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Ask HN: How much does it cost to outsource iPhone app development?
62 points by sendos on April 8, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments
There is an app that I would like to code up, but if the cost is not too prohibitive, I'd like to outsource it.

I searched the web for info on good iPhone dev shops and prices, but couldn't get good answers, so I thought I'd ask HN.

Of course, it all depends on the app. How complex, etc. Assume a moderate app, with, say, up to five different views, storing of some user data, and using the location framework.

Nothing too complicated. I think it might take me a month or more to code, but it should take a more experienced iPhone coder maybe two weeks.

Am I looking at $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, more?

Some info:

1) I don't want bottom-of-the-line developers. I don't mind paying extra for good developers

2) I don't mind paying up to several thousand dollars. My take is that if I can't make that money back from the app, I would prefer to have wasted money than 1 or 2 months of my life.

Besides the price, do you guys know of good iPhone dev shops? I take it that the standard procedure is to look on elance.com, odesk.com, etc, but I've never used them and I'm not sure how to use them to find a good developer.

I'm in the SF Bay Area, so a good local dev shop would be great, even though I wouldn't mind a dev shop from elsewhere.

The going rate for a great developer/designer with lots of mobile experience here in SF is in the ~150 an hour range. I've seen this price go up significantly in the last couple months, primarily due to high demand at the moment. You can probably get a little cheaper outside the area and definitely less offshore, but even then a good offshore house will run you $60 and they often don't like doing fixed bids at those prices.

My experience is that app development for a medium to high complexity app with location features and accessing a 3rd party API for data would typically take 4-6 weeks including QA but really depends on the complexity.

I've done about 30+ mobile apps now so ping me if you need any advice

Everyone reading this, please don't think the ~150 an hour range is normal for an individual developer. This is generally the rate for a full service design/development agency where you get an account manager, secretaries, etc.

I do iPhone development and haven't met anyone getting even close to $150/hr individually. If someone made that, they'd be be making $6,000/week and $300,000/year.

yish, can you confirm that this is an agency rate, not an individual developer/designer rate? or is this the rate you're making personally?

I have seen 150/hr corp to corp or 1099 for single-person developers.

Time spent getting contracts, doing administration, etc. means you can't bill for 100% of your time, but you can definitely make 200-300k/yr pre-tax pre-expense if you work like a dog. Taxes in CA will cut that down to 100-150k net, so it is more like a 100-200k/yr job.

I know UI designers (who work on iPhone & iPad apps) that make $120-150 per hour for their work and they work for themselves, no agency. Of course your goal is to have 40 hours a week of billable work but it never really works out like that :)

40 hours a week of billable work is damn near impossible. Even if I could find that much work, I wouldn't be able to handle it on a regular basis.

Actually, this is the rate for a good small team, agencies can go even higher (I've seen $180 quoted and have heard of, but never personally seen, higher).

I also think part of the challenge is that to have a stand out app, you now need a team with UI/VisD/Dev skills. Expectations of consumers have grown since the early app store days, and a lone developer rarely cuts it anymore unless they also have some real design chomps.

I charge $150/hr and I am a single developer in Austin so it is just not the high-rate of living areas.

Sincere contrats to those of you who are consistently getting this rate.

The rate in SF is between 100 and 150 depending on experience.

Hey. We have a team of wanna-be iPhone app developers made up of ~6 people. We're high schoolers with a few years programming/graphics design experience.

We're just starting up. If you're interested in maybe outsourcing something to us, shoot me an email. Since I understand that we're not experienced iPhone developers and maybe not even experienced developers in general (I'd like to think we're pretty decent, but maybe that's teenage arrogance speaking), it would be incredibly cheap.

But we're dedicated, have spare time, want to learn, and we would be willing to accommodate changing schedules, weird requests, whatever, if it means we get a chance.

My email is <my username> at Gmail.com.

> it would be incredibly cheap.

Don't undersell yourself! I learnt early on that charging the right price does wonders for bringing in better customers and better work.

(plus if your earning good then you have more impetus to get finished on time)

I wish you luck in your endeavor.

You're realistic but may be a little hard on yourself (I can't speak for your abilities in truth). Keep positive and possibly do OS projects as well.

Too many variables to be able to suggest a total rate (depends on how much work there is, in addition to the other factors listed).

You are probably looking at the equivalent of $100-200/hr for good development, with the higher end for people located in SF.

