How Hard Is It to Make an App in 2024: Pain Points and Pointers

An image of a man working hard on making an app

In 2022 alone, the world-conquering TikTok app earned $2 billion.

But the effort it takes to create such a world-class app strikes fear in the hearts of conventional thinkers and curiosity in the minds of innovators. Whatever the apprehension, many are wondering, “How hard is it to make an app?”

Assuming you have tech skills, there’s more to making winning mobile apps than merely coding. If you’re seeking to leverage apps for income or social impact, there is more to the business side of creating apps than meets the eye.

I wrote this article to help you determine how hard it is to tackle the technical and business aspects of app design and development. You will also learn feasible options to address the challenges you may encounter when making apps so you can make better decisions.

The two faces of app development

There is a two-layer answer to the question, “How hard is it to make an app?”.

The first layer involves the technical side of making an app. Writing code or a set of instructions to make apps run is the essence of this process. The complexity varies based on whether you will learn coding independently or delegate the task to someone else.

The second layer of app development is building an app business. The level of difficulty in this endeavor hinges on the role your app assumes in your revenue stream, whether it serves as the primary income generator or a supplementary growth tool for your organization. Regardless, establishing an app business ensures the financial sustainability of your company. I will also discuss these issues in the latter part of this article.

Let’s explore the two faces of app development and discover solutions to relevant problems, starting with the technical aspect.

The technical side of app development

Writing the code that runs apps is a specialized skill requiring some logical and numeric aptitude. Therefore, it will be harder to create an app if you try to learn the coding side of the app-building process by yourself. Delegating the task generally takes less time and effort.

Before you ditch developing your own app and embark on a hiring spree, let’s look at the time and financial cost involved in learning app development independently.

How long does it take to learn programming languages?

Learning programming languages for mobile app development could take from a month to six months, depending on whether you go for Kotlin or Swift, respectively. I chose these languages because they are among the most cutting-edge and lucrative coding languages out there.

It’s important to consider that the learning timelines I mentioned are ballpark figures. Learning timelines expand or shrink depending on your study habits, schedule availability, and mental aptitude.

Mobile App Programming Language

Learning Timeline

Kotlin 4 weeks to 1 month
Swift 1 month to 6 months

Though you could study languages other than Kotlin and Swift, I highly recommend these two because I’ve seen how our developers have used these tools to make apps that have earned a total of $100 million in revenue. Aside from this, these two languages are compatible with Android and iOS, two of the world’s most popular mobile operating systems.

Ultimately, knowing Kotlin and Swift could yield the highest possible return for money invested in learning them.

What is the cost of studying coding?

The cost of studying coding could range anywhere from zero to close to $100,000, depending on whether you choose online courses, bootcamps, or bachelor’s degrees. Online courses could be free but the most expensive ones could go to around $10,000, particularly for the Swift programming language. Bootcamps, on the other hand, range from $5,000 to $10,000, while college degrees could cost somewhere between $18,000 to $80,000.

Some online courses don’t offer much in terms of live interactions. In this respect, bootcamps and colleges have an edge because they offer ample time where instructors and students can actually talk to each other synchronously, whether through online interactions or on-site lectures.

Despite the similarities of colleges and bootcamps, the latter tends to graduate students in months, unlike college degrees which usually take 4-5 years to complete. The timeline difference comes from the fact that bachelor’s degrees offer comprehensive education on not only the coding side of computing but also the hardware aspects.

Bootcamps also tend to be intensely focused on core skills, with some offering an entire course on either Android or iOS development alone.

If you want to learn coding more quickly while benefiting from live Q and A sessions with your instructor, bootcamps are the way to go. If you value independent learning and don’t mind not getting live responses to your questions, online courses might be more suitable for you.

What’s the fastest way to build a mobile app?

HHIITMAA: Artistic depiction of drag-and-drop builders

Source: Trio

The easiest way to make your app is by using drag-and-drop builders. These tools require minimum to no study time or course fees because these builders do not require knowledge of coding. However, some app builders require payment so you can utilize key development features.

