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How long does it take to build a mobile app?

Web & Mobile

Mason Carter wrote this article

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For any business interested in building a mobile app for the iPhone or Android, their first question is almost always the same. How much would it cost to develop their app?

This is an answer that we’ve covered extensively before in our library, and numerous resources are also available online.

Even though the cost is almost always the first question, the second question that comes quickly on the heels of the cost is, “How long will it take for you to build your app?

This is just as important as the cost question, is it not?

In many cases, you’re planning a very strategic launch around a precise timeline. You must be in the App Store by a set date, or else you face losing valuable market traction and missing out on crucial timing that can help you scale quickly.

Well, let me start with the bad news… similar to what I said in the blog post about app costs, the timeline can also vary by the type of app you’re looking to build.

Now for the good news!

We do have a way to estimate pretty accurately how long it should take.

Let me break down for you step-by-step, the duration of your average iPhone app or Android app, beginning with the discovery process.

1) Discovery Process – From an idea to a real plan of action for your mobile app

In school, were you that kid that wanted to always start on the final draft of a paper without outlining or creating a rough draft?

That was me! If I’m honest with myself, my first final draft was just a rough draft in disguise. I was spending the time anyway no matter what I called it.

This is the same thing. Maybe you just think of this as “planning.” It is still essential.

Planning functionality and layout can take 1-3 months on average for your app.

But believe it or not, it can often save you an additional 4-6 weeks versus if you tried just to start programming something immediately. Having a plan that has accounted for every page of your app and every feature gives you a clear blueprint before we write a single line of code.

Why does it take this long? Why does it vary?

For starters, with a company like Chop Dawg, we are a set-rate service and will scope out your entire project, start-to-finish, well before we begin collecting an initial payment from you or having you sign on the dotted line.

However, by being set-rate, we operate 110% off of the scope of work as defined in the discovery process. This means that we go piece by piece through every page and what you want every button to do to create an accurate scope of work. That level of detail takes time.

Imagine you build homes for a living. You would get pretty annoyed if someone walked up to you and said, “Hey, you are a builder. How long will it take you to build me a house? I would like an answer in the next 2 minutes.” It would be near impossible. You would have some questions. How big? How many rooms? Is there a pool? Is it three stories? What quality of materials do you want to use? It is the same with planning and building an app. It takes time to walk through all of those questions… but that’s only half the question.

The other half of working with a company like Chop Dawg is the contract agreement itself.

We always provide clients a baseline template, and we are more than happy to review any edits and that is proposed by your legal team.

However, for those of you who have worked with attorneys in the past, even the best ones can take a few days to connect, discuss, talk to their clients, fine-tune, etc. Realistically, we see this process usually takes about 1-2 weeks.

If you’re doing the math, that brings us to 2-6 weeks, which ends up being about a month on average.

Now you’re probably asking, but you just said it could take 1-3 months. So why the broad range?

Because the other two months can and will depend on how quick you can work with our team.

Odds are, we aren’t the only app developers that you’re speaking to about an app. You’re having discovery calls and looking at other agreements.

Out of the clients that I have asked that work with Chop Dawg, the average time was 3-6 weeks of evaluating all the options after they had our proposal and all the other proposals (before landing on us!). That right there means it is another full calendar month in making sure you pick the right partner, which in case you need help with that, here are a bunch of great questions you can ask them that we’ve written about in the past!

And lastly, there are materials companies like us need from you directly.

We’ve covered before about what you can do to ensure you’re ready to work with an app development firm such as Chop Dawg, but that does take time. You will want to have your “Book of Genesis” ready to go. You will want to have ensured you feel confident with your app idea.

Keeping a record of all your requirements that you want to be ready for launch day will accelerate this process. You would have wanted to decide if you need an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or NFP (Non-Functional Prototype) early on. All of this takes time. Again, we polled our existing clients, and they said they spent 1-2 months getting this all in order.

All of the sudden, 1-3 months to plan a project is starting to make a lot of sense, right?

2) Design Process – creating a UX/UI that visualizes how your app will work for users

Superb news! You’ve officially selected an app development company like Chop Dawg to build your app, and we’re off to the races starting with design. We’re going to design, every single screen, wireframe, high fidelity and product flow, of your app, start-to-finish. Not a single button, animation, transition, or logic will be left unturned.

Here is the kicker though. You might have a design visualized well in your head, but it takes time for you to not only articulate that.

This is what our skilled designers are here for to help you mature that vision, bring it to life, taking advantage of technological and design trends; all while ensuring it is still scalable for programming tomorrow and in the future!

Overall, you will want to realistically plan 2-4 months for the design of your app, again, depending on the size and complexity of the app idea you’re trying to bring to reality.

Often we see lackluster companies will try to expedite this process by jumping right into high fidelities or try designing while programming. These can quickly become horror stories.