If you are going to out-source development, and you have a design/product background, I would build out a product spec and even a draft list of stories into Pivotal Tracker. It will help you define with your contractor what you want but also help to estimate total job time -- and that will help you arrive at a budget, based on the above hourly rate.

[If you don't have a design/product background (or are not a developer yourself) then the success of outsourced is probably going to be mixed]

I also tend to shy away from fixed bid because it doesn't work with an agile approach. You may not know completely what you want and as you get building and can get a better picture, being able to add extra components into the mix will cause friction with a fixed bid contract.

Better to agree a budget so that everyone is clear what the limits and goal posts are.

>I also tend to shy away from fixed bid because it doesn't work with an agile approach. You may not know completely what you want and as you get building and can get a better picture, being able to add extra components into the mix will cause friction with a fixed bid contract.

Fixed bid works just fine with an agile approach. You just start with a very small core project, then iterate upwards with follow on projects.

This is especially important for the Apple App Store because there is no other way to know if your app will be approved.

Fixed bid is sometimes more expensive due to the "risk eating" the developers are taking off your hands, but agility isn't usually the issue with developers who are otherwise good.

We counsel clients to start with a small fixed bid project then use hourly or follow on projects to change the program to a particular place they want to go.

I like this advice. Usually developers are wary of fixed-bid, because the client tends to want to tack on a bunch of "oh, and"s, and they end up spending a lot of hours working for free. People commissioning software, on the other hand, are worried about whether or not 0 to working prototype will take more hours than they are willing to pay for.

Your system seems to keep everyone in their comfort zone. No uncertainty for either party. (Except the usual, "will they pay my invoice?" and "why isn't he replying to my email!?" that is implicit in any business transaction.)

I talk a lot about how we do business here in my HN comments if you're more interested in the hows.

This is especially important for the Apple App Store because there is no other way to know if your app will be approved.

This is HUGE! Do you believe a company can flourish just as an App store app. or is that just too risky. Would love to hear your personal opinion.

I'm working on an enterprise solution, and it's reliance is completely on Apple's code-of-conduct.

My email is in my profile if you want to talk.

The long and the short of it: You can flourish, but you can also get dragged along and then watch your app get shot like a dog after 6 months of being dragged through "maybe if you did this it would be okay" from the developer liaison people.

If you'd like, I can call one of them and go "Hey, is this in any shaky territory you can think off of the top of your head" if you want me to. I talk a lot about the environment in my HN comments if you want to read about it.

They're totally non-committal, but hey, they'll point out anything that sticks out.

Then again, we're starting android development here too.... :OD.

Check mail. Thanks!

I think if your whole business is based on one iPhone app, you are at high risk. Even if you get approved today, there is no guarantee that Apple doesn't change their mind tomorrow.

If it's an enterprise solution, it doesn't have necessary have to go through App store, no?

If you have an internal app that's only used by people who work for you, you can use the enterprise deployment kit to deploy internally.

This is designed for people who say, buy 100 ipads to replace clip boards in their hospital.

You cannot however, do distribution through any mechanism other than the app store (I had one perspective client who wanted to buy $30k of iPodTouches and give them out to clients, Apple flipped a shit when I asked for a discount on them and said you're wholly unallowed to do anything of the kind. Each person must download all their apps through their account on the app store. Anything else is forbidden.

So you are saying that if someone sells an app (which might be sold with minimal modifications to other hospitals) for the 100 ipads to a hospital as an enterprise solution (let's assume we can get the hospital to buy the iPad directly), the app still has to be put up on the App store? Doesn't that confuse the hell out for users that don't work in the hospital?

I develop iPhone apps selling on the app store, but have never explored the enterprise distribution side of it. With the iPad, it's becoming interesting.

The native functionality is tied into the form factor. thats the biggest advantage to having a native app.

In an ideal situation, i'll be giving out the iPad free, shipped with my App. already installed. the value proposition can be so huge that would offset the device cost.

Something like this would fit our slogan iPad was made for our X, all the other goodies are just extra :P

According to apple, that's a NO NO. As in, there was an implied threat of pulling the dev account of someone who did that when I asked for a discount on iPodTouches.

The enterprise solution is only for internal. The only other distribution channel is the App store. You're not allowed to distribute an app any other way.

Sure, you can give them the iPad, but Apple's lawyers will be on your back the second they found out about your practice. And as soon as they sync it to their own account, the app will disappear.

You could probably do your thing with ad-hoc distribution on the first 100 iPads. (Actually I think that probably violates the agreement. Don't do that.)