Builders like these do not require you to learn coding. The user interface of these builders enables you to drag and drop elements and assemble them into a functioning app. Think of it as creating apps in much the same way as you create a digital birthday card or other electronic artwork.

These relatively simple app-building tools have seen action in one of the most competitive industries, which is e-commerce. In fact, Shopify store owners have used drag-and-drop tools to create apps that serve as purchase points for their businesses. Some of these applications even allow users to get a 360-degree view of products.

Though drag-and-drop action doesn’t require highly technical skills, it is not always ideal. An app builder of this nature typically doesn’t have the same customization flexibility that Kotlin or Swift has. Therefore, applications created using drag-and-drop builders tend to have inferior quality compared to other apps built using programming software like Kotlin and Swift.

How to hire others to build a mobile app for you?

Among the many ways you can hire others to build a mobile app for you include:

  1. Hiring an in-house team
  2. Outsourcing your app development projects

Forming your own team in-house could be more expensive than outsourcing. After all, if you hire an in-house team, you must pay them even when you don’t have an active app development project. But despite the additional expense in terms of regular salaries, benefits, etc., having a team nearby maximizes the quality of your app.

HHIITMAA: Graphics comparing insourcing to outsourcing

Source: HubSpot

On the other hand, the main advantage of outsourcing is that you could get more return on your investment. Especially if you outsourced making an app to a growth-oriented app agency, you could access the talents of both coders and business strategists who could ensure your app works well and enjoys long-term market success. Whenever you’re ready to let your app stand on its own, you can let go of the agency to manage costs.

Despite this massive benefit, outsourcing has its own unique set of challenges. Our article on outsourcing app development delves deeper into the pros and cons of this method of creating apps.

Should you learn to code or hire programmers?

Now you’ve seen the options, should you build apps on your own, or should you get help?

Learning coding has many benefits, both for your personal growth and the success trajectory of your app.

Just a little background: I am a business major who has just tried coding. Though I’ve encountered some difficulty learning programming, I do not regret doing this because it has helped me think better and more logically. You could take this benefit anywhere you go or whatever you decide to do.

But in terms of coming up with successful apps, I still recommend that you learn at least some coding on your own. You don’t have to thoroughly master coding because it could take a while. But if you at least know the fundamentals, it could help you better collaborate with your app developers by:

  1. Better appreciating the challenges of coding, ensuring that you can balance having an open mind as you aim to get what you want from your development team
  2. Knowing how to clearly communicate your preferred app features
  3. Having the insight to share your ideas in case your app developers have technical blind spots
  4. Identifying which app developers serve your purpose and which ones to let go

Ideally, you would want app developers who possess excellent technical and soft skills to get it done. If you want to ensure your app development team is “bulletproof” in both these professional areas, our article on how to find the best app developers provides relevant guidance.

As you can see, it’s not too hard to make an app work, especially if you use either drag-and-drop builders or enlist the help of technical experts.

Building an app business

Behind a fully functioning app with spectacularly amazing features is months of hard work by app developers. Suppose you’re now holding this MVP app in your hands, you also also need to deal with the business aspect to get the most out of it.

Creating an app business or app startup is basically all about making your application financially sustainable. Whether your application is your main income driver or merely a tool for scaling your business, it needs to generate revenue simply because maintaining an app costs money. We at Appetiser have learned that this principle applies even to our clients in the nonprofit sector.

Building a successful app startup tends to be easier if you collaborate with an experienced and cost-efficient app agency (or app development company). I recommend this, regardless of your level of experience in programming or setting up digital businesses, for the following reasons.

  1. App agencies at the top of their game have serviced multiple clients, giving them a broader perspective on the app development process.
  2. Successful app development companies have both programmers and growth strategists to ensure your app is as technically superior as it is marketable.
  3. You’d save money and effort because the right app agency will do most of the heavy lifting for you.
  4. Some app agencies provide advice on raising funding.