One of the reasons why companies like Chop Dawg will design the entire product (user interface design) before touching a single line of code is to avoid miscommunication.

By miscommunication I mean unnecessary back-and-forth edits in programming where it will significantly longer to make corrections and, most importantly, allow companies to expedite programming where most projects fail if not planned accordingly, getting you over the finish line quicker and at the highest quality possible.

That is the interesting thing about design. A lot of people want to jump through the design process into programming, not realizing that by doing so, they are making the programming process go much longer than anticipated.

It means more revisions, back-and-forth, lack of clarity of an end-goal, etc. All things you should avoid at all cost. You’d rather spend the extra few weeks in design, than the extra several months in programming.

3) Development Process – where the real magic begins!

This is when we begin programming your future iPhone or Android application and bringing it to life.

Programming, again similar to above, can vary on length of time due to the complexity of size of a project. With that said, most apps will take between 3-5 months to program.

We’ve covered in our previous blog post about how much it will cost to build an app, and what goes into building an app. There is a lot. The database structure. The endpoints. The API integrations. The security. The infrastructure. The actual applications styling. Great applications take time to be built right, and most importantly, be scalable for future usage. These aren’t quick projects; an average application can require 2-4 developers working 40+ hours a week, for months!

By the end of the programming process, it should be fully functional, and ready to work out the final kinks (what we call bugs) to submit to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, so that real users can get their hands on it.

4) Quality Assurance Process – your app is not done after programming

Your app is only done once we’ve made sure that all of the bugs have been identified and cleared out.

Quality Assurance, also known as QA, is one of the most critical pieces of an app development project that is very often never talked about by companies in our industry. It needs to be properly tested.

Quality Assurance breaks down the focus of items needing to be resolved before launch into three categories, called priorities.

  • Priority 1 items (P1s) are going to break the app to the point that people aren’t going to use it. You’ve been there. You download an app, and it’s so clunky in the first 5 minutes that you delete it right away.
  • Priority 2 items (P2s) meaning bugs that are very noticeable and need to be fixed, but doesn’t break the app experience necessarily.
  • Priority 3 items (P3s) meaning issues that are small and should be corrected, but in no way would hold up the launch submission process.

Overall, for the average app, QA should take a few weeks, and no more than a month to accomplish. In some circumstances for larger-than-normal applications, it isn’t unheard of it taking 1-2 months to achieve; but for most businesses, within a month from completion of programming, an app should be submitted to the app stores for launch.

5) Submission to the App Store/Google Play Store Process

The moment you’ve been waiting for, submitting your app to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store!

With the Google Play Store, you can traditionally be available to download within a few days of submission. That’s it, nice and painless!

For the Apple App Store, it can take you slightly longer.

Depending on the time of the year, Apple will take between 2-4 weeks to review your app, and give you the approval to launch.

Sometimes, Apple may even deny you initially as they have questions you need to answer or modifications your app needs to have made before you’re allowed to be on the App Store as an approved app. I can explain this more in a future post, but just think of Apple as your parents growing up:

My house, my rules.

However, once both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store give you the thumbs up, your app is immediately available for download. No more waiting!

6) The Post-Launch Checks: Bugs & Maintenance

Finally, your application is now available for the masses. So what’s left? What more can you expect from a company like Chop Dawg?

Bugs will realistically still happen for a few months after launch. Any company that says you will have an entirely functioning product out of the gate is flat-out misleading to you.

Even the famous Reid Hoffman quote talks about this, where he says “any application that is launched, and you’re not a little embarrassed about, you’ve launched too late.” That is because it is critical to get out into the market, learn user feedback, and start generating revenue while you fine-tune, vs. punting the inevitable, and hurting yourself, your bottom line, and your early momentum.

Nonetheless, companies like us will offer bug warranties for the quality of work we’re providing you. For example, we provide every one of our clients a complimentary six-month bug warranty, no matter if they hired us for a $15,000 project or a $1,500,000 project.

So, let’s review what we just went through.

  1. Realistically, the average app will take between 5-10 months to have an app entirely created, out the door, and working.
  2. If you give yourself time to plan your app idea, you would want closer to 6-12 months from start to finish.
  3. Lastly, with bug warranties company like us provide, you can expect to be in app-building-mode between 12-18 months before you can say your app is fully completed, functional, and all on its own in the App Store universe.

Mobile apps, especially great iPhone and Android apps, take time to be created. It takes thousands of hours of labor, several individuals pouring their hearts and souls into their craft, and a lot of expertise.

Do not rush an app and have it introduced to your market half-baked. Most apps die because they aren’t at the quality the market demands. When you are comparing companies, and you come across someone that is quoting you a fraction of the time to complete your app versus the other options, just remember the saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

There is nothing worse than being told to expect to launch prematurely, and planning around a date missed; than to be told a realistic timeline, plan for it, and if fortunate, exceed expectations by being ahead of schedule. Always choose the latter.

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