For the iPad in particular, there has to be a way for such apps to get on, or you're never going to see anything resembling enterprise adoption, so i'd expect this to change.

For the good of the discussion, you can only get an iPhone enterprise developer certificate if you have 500+ people in your company and a Dunn & Bradstreet number. Then getting a certificate is fairly easy. This allows you to, as others have said, distribute iPhone apps over a tether.

Yesterday in iPhone 4.0, Apple announced they were now enabling over-the-air install of in-house apps. My current understanding is that this relates to opening specific APIs relating to OTA apps. (full disclosure: I work for a company called Ondeego that delivers in-house iPhone app distribution as a service.)

1> This violates the agreement

2> The installs expire after 3 months (adhoc that is)

3> I think this model isn't going to get around apple. They're famous for defeating workarounds.

Damn, I guess I need to move to San Francisco.

I don't have heaps of experience (a few apps in the store) but folks out here have balked at the $50-60/hour I've been charging.

A lot of people who aren't in tech will balk at hourly fees but not at fixed rates -- they like to know the total cost beforehand. Try drawing up a contract saying it will cost x dollars, up to y hours, and beyond that $z/hr.

2 tips: Learn to do fixed fee. Learn to do fixed fee and not get screwed.

This is what I do for a living (in Atlanta though).

Depends a lot on the complexity.

For non-game apps: Some smaller, simple apps are 2-3k, more complex stuff runs in the 10-15k range. Past that you're doing something A> Really Hard, B> New, C> On the edge of what Apple allows or D> Heavily involved with a complicated server component.

I'd happily send you a fixed fee quote for your app if you'd like (see profile for an email address to contact me).

One thing to see: See if they'll set you up on your mac getting you compiling and signing for submission to the store. Lots of overseas shops don't get you through that last part, and it is pretty tricky to do right.

+1 for the walking the client through the developer approval process. It's win-win, as the client gets the app released under their own moniker, and you get to preserve your anonymity.


I actually do submission for some people as well and the whole rigmarole. All depends on what the client is interested in paying for.

I've helped several people who hired out of country developers then got left with a pile of source code and no way to get it on the store.

One of them, amusingly, wouldn't let me VNC in to their computer, so I had to do it all by phone (that was fun). Most of the rest of them I use copilot/webex or something to help train them on the process and get their computer setup for distribution.

A couple of months ago I had an idea for an iPhone app that requires a client and server component. I decided to focus on the backend development and outsource the front-end. I have posted my tender on http://www.getappsdone.com/ and in a very short amount of time I have received several offers from shops and individuals from all over the planet, mainly US, UK and India. I have replied to every contact asking for a portfolio and I ended up with a couple of candidates. I also received all sort of prices, from suspiciously low (40US/hour)to rip-off high (> 200/h). I have based my choice on the quality of the portfolio, on the similarity of apps already developed by the shop to mine and, of course, on the overall price.

I'm glad to see YC people using it. We are really trying to focus on a fair marketplace more than a race-to-the-bottom one (like elance and others).

I'll be happy to talk to you about your app. I've been developing freelance iphone apps since day 1 of the beta. I've had apps featured at the All Things D conference, NY Times, all of the gadget websites and one of my apps was chosen as one of the top 20 apps of 2009 by a prominent magazine.

I live an Ann Arbor MI, but I've done several projects from companies in CA including a prominent app for a San Jose based company.

Please contact me via email and I'll turn all of this theoretical stuff into real names and places.

<edit>My rate is $75 per hour, which is why I think many CA firms don't mind working with a remote resource<end edit>

I have a questions on the dynamics if you don't mind me asking...

-is this your full time job and your sole source of income ? -are you able to find a normal amount of work just like a 9-5 job (i.e. 40 hours a week for 50 weeks -> 2000 billable hours a year)

It is currently my full time job and sole source of income. When I first started, for about the first 4 months or so, I had a full time job and worked iPhone projects on the side. Since then I have been dedicated full time, once I realized I could do it.

Of course there are ups and downs, so sometimes I'm working a couple of projects at once and working 60-70 hours, and sometimes I'm fighting to stay busy, but in general staying busy has not been the problem.

Like this post though, given the amount of west coast work, I find myself working late most of the time. But that adjustment was not a big deal and many customers like that I have been working on stuff for them while they were still having breakfast.

