How to build a Mobile App and Save Money

We get a lot of customers come to us who have a really great idea for an app, however aren’t sure what type of app they should develop, how much it should cost them, and are surprised at times by excessively high or low quotes they’ve been provided by external suppliers.

It doesn’t matter whether you're an an individual with a startup idea, an in-house developer within a large corporation with expertise in professional services, or an individual with a background in marketing; to save money building your next mobile app you have to understand a few vital technical nuances and have an idea of the future direction of your app to get the best possible result.

Please find below five top tips you can use to save money both in the short and long-term when building your next mobile application:

1. Understand the differences between Native and HTML5 Hybrid apps

If you’re ready to start talking to an agency that builds mobile applications, the first thing you need to understand is the difference between a Native mobile app and a HTML5 Hybrid app.

The first thing you need to know is that Native apps are built using multiple code bases and HTML5 Hybrid apps are built using a single code base. What this means is that a Native app for Android is usually built using Java and a Native app for iOS is commonly built using Swift, whilst HTML5 Hybrid apps are built using HTML similar to what you would build a website with but are packaged in what’s called a Wrapper that allows you to run your app on Android or iOS.

2. Ask this question: “Why shouldn’t I build my app in HTML5?”

This is a common question often raised by those looking to build a mobile application, and for good reason. For one it’s cheaper to build a HTML5 Hybrid app as you’re not building your app twice (i.e. a Java and a Swift build), and secondly because you can achieve a great deal of functionality with HTML5? So whilst this is true, there are some very sound reasons to build a Native app as outlined below:

  1. The functionality of HTML5 apps can be limiting whereas Native mobile apps give you full access to your smartphone, tablet or smart watches’ capabilities.
  2. If you build your app using HTML5 and realise down the track you want to include added functionality which is not supported by HTML5 technology, to do so you’re potentially looking at a full rebuild across both platforms.
  3. Some developers believe that HTML5 apps simply don’t provide the same smooth user experience that Native apps are able to achieve. Although there have been many fantastic advancements in the areas of JavaScript and CSS in the past few years, seasoned professionals will argue you’re building an inferior product with a slower loading user experience.
  4. It’s an apps world. This is a common saying going around at the moment which basically means that users are spending more and more time on their mobile devices and less on desktop devices; therefore you should be building your app using the recommended technology for that device as advised by the providers of the device (i.e. Apple, Google, Samsung).
  5. At the end of the day, by using Hybrid apps, you’re essentially disguising what you’ve actually got by quickly wrapping your HTML5 app in a wrapper.

3. Determine the cost differential. After all ROI matters.

There are some pretty basic numbers you can use to estimate what it will cost to build a set of Native apps vs what it will take to build a HTML5 hybrid app. But remember the figures are really not as clear cut as they may appear.

For example, as a general rule when you build a HTML5 Hybrid app you’re looking at the cost of building the app, plus two individual wrappers, one for each app store to get the job done. So let’s say you've engaged a development agency to build a HTML5 Hybrid application for $20,000 to work on Android and iOS. Now let’s play devil's advocate for a minute.

The below table is a simple comparison of what it may cost to deliver the same app as a HTML5 Hybrid app as opposed to a Native app.

HTML5 Hybrid Native
HTML5 Hybrid $16,000 $0
Swift Hybrid $0 $16,000
Java Hybrid $0 $14,000
Native Wrapper $4,000 $0
Total $20,000 $30,000

At this point it’s clear to see that we’ve spent an extra 50% building a set of two Native mobile apps as opposed to a single code based HTML5 Hybrid app. So what does this get us?

  1. Zero risk of a total rebuild if project critical functionality is required in the future saving in excess of $30,000 to build the existing app, publish the two apps, and add the new functionality.
  2. Enhanced ability to add updated features using designated API’s (Application Programming Interface).
  3. Updates are arguably easier via the Native route. Even though you’re updating two code bases (Java and Swift) you’re using functionality specifically built for your intended mobile device which will more than likely offer cost savings over time.
  4. A smoother, device-specific product built using a language made for the device resulting in a higher likelihood of desired functionality.

4. Ask when to go HTML5 vs Native

Like any business, you want to save money where you can. However when building a mobile application you need to be careful if you’re looking to achieve this by selecting a HTML5 Hybrid app as your preferred code base.

To help you out we’ve provided some key criteria you can use as a checklist when next engaging a mobile development specialist to do so:

  1. Are the features I am proposing for my mobile app achievable with HTML5?
  2. If so, will I be happy with the user experience HTML5 is able to produce as opposed to a Native product?
  3. If yes, am I 100% sure that I won’t be adding features that are not currently supported by HTML5 Hybrid apps? Think carefully as this may include features that your boss will insist on in the future resulting in you becoming the focus of discussions if your company is forced to rebuild an expensive app from scratch!
  4. Is the extra piece of mind of building a Native app worth it to ensure that I am safe-guarded against future update issues?
  5. Different development firms may have different terms of service for product updates for HTML5 vs Native. Check these out and weigh up the cost of future development for each code base.

5. Remember to be completely honest with yourself before signing on the dotted line

When it comes down to it, penny pinching often gets you into trouble when it comes to product development. That being said if you can legitimately save some money, why not right?

Our advice here is to do your best to do your initial research as outlined above, try and roadmap your feature updates and understand what technologies will be required to achieve these updates. Double check the costs associated with those updates and make sure the app you’re building today isn’t likely to drastically change or add functionality highly dependent on your devices’ capabilities.

If all this checks out, then consider this.

With far less risk involved in achieving future updates to your app, less reliability on technological hacks, and a strong likelihood that you’ll save money in the long run, for more complex apps Native is the way to go. However if your app consists of stock-standard functionality and you can’t see yourself adding too many new features and cost is a consideration, we recommend taking a look at HTML5 for your code base.

Either way, if you’re looking to develop an app for your business, talk to the app development team at OSE for advisory on your individual project requirements.

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