As soon as your app becomes available to its users, you’re entering the next phase in the software development lifecycle: mobile app maintenance.
So, how can you prepare yourself in advance and estimate the yearly costs ahead of you? In the following post, we’ll discuss the top factors that influence the app maintenance budget.
We’ll also provide you with a comprehensive list of services you’ll need to take into account to make sure your app is taken care of at all angles.
How to calculate the cost of mobile app maintenance?
While you can find examples of app development cost breakdowns online, referring to them can introduce more confusion than guidance. After all, your app can be built in a completely different way – even if the one you’re investigating seems similar to yours.
Some areas that can greatly influence your costs include presence on both Google Play and AppStore, as well as running with a native or cross-platform solution. We discuss both of these points in detail further in this post.
However, it’s safe to say that annual average maintenance costs can be estimated at 15-20% of the entire development costs spent on launching your app’s MVP, according to Dev.to. (you can learn more on pre-launch expenses in our dedicated article).
To narrow this number down further, here are the three key factors you should take into account.
1. Software complexity
The more features and screens your app has, the higher your maintenance costs will be.
Did you decide to create your mobile app with a ready-to-use framework, or did you build it from the ground up and go for bespoke software development?
The technology you chose to develop your mobile app with also plays a significant role.
If you developed two native apps (separate for iOS and Android), you can expect maintenance to be more costly than if you went with a cross-platform solution like React Native.
Another factor to consider is the number of third-party integrations. You can expect more costs if your app is closely intertwined with external services, such as payment platforms, social media, or accounting systems.
2. Development team location
Are you developing your product in-house, or with a software development agency? Also, where is your development team based?
Will you continue working with them, or are you looking to outsource app maintenance to a different country?
Software development costs differ greatly around the world. The United States tends to have the highest rates (between $50-$100/hour). In Europe, the highest prices can be expected in Switzerland (between $50-$300/hour), while Central and Eastern Europe have one of the lowest prices – between $25 and $56 (with the highest quality to price ratio).
Also, developers in certain countries outperform others (with China, Russia, and Poland being the top 3).
3. App design
In order to keep maintenance costs on the low side, it’s crucial that you work with experienced software designers in the initial stages of product development.
If your app is poorly or incoherently designed, it will haunt you in the maintenance phase and generate significant costs.
However, if you come across design-related issues in the post-MVP phase, this can also be addressed. Hire a team of experienced developers who know how to handle legacy code and design so that they can gradually improve your product during the maintenance phase.
What does mobile app maintenance include?
There are many services you need to count in – from infrastructural and functional to less obvious areas like marketing and hiring a customer support team. As mentioned earlier, once you’ve put your app up on the market, you’ll quickly start noticing areas that require improvement – either of an aesthetic or performance-related nature. A lot of the potential fixes will also come from customer feedback.
In the maintenance phase, you can expect your team to work on a mix of:
- bug fixes,
- code refinements,
- third-party compatibility work (e.g. adjusting code to your payment service’s updates),
- new features (remember to rank feature requests from “critical” to “trivial” to make sure you don’t spend your maintenance budget on features that aren’t essential).
Your users won’t use your app if it feels and looks obsolete – they might simply go for a competing service. Hence, you’ll have to pay attention to maintaining a flawless UI and UX as the app grows.
To ensure this, you might need to invest in usability research (for instance, by running regular surveys among users or through organizing focus groups) or reach out to an experienced external partner for a UX review.
This is critical if you introduce many new features in a short timeframe.
As time goes by, you’ll also likely need to revisit your entire branding to remain relevant to your users. While it’s not a yearly expense, it’s also worth keeping in mind.
Mobile app security
Making sure your app is secure is arguably the single most important maintenance cost you should budget for.
There are two areas to consider:
- ongoing security optimization,
- legislative-imposed changes.
To make sure you’re not putting your users’ sensitive information in danger, your developers will need to track any privacy changes or updates of your third-party integrations. Leaving any update unaddressed could result in a security breach.
Equally so, you need to keep in mind legislative changes, like GDPR, which always shake up the way data is processed and protected globally. Hence, it’s wise to keep a security budget for events that can’t be easily predicted.
Just like you’ll need to maintain your code and app interface, you’ll also need to list down all infrastructural services, like third-party costs, as well as human work.
Consider any services like hosting, database, or server maintenance. If you’re still in the process of building your app, here’s an example of what the costs look like at Firebase – a popular solution for mobile app infrastructure.
As for your team, they will be responsible for handling any changes that need to be applied in your services’ admin panels. They’ll also need to keep track of your performance metrics, such as monitoring server performance.
Hence, remember that an infrastructural budget includes not just the invoices you pay to external companies. It can also influence the number of hours your developers will be spending on your app each month.
It’s important that you track and analyze how your users interact with your app. If you see, for instance, how much time they spend in your app or when they abandon it, you’ll know if there are any issues that require fixing.
Depending on your app, you’ll either need to use one or several analytics tools.
We discuss more on the subject in our dedicated article on implementing mobile app analytics.
Now, let’s have a look the types of services often omitted in mobile app maintenance cost plans.
Once your app is live in Google Play and/or the AppStore, you’ll also need to bring in more users.
You can do this by optimizing your app’s organic reach with App Store Optimization (ASO) as well as other marketing activities best for your niche. These may include running a blog on your website, running newsletters, or investing in paid ads to target potential users via Google or social media.
The bottom line is that you need to budget for establishing your app’s position on the market.
Administrative and customer support services
As users keep coming to your app, you’ll need someone to oversee their accounts. This might mean that you’ll need to have someone organizing data in your Content Management System (CMS).
Even more importantly, you’ll need to have someone responsible for communicating with your users. If it’s a modest client base, you likely won’t need a big team – that said, make sure you have the means to scale if necessary.
Create maintenance cost plan for your app
Paying attention to your mobile app’s performance after it’s been launched is absolutely crucial if you want to stand the chance on the market.
While annual average maintenance costs greatly differ from app to app, it’s safe to assume you’ll need to put aside 15-20% of the original costs of launching your MVP.
When you work on your app maintenance budget, make sure to include not only infrastructural costs like servers, hosting, or third-party integrations. Remember about the role your developers, QAs, and even marketers and customer service will play in keeping your app competitive!
In the end, by making sure your app is always at its best, you leave your users wanting to come back for more.
More posts by this author