The email address you put in on registering is only visible to pg, so you need to add your email to your profile if you want others to contact you.

thanks, I added my email to my profile. It should be available.

I started up a small development shop about a year ago with a couple other people from Hacker News, and we have done a lot of iPhone development. I would be glad to talk with you about your project. We deliver quality work, and charge much less than some of the more well known shops.

We just launched two iPad apps this past weekend, and they are in the top 100 in both overall categories (free and paid). And they are a #2 and #3 app in their respective subcategory. Send me an email (its in my comment).

We're a development shop that focuses on web development, not far from Toronto. We're dipping our toes into iPhone and iPad development - we have someone who is trained, but no app in the App Store yet. We're working on a new app right now that we intend to be free, just to build credibility. But I'd be happy to quote on your project. I'd cut you a deal given that it'd be great exposure and experience for us.

I realize that stating up front that we have limited experience in the area probably doesn't inspire confidence. However, we're a high quality shop with excellent design skills. We produce quality software, and wouldn't let you down.

Contact info in my bio if you're interested.

I'm in Raleigh, NC. I develop iPhone / iPad and Android apps for a small dev firm. We price our apps on a fixed rate basis, typically starting at $3k, for full service work (graphic design to app store distribution); 2-3 week lead time.

Although we could bill $100 - $150/hr, we find clients respond better to fixed rate pricing, which seems to be a more manageable on both ends.

We focus heavily on providing excellent design and rich UI/UX. We often work with agencies behind the scenes or with enterprise customers, brands, publishers and entrepreneurs with an "idea". Pretty much all types of customers.

We also build the web service infrastructure, which may include social, geo and eCommerce capabilities and/or integration.

Btw, we've had iPhone apps approved in as little as 2 days.

Your app seems like some of the apps that we've developed for $2-3k, assuming you have a workflow / spec draft and initial design consideration.

I do freelance iPhone/iPad dev work. I'm in Boston. grinich@mit.edu

For reference, I built this: http://michaelgrinich.com/hackernews/ The rest of my portfolio isn't yet online. Send me an email and I can show you more.

I had looked at your hackernews app a while back and it seemed pretty nice and well built... but I have to question charging for an app that delivers the content of a free 3rd party site like HN.

Why? The iPhone has mobile Safari, and the HN clientele are certainly smart enough to know how to use it.

Clearly the app has to deliver some value outside of the content. Think bottled water.

I like the bottled water analogy. :-) Thanks for that.

The app isn't a huge moneymaker, and was never meant to be. I built it out of frustration and only later decided to throw it up on the store. Building against an api-less site was a fun challenge and I learned a ton. It also uses the Three20 framework, which was an interesting experience. (absolutely no documentation at the time)

Think of it as buying me a cup of coffee to help fund a side-project. Next update should have an iPad version, too.

I remember having read this story about a girl who outsourced her app to canada for 800$ and earned upwards of 8000$ selling it. The app was about a popular game played by girls. I know I'm being too vague but I specifically remember this - 1) Canadian developer 2) Was developed for 800$ 3) It was a popular game app for girls I hope that provide some useful data points to consider. It was published in one of hacker/entrepreneurship related websites/blogs which probably many of you frequent and might have seen the story. Anyone got a link?

The game was M.A.S.H (Mansion, Apartment, Street, House) where you do something randomish to predict the housing you'll live in as an adult.

Whatever you do, dont use Craigslist. You get what you pay for!

And incidentally, are other just dumbfounded by those that advertise "Develop my iPhone app, no compensation" ads? How can they realistically think someone might do that?

I can understand why they advertise, in hope, but I would rather be working on my own company and my own apps for FREE.

I develop iPhone/iPad apps in-house for the enterprise market, but when I take side projects, I usually take around 70-80 dollars an hour (depending on the whole scope of the project).

But it is hard to quote a fixed price without knowing much about the application. An application with two custom views with a lot of logic can easilly take 10x as much time as a CoreData 10 view application that is just drilling data.

Send me an email at brunomtsousa@gmail.com if you need any advice/help.

I'm using rent-a-coder to develop an iPhone app for an automatic thought record -- a tool that clinicians use to help people challenge irrational thoughts with evidence and rational thoughts. I put the bid out at $300 just to see what happened. I had 3 bids and ended up choosing one w/60+ reviews and a 9.7 (out of 10 rate) for $250. Feel free to email me with any questions. I'd be happy to share the project plan they developed.

Were you happy with the result?

