Mobile App Development Timeline: A Realistic Perspective

Friday, December 18, 2020

Time is money.

The longer an app takes to build, the more it will cost. If you’ve started pricing out different options for development, you’re probably starting to realize that this process isn’t cheap. There’s no one size fits all answer for an app development timeline. Every app is unique, and there are lots of different factors that will impact how long it takes. We’ll go into more detail about those elements shortly.

For the most part, it will take roughly six months to develop an app in 2017. If you’re lucky, and I mean very lucky, it could be done in about four months. I’ve seen it done. But I’ve also seen apps take 12 or even 18 months to build. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ve got to weigh your options.

On the one hand, you want the app to get built fast. That will keep costs down and get your app to market faster so you can ultimately start making money. After all, that’s the whole point of this, right?

But if you rush through the development process, it could end up costing you more money in the long run. You don’t want to cut corners. However, being too much of a perfectionist can stretch the development stages too long, which can bleed your pockets dry. That’s definitely not something you want either. So it’s important to find a middle ground between those two ends of the spectrum.

A word of warning – while you’re mileage may vary, there are always ways that you can gauge how long it will take to build your app before it launches.

I’ll go over the factors that impact your development timeline. As an industry expert who has lots of experience building apps, I’ve narrowed down the most important elements that you need to consider to plan a realistic timetable. After you read through this guide, you’ll have a much better idea of how long it will take to build your app.


You’ve got to make sure that the quality of your app doesn’t suffer based on your timeline. That’s why it’s super important that you start with a realistic goal. Don’t start over promising something and end up under delivering on that promise. The quality will suffer. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you have a business and you’re planning to launch an app to enhance the customer experience and generate new revenue streams. But if you’re starting the mobile app development on January 1st, don’t start telling your customers that it will be available for download by March 1st. That’s a big mistake.

Quality takes time. Good apps take time. That’s the reality of this situation. However, what constitutes “good” is often on a sliding scale. If you’re going to try and pump an app out in a couple of months, the quality will suffer. With that said, there are certain scenarios where it’s reasonable to have a development period that can be greatly accelerated. This is much more reasonable if you’re just trying to create a proof of concept or a minimum viable product (MVP).

In this case, you can definitely expect to have a shorter development timeline. It’s also reasonable to expect a shorter timeline. I’m referring to basic apps that don’t need complex coding and in-depth features. On the flip side, if you’re trying to develop an app that’s super complicated, you can expect it to take a while longer. But I’ll go into greater detail on the functionality of your app a little later. For now, let’s get back to quality. With simple apps and MVPs, the quality generally won’t suffer by accelerating the development period. That’s just because there’s not a whole lot to it. The shed (MVP) can definitely be built in one day and still be a quality product. So think of your app development the same way. Who develops your app will also impact the quality. I’ll talk about the developer options later on and how that relates to your timeline as well.

Size Matters

As we just saw with the house analogy, the size of your project will impact the length of development.  There are four main factors that impact the size of your app and contribute to the length of development.

  • Scope
  • Depth
  • Features
  • Purpose

Purpose of the app

All apps start as an idea. But you’ve got to make sure that idea translates into a clear purpose of your app. Who is it benefiting? Why would someone use this? How is this app making life faster or easier for the user? If your answers are all over the place, it’s going to be difficult to find a clear purpose. Trying to add features that make the app double as a social media platform is unnecessary and conflicts with the clear purpose. Or say you’re building an app that provides users with up to date sports scores. You wouldn’t need to add features like GPS or games. That just complicates things, and it has nothing to do with the clear purpose.

If your purpose isn’t well defined before you start development, you’ll turn what was one a simple app into something that’s a bloated monstrosity. Not only will it take you forever to develop, but it will also become a sinkhole for your money. So stick to just one idea and run with it.

Managing expectations

The bottom line is this – good apps take time. That’s the reality. Time is money. You’ve got to recognize that the longer your app takes to develop, the more it’s going to cost you. There are lots of factors that can help you determine a realistic development timeline for your unique situation. Quality and size are two of the biggest elements that impact the time. You’ve got to budget yourself accordingly so you can afford the features that are related to the basic purpose of your app. Who builds your app will also play a major role in your launch timeline. Knowing what you want, what you’re getting into, and how you plan to get there will help make this process go faster and more efficiently.