How long does it take to make an app in 2023

January 10, 2023

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People often think of an app development timeline as a definitive number of hours it will take to build a mobile app – two weeks, three months, one year. 

In reality: app timelines are hard to estimate on the first try because too many variables come into play.

What you can do is estimate how much time different development stages might take. Then get a combined ballpark total app development timeline.  

App Development Timeline: Key Stages

Mobile app development happens in stages. 

First, you need to refine your app idea and formalize a list of app development requirements. Then make app wireframes for key user interfaces. Prototyping comes next. 

Mobile app development starts after the app design is 85%-90% complete. 

The mobile app development process includes frontend and backend development with automated testing done alongside. 

Then comes the final testing stage where you perform:

  • Unit testing 

  • Integration testing

  • Functional testing

  • User acceptance testing (UAT)

The active phase of the mobile app development process ends with beta testing round, done by actual users. Followed by the official release or another round of alpha testing. 

Factors Affecting Mobile App Development Timelines

The mobile app development timelines differ based on:

  • Type of app – hybrid or native. Cross-platform app development is faster but less suited for complex apps. Multi-platform development is longer because you create separate versions of the same app. Statistically, you can develop an iOS app faster than an Android app because there’s less device fragmentation. But every case is unique. 

  • App features. The more features you want to pack into your minimum viable product (MVP) – the longer your app development timeline will get. Complex functionality such as location-based services, payments, or integration with hardware requires more work.

  • App architecture. The backend app architecture for a simple app (like a food delivery app) looks different from one for a mobile banking app. Factors like data storage setup, app server configurations, database type, and required data integration layers will impact project timing. 

Sample Mobile App Development Timeline

App Requirements Gathering: 1-2 Weeks on Average 

You have a mobile app idea. To transform it into an app store-ready product you have to:

  • Conduct market research to validate your product hypothesis and assumptions about users’ needs, preferences, and usage habits.

  • Validate your app idea with others to ensure it’s viable (i.e. do people really need/want this?) 

  • Perform business analysis (BA) to clarify, organize, and prioritize all requirements for your app. 

  • Prepare a list of requirements – technical, functional, and non-functional. 

Unless you are a BA specialist, app requirements gathering probably overwhelms you. 

Quick tip for the pre-development stage: Move from big to small. 

Start with summarizing your app idea in 2-3 sentences. (Think of it as an elevator pitch for your product). For example: 

A payment app that allows independent contractors to collect customer payments via a QR code. Integrates with the user’s bank account and popular accounting apps – Quickbooks and Freshbooks – for convenient reporting.

Next, make a list of desired app features. Write down all the ideas you have. Then prioritize them by importance. Remember: development times increase proportionally to app complexity.

If you want to launch an MVP version sooner (which most people do), trim your list of features to essentials.

Describe shortlisted app features as user stories — an informal description of functionality, written from the user’s perspective.

For example: “As a user, I want to link my business bank account and/or PayPal with the payment app” 

Read more about preparing a mobile app requirements document.

UX Research, App Wireframing, and Prototyping:  2-4 Weeks on Average 

A successful app addresses all user needs.

It is:

  • Functional – i.e. has a usage purpose 

  • Reliable – doesn’t glitch, freeze, or confuse users 

  • Usable – it’s easy to learn, discover, and use all app features.

  • Delightful – offers pleasurable or enjoyable aspects of the experience

The last factor – delight – plays a huge role in app adoption rates and user retention. According to Deloitte research:

  • Great UX reduces the cost to serve customers by 33% 

  • Customers with delightful past experiences spend 140% 

  • They are also 4.5X more likely to pay a premium and 3.6X more likely to buy extra products or services 

To wire delight into your mobile app, conduct UX research.

A UX designer can help you formalize your list of target personas. Then design user interfaces around their needs and preferences. 

The app design process typically starts with wireframing — schematic representations of main app screens and user flows. Based on feedback and extra research, a UX team then creates a detail-rich app prototype.

Read more about the app design process.

App Development Sprints: 6+ Weeks

App developers come into play once the design is ready.

But for coding to begin, you must complete several more mobile app planning activities: 

  • Set up a product backlog – a prioritized list of features you plan to develop. Treat it as your master to-do list. Move the high-priority features to a Sprint backlog. That’s what your app developers will do during the next 1-4 weeks.  Make sure that each feature has a clear definition of done (DoD) aka a set of acceptance criteria/conditions. If you are new to Scrum, read more about product backlog planning and refinement first.

  • Plan your Sprints. A Sprint is a fixed period of time when the development team goes elbow-deep in work. The average Sprint duration is 1-4 weeks (depending on the user stories’ complexity). At this point, you need to have rough app development time estimates for different features to forecast the timelines.