There are many app agencies out there that offer these four value propositions for a manageable cost. But if you’re pressed for time, book a free consultation with us now and learn how we involve ourselves deeply in our partners’ overall success.

Knowing what issues you could encounter in setting up an app business is crucial to answering the question “How hard is it to make an app?” Among the many concerns that many of our clients have voiced to our strategists and developers include:

  1. Income generation
  2. Lack of funding
  3. Idea theft
  4. Product-market fit
  5. App cross-compatibility
  6. Development timeline
  7. Launching and sustaining an app

Let’s delve deeper into these pain points and how to resolve them.

Income generation: How to make money from apps?

There are many ways you could earn revenue from your app. But to effectively determine your income generation strategy, you should look at the following:

  1. App monetization models
  2. App store historical earnings
App monetization models

An app monetization model is basically a plan on how you would make money from your app.

Even if you’re seeking to develop a free app, you should still find a way to earn income from it. You can make money from free apps in various ways, including through advertising and affiliate marketing. Other mobile apps make money through in-app purchases. Still, some applications combine these app income methods.

HHIITMAA: Graphics explaining various app monetization models

Source: Adjust

Whatever app monetization model you choose, strike a balance between earning enough and maintaining a high-quality user experience (UX). For example, placing many irrelevant in-app ads might make you a lot of money but lead users to delete your app. Remember that UX is vital in retaining app users. Consequently, user retention ensures your app produces your desired results in the long run.

App monetization also works best when complemented by the right app pricing models. When determining the optimum pricing-monetization match, consider your app’s user preferences and rival applications’ best pricing practices.

App store historical earnings

In the early parts of this article, I discussed how most of the world’s users have Android or iOS on their mobile devices.

That is why, although there are many app stores, we will focus on those where Android or iOS apps are published. These stores are the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, respectively.

When planning to grow revenue from your app, it’s good to look at the historical performance of app stores in terms of income generated. Statistics show that despite Google Play’s dominance in app downloads, the App Store’s top-grossing apps earned more than their Google Play counterparts. This means that, on average, a good iPhone app makes more than an equivalent Android app.

Ultimately, you should pursue iOS development if you want a larger income. But then again, the tradeoff is you need to produce an app of superb quality. As you will learn later, the App Store has higher standards compared to Google Play. But given that Android apps have a lot more users than iOS apps, the former is a good source of revenue especially if you can come up with a good in-app advertising scheme.

Lack of funding: How to raise funds for an MVP app?

Just like any business, an app business requires capital—a lot of it.

Though successful apps can bring huge returns on investment, the sobering reality is that app development costs can be quite high.

But the glimmer of hope is that since app businesses are highly scalable, investors have devised creative ways to fund app design and development. Some of these financing vehicles go beyond the usual bank loan or stock options, giving app visionaries more leeway when raising funds.

Good Empire founder Andre Eikmeier knows the financing leeway that app startups enjoy. He was able to raise capital through equity crowdfunding. This form of crowdfunding involves offering investors stocks in exchange for financing. But since crowdfunding websites are more accessible than stock trading platforms, Andre had a relatively easier time raising funding.

Eventually, Andre used the funding he acquired to work with us to create a social video challenge app that has inspired people to contribute their share in protecting people and the planet.

HHIITMAA: Good Empire social video challenge app and its tagline

Idea theft: What if my app idea is stolen?

Like identity theft, which has destroyed many lives, idea theft could destroy your app idea. When I say idea theft, I am referring to the possibility that someone else will steal your app idea and make money from it instead of you.