It isn't done yet, but they've been keeping me up to date and very professional. It should be done in the next 7-10 days.

I got a very rough quote from a Toronto firm to do a location based app for web, iPhone and Android for approximately $370,000. I just talked to a Vancouver developer who charges $120/hr. As others have mentioned there are numerous variables, but most developers will usually be happy to do an initial free consultation to learn more about your project so that they can at least ballpark a figure to you.

What? I can't imagine spending that much money on a non-game development effort for a mobile device. What the heck does it do?

"location based app for web, iPhone and Android for approximately $370,000"

Note the "AND"'s. I suspect this isn't some simple thing - it's probably a 300K web app + 2 35K mobile apps.

Yeah, didn't see the "AND". Android is more expensive too usually for various reasons.

Is it? Why? (Just less programmer doing it?)

Android is harder because:

Multiple resolutions Poor Tools (Eclipse is clunkier than Xcode, but there is no visual layout tool at all like Interface Builder for iPhone)

Hand Coded Layouts in XML

Multiple OS Platforms (Android 1.5, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.1 are all live in the wild and are not user upgradeable past the version they have).

Varied Screen Sizes (And no, you don't have to specifically account for this in the iPad, your iPhone app will run just fine).

In addition to those fundamental issues, currently the apis:

In-App purchase on android is a bit clunky for some programs (you are buying a separate app on the android market)

Sound is horrible, just horrible

Video is poorly documented, not very standardized, and not easy to use. People who write major frameworks have trouble getting documentation on good ways to make good videos (I know, I mailed them the FFMPEG parameters required to do streaming video).

And lastly, it looks like the G1, the flagship phone, has been mis-specced, and will likely never get the 2.x line of android OS releases (that's what droid runs now).

Because there is a variety of different hardware, screen resolutions, non-touch devices etc that all must be handled by the software, making it more complicated.

I would pick a development team here and have some small part in the codebase. Be willing to pay a little more for people who are willing to answer your questions and keep you accountable for small tasks. That is the basic framework (minus the pay) for a long-term iPhone bootcamp that I will be starting with a long-distance friend soon. Everything will be done over Google Wave and Github-like sites.

Thanks for the question. I'll be monitoring this thread, because I'm entertaining the thought of outsourcing my iPad app. development as well.


Hey, I commented earlier on this thread: http://hackerne.ws/item?id=1251640

Although I do feel a bit spammish writing again (when you've already said you'd be monitoring), I just want to emphasize that if you willing to outsource to a group of moderately trained but dedicated high schoolers, we'd be very glad to accomodate - and would do so cheaply.

I've worked with Take 5 Labs (http://takefivelabs.com/) for iPhone app development. They developed an app for the last company I worked for (http://www.veritasprep.com/iphone-gmat-practice-quiz/). That app was in the $5-10k range.

Might I recommend that you make it a web app?

All of the facilities you have listed are available in Safari (client side storage, location data).

That is an option, but much more difficult if he is planning on selling his app.

Once it's developed and working, PhoneGap can turn it into a native app that can be sold on the App Store.

Also has the benefit that it can be potentially made cross-platform, so you're not as tied into just the iPhone.

A friend and I went to a few dev shops with an iPhone app idea. We got bids from $10k up to $50k.

I really like the work these guys do: http://www.ubermind.com

You might also post in 37signals' job board–they have an iPhone category.


I am the CEO of Chaitu Systems. We focus on developing iPhone and iPad applications only, with a team in India that has already delivered some projects. Please connect with me at krishna.kumar@chaitusystems.com if you want to discuss your outsourcing requirements.


Krishna Kumar

Since you're in the SF Bay Area, you should hang around the Hacker Dojo and see if there are any takers. Generally speaking, there are pretty good developers there and they don't charge and arm&leg for development.

http://theymakeapps.com - a directory designed to answer exactly the question you're asking. They also won a Best-of-Web award at SXSW last month.

If you think you can do it in a month, then save yourself the money. I don't think you'd really get any app worth it's salt in two weeks, no matter who is doing the coding.

I am sorry, I forgot to mention I live in the Bay Area, and am contactable locally. Please send an email, and we can connect.

Regards, Krishna Kumar CEO, Chaitu Systems

I wrote the Postabon iPhone app (heavy location-based features), and wrote and shipped about 8 other iPhone apps before that. Your dev time expectations sound approximately right (without knowing more details), but I can't speak to current prices, they fluctuate quite a bit.

Any other questions, ping me.

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