App estimation is arguably the hardest part of app development.

You often have many unknowns. Few teams manage to get these right from the get-go.

To better calculate app development time, try these estimation techniques:

  • Story points —  assign points to each product backlog item to estimate the total effort required. You should assign points based on app complexity, amount of work required, risks, or uncertainties involved.

  • Planning poker — instead of story points, the team assigns planning poker cards to each item. This is a gamified version of story points.

  • Bucket system estimation — this option works best for jumbo-sized backlogs. You make a system of numbered buckets (many use a Fibonacci number series). Then place different stories into those buckets, based on perceived complexity and effort involved.

  • Dot voting — is more of a decision-making tool. Each app developer gets several dot stickers. Then uses these to cast votes on different features/user stories. The more votes an item gets, the bigger its size is and the higher priority it should get. 

The planning stage is crucial for project success. If you cut corners and skim on estimation, you’d likely face roadblocks, delays, and budget overruns during the development stage. 

That said: Agile app development is an interactive, collaborative process. So you’d be often back at backlog grooming and Sprint planning. 

Backend Development: 8-12+ Weeks 

Backend servers perform remote tasks and process information to enhance frontend app experiences. Without a backend architecture, your mobile application can only store data on the device (which is limiting) or dynamically update information (e.g. have a real-time feed). 

Main app backend components include

  • App server – a remote server, hosting your app. Can be cloud-based or local.

  • Databases – electronic system of data records

  • Application programming interfaces (APIs) – an app component that enables mobile apps to exchange data with one another. 

For the app backend, most choose to go with either an MBaaS solution or a custom backend. 

Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) 

MBaaS platforms offer access to pre-made backend components such as cloud servers, storage, databases, and APIs. 

Serverless mobile application architecture on AWS. Source: Amazon.

You can mix and match them to create an optimal architecture for your app. Then customize with extra capabilities using third-party libraries or open-source technologies.  The solutions are compatible with popular backend programming languages such as Python, Java, Ruby, C#, and others.

Using MBaaS, development teams can assemble complete backend architecture faster and for multiple platforms.

But, similar to other SaaS solutions you have certain by-design constraints. Your platform subscription costs also increase with traffic volume.

Popular MBaaS platforms:

Custom mobile backend 

Alternatively, you can develop a custom backend architecture using any combination of open-source, IaaS, SaaS, and MBaaS solutions. 

Plus, you’ll have to invest in underlying IT infrastructure (cloud storage, cloud computing instances, etc).

Custom backend development will extend your development stage. But you don’t have to make as many compromises on app features, preferred tech stack, or performance characteristics.

In the long run,  your total cost of ownership (TCO) might also be lower if you opt for open-source technologies and minimize paid subscriptions/service usage.

This option makes the most sense for building scalable mobile applications such as

  • Big ecommerce stores 

  • Online media apps

  • Multiplayer gaming apps 

  • Video streaming apps 

The drawback is that custom solutions will require ongoing maintenance – patching, updates, and modernization. So you’ll have to retain some backend developers. 

Frontend Development: 8-12+ Weeks 

Frontend development assumes coding together a graphical user interface (GUI) for your product. In a nutshell: frontend developers “transcribe” the app UX design into code and add a layer of interactivity to it.

Main mobile app frontend components include

  • Navigation 

  • Main screens 

  • Buttons

  • Forms 

  • Images and animations 

  • Gesture controls

Frontend developers work closely with UX/UI designers to ensure that the app functionality fulfills the user intent and satisfies the main user flows.

Most frontend developers use a mobile app development framework – a platform with pre-installed development tools, code compilers, debuggers, and programming interfaces.

Popular mobile app development frameworks include 

  • Flutter – an open-source cross-platform development framework by Google. Suitable for building native Android and iOS apps. 

  • React Native – a similar product from Facebook. Also allows building native apps for both OS. 

  • Apache Cordova – an open-source platform for building apps using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

  • Xamarin – Microsoft-owned framework for building Android, iOS, .NET, and Windows mobile apps. 

Some teams also choose to go with a fully custom frontend. 

In Agile teams, the frontend and backend app development cycles run in parallel. 

To accomplish work faster and minimize re-work, high-performing software development teams follow CI/CD principles. 

Short for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery, CI/CD is a collection of principles and best practices, applied throughout the app's lifecycle – from development and testing to delivery and deployment. 

CI/CD Pipelines. Source: Cyberark.

CI/CD assumes building a continuous pipeline for developing new code, testing, and preparing it for deployment (with all the necessary specifications). 

By automating basic functional and integration testing at early stages, you can minimize costly code reworks, mitigate bugs, and speed up the software development process. 

Quality Assurance and User Acceptance Testing: 2-3 Weeks on Average 

Quality assurance (QA) is the process of validating your app against the set quality requirements.