The possibility of having your app idea stolen could lead you to a dark rabbit hole of fears that could jeopardize the success of your app business. If you let the fear of idea theft loom large in your mind, you might do the following unproductive behaviors:

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  1. You would not reveal your app idea even to someone who could help bring it to fruition
  2. You would not conduct surveys of your app’s potential users

To get past the fear of idea theft, you could do any combination of the following:

  1. Leverage non-disclosure agreements
  2. Secure a patent for your app

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are basically contracts stating that anyone who learns about your app and signs an NDA (whether they be potential investors, app agencies, or survey respondents) would promise not to reveal your app idea to anyone else. Otherwise, you could pursue legal action against these NDA signers.

NDAs work well with patents in providing protection for your app idea. To learn more about NDAs and other similar safeguards, check out our article on how to patent an app idea.

Product-market fit: How do I know if my app gets traction?

There’s a reason why I strongly encourage market research or surveys despite the risk of idea theft. No matter how fancy-looking or technically superior, an app would fail if nobody wanted to download it.

In short, your product (app) must fit market demands and needs. After all, CB Insights states that the absence of market need is a major cause of failure for startups.

One of the ways to determine product-market fit is by conducting surveys on what people want in an app or what problems they have that an app could solve. Our product strategists recommend starting with family, friends, and close colleagues when conducting market research.

For more information on market research, brainstorming, and other crucial steps in bringing app ideas to life, read our article on how to develop an app idea.

App cross-compatibility: Should I build an iOS or Android app or both?

As I discussed, most of the world’s mobile phones run the Android operating system or iOS.

Now one of the difficulties of developing app businesses is determining the importance of cross-platform compatibility. Do you go big and create apps for both operating systems? Or do you focus on the more lucrative iOS platform?

Fortunately, mobile apps come in three different packages. You could develop native apps for “laser-focus” or hybrid apps and web apps for a “shotgun” approach.

Of the three types, only native apps are not compatible with Android and iOS simultaneously. This means if you’re thinking of building a native app that covers these operating systems, you need to develop one iOS app and one Android app.

Though hybrid and web apps are cross-compatible (one app covers both Android and iOS), they tend to have less rich features and exhibit inferior app performance compared to native apps. But these cross-platform apps are suited to businesses that do not require highly detailed graphics or sports car-like page loading speeds that native apps typically possess.

To learn what type of application best suits your app business needs, check out our blog on native vs. web apps and our article comparing hybrid and native apps.

Ultimately, the app development process is generally easier if you’re making a hybrid or web app. Native apps tend to be harder to build, everything being equal.

Development timeline: How long does it take to build an app?

The saying “time is money” is as true for app businesses as for almost anything in life.

In fact, the longer it takes to develop an app, the more expensive it becomes.

When you hire app developers, you usually pay them by the hour. So delays could mean more money out of your wallet.

Many factors affect the development timeline. The first is the efficiency of the app development process. To shorten the development cycle, you need developers who know how to use tools and techniques that build and launch apps quickly without compromising quality.

Whether we help you create Android apps or other types of applications, our patented Baseplate ensures that we build and launch apps 50% faster than the industry average. In fact, when Australia-based Dimers approached us to make a sports prediction web app, we were able to launch the app within 4 months. From then on, the app business was able to take the U.S. market by storm and raise $5 million for global expansion.

HHIITMAA: Dimers web app and stats explaining its app business success

Another factor is feature quantity and complexity. The more features you include in the final product, the longer it will take to develop your app. Complexity involves factors like the richness of the media you will use in your app or integration with third-party applications. Cutting-edge or uncommon technologies also lengthen the cycle due to the need for extra research.

Since we know that complex and excessive features tend to bloat both cost and cycle, we recommend (and implement) the MVP way of building apps. This method essentially involves determining the few most vital app features to at least gain market traction. This app development method is so successful that many of the world’s most groundbreaking tech innovations started life as minimum viable products (MVPs).

Ultimately, the fewer and more basic features you plan to add to your app, the easier it is to make it. Building apps also becomes less burdensome when you have developers who use time-saving tools like UI design software that don’t sacrifice product quality.

Launching an app: What do I need to successfully introduce my app to the market?

