.
An app development timeline can differ from app to app depending on numerous factors. The difference is so big that the time can vary from 3 months for an app prototype to more than a year for the first app version. However, it’s still possible to launch a working MVP in half a year. If the development time seems too long, you can look for ways to reduce it without sacrificing the quality.