Most app testing happens during the app development stage (if your team relies on CI/CD principles). This way you address mishaps at the onset.

But a standalone testing phrase is required in the end to verify:

  • App integrations 

  • APIs performance 

  • App security 

  • Usability 

UI testing is mostly done manually, sometimes as part of beta testing. Your goal: verify the efficacy, convenience, and intuitiveness of designed interfaces. 

User acceptance testing (UAT) marks the end of application development.

An end user (your team) performs User Acceptance Testing (UAT) to verify/accept the developed mobile application before moving it to production.

The main goals of UAT:

  • Validate the app logic 

  • Assess user flows 

  • Verify developed features 

Doing UAT testing is essential to ensure that all of your initial app requirements were properly understood and implemented by app developers. If not, this is your final chance to course-correct. 

App Release Preparation and Launch: 2-4 Weeks on Average

It’s a wrap: you are ready to initiate app deployment and release to the app stores.

To make that happen, complete the following steps on your mobile app release plan:

  1. Prepare, deploy, and test a live app environment, aka all the infrastructure your app will rely on post-release to the public. 

  2. Configure in-app error tracking and reporting to ensure you’re capturing all bugs and goofs (and fix ‘em up quickly!) 

  3. Install and configure mobile app analytics to collect app performance and user behavior metrics. 

  4. Establish a mobile release train – your cadence for subsequent feature releases and app version updates. Release updates in phases to test how your app is doing with a small number of users. Both App Store and Google Play Store support limited releases. 

Pro tip: Maintain version control and backups. If things go awry with a new version release, you should have a fast mechanism for rolling back to the previous version. 

So How Long Does It Take to Make an App in 2023?

Application development timelines depend on the number of platforms and app complexity — the number of features, backend architecture requirements, and frontend technology choices. 

Here are some ballparks:

  • Simple app (a casual game or audio recording app) – 2-3 months

  • Moderate consumer app (online shopping app or ride-hailing app) – 4-6 months 

  • Advanced market leading app (mobile financial app, MaaS app) – 6-12+ months. 

A survey by Good Firms recently determined which factors affect mobile app development timelines the most.

  • 45% – app features 

  • 42% – number of platforms, devices, screen sizes supported 

  • 39% – third-party integrations 

  • 38% – technical complexity of the product 

Curiously, only 8% of respondents chose “custom app” as a factor.

So if you want to trim, your app development timeline (and shave off some development costs without quality compromises) try this:

  • Launch an MVP app first with limited features (5-6 total). Once your product gets real-world traction, it would be easier to secure funds for further development.

  • Limit support to the latest OS versions. Designing your app to be compatible with older OS versions is more expensive, plus increases security risks.

  • Design for fewer devices. Likewise, you can limit the number of supported devices. Designing apps for different screen sizes (especially on Android) takes more time. Also, QA will take longer if you want to verify app performance across too many smartphone models. 

  • Prioritize your integrations. You can’t skim on integrations for user authentication or payments, but you can skip others (for now). An average mobile application has 18 third-party SDKs (integrations). Adding more (or even that much) can slow your app’s performance as it's hard to estimate SDK resource consumption before your app goes into production. 

On the other hand, you shouldn’t skip UX research, app prototyping, or QA assurance to shorten your mobile app development timeline.

You might save several weeks initially, but then pay for that time in the form of code reworks, app glitches, and UX bottlenecks. All of these will only increase your app development costs. 

FAQs about App Development Timelines 

Can you build an app in 3 months?

Yes, you can build a simple app in three months. For example, a cooking app, a drawing app, or an arcade mobile game. Or you can develop an MVP app for a more complex product with 3-5 main features and under 8 screens. For example, a simple money transfer app, a fitness app, or a travel booking app. 

What comes first in app development?

Requirements gathering comes first in app development. Before the development work begins, you must have the final list of prioritized product features, functional requirements, technical requirements, and non-functional requirements. Re-pack all of this information into your product backlog as checklists, user stories, and definition of done (DoR) criteria. 

How many hours does it take to develop an app?

App development can take anywhere from 100 to over 1,000 man hours, spread across multiple people – business analysts, product owners, UX/UI designers, frontend and backend developers, and QA engineers. 

What is the most popular method of estimation?

The most popular app estimation technique is Story Point in Agile mobile app development. Together with a development team, you assign each story different points based on perceived feature complexity, time, and effort it may take to develop. Then prioritize tasks based on the total number of points. 

Which estimating technique is most accurate?

Bottom-up story point-based estimation yields the most accurate results. In this case, you try to determine the smallest unit of work and estimate the time it will take to create. Then you aggregate the total hours, required to build a bigger component and prioritize their development using the story point system.

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