Once you’re finished developing an app, it’s time to launch it in the app stores.

Google Play and the App Store have unique pros and cons regarding the ease of launching apps. Launch convenience depends mainly on store parameters like:

  1. Approval process
  2. Fees charged to app developers
  3. App store optimization toolkit
Approval process

As of writing, the approval process for the Apple App Store tends to take longer than Google Play. The App Store’s longer approval timeline is partly due to its more stringent rules. Therefore, in this respect, it’s harder to make an app for the App Store than Google Play.

App store fees

Given that both Google Play and the App Store charge almost the same amount in commissions from app earnings, I will focus on their developer fees, like how much they charge app developers or publishers who seek to launch their apps.

The App Store charges developers a higher recurring fee than Google Play. In fact, as of now, the latter charges only a one-time fee of $25 compared to the App Store’s annual fee, which starts at $99. Of course, the App Store offers resources for developers that they don’t provide those who opt for Google Play. But where pure economics is concerned, a one-time fee is always better than an annual fee.

App store optimization

App store optimization (ASO) involves a set of tools and techniques to make your app as visible as possible in app store listings. For instance, as you can see on the Google Play listing below, I saw the following games on the first page of the results after I typed the keywords “cooking games.”

HHIITMAA: Google Play app listing screenshot

Source: Google Play Store

The goal of app developers is to be at the top of search results (or anywhere near it), like the games above. The higher you are in the search results, the more likely your app will be downloaded—the more downloads, the higher the chance you’ll earn from your app. The returns that come from a good ASO strategy are so great that investing in it is part of any winning app marketing budget.

Given that it takes quite a lot of money to implement a successful ASO campaign, it’s very important to understand the ASO landscape of both the App Store and Google Play to get the best return on your investment.

Understanding the Common Ground

While Apple App Store and Google Play have unique algorithms, some factors influence rankings on both platforms.

Keyword indexing factors for both app stores are pretty much the same. During keyword indexing, app stores identify keywords in app-related data and see if the words match the keywords that visitors use when searching for apps. When I typed “cooking games” while searching on Google Play, “cooking games” were the keywords.

Both Google Play and the App Store consider the app name or title in keyword indexing. However, Google Play allows a more expansive 50 characters compared to Apple’s 30.

Ratings and reviews are universally vital, influencing the perceived quality of an app. The higher the quality, the higher the ranking tends to be for both app stores.

Frequent updates are encouraged by both Google Play and the App Store, signaling dedication to improvement and user satisfaction. App downloads remain a fundamental metric for ranking, emphasizing the importance of increasing download velocity and understanding user engagement.

Apple’s Unique ASO Landscape

The Apple App Store introduces specific elements, such as the keyword field, allowing developers to indicate keywords for ranking. But it’s good to note that this ASO tool has a limit of 100 characters. So effective keyword research is crucial to choose the right keywords as Apple states that 65% of apps are discovered by search.

Aside from the keyword field, Spotlight Search further engages Apple app users by allowing searches within installed apps, positively influencing engagement rates and rankings.

In-app purchases also affect the chances of apps appearing in the Today tab, which is essentially the front page of the App Store. Therefore, it’s also good to apply keyword research best practices when naming your in-app purchases.

HHIITMAA: Screenshot of the App Store Today tab

Source: Apple Search Ads

Google Play’s Distinct Approach

The app title’s character limit on Google Play expands to 30, with the app description playing a significant role in keyword selection. The Short Description field, limited to 80 characters, is a unique aspect visible above the fold on the store, impacting first impressions and keyword relevance.

Though not directly affecting rankings, Google Tags assist in categorizing apps for better keyword alignment. Additionally, Google Play incorporates SEO backlinks into its search ranking, a factor absent from Apple’s considerations.

App Store vs. Google Play: Which Gives Developers More ASO Control?

If you boil down app store optimization to a highly simplified task, it is basically attaching keywords to your app to ensure more people see it. In other words, it should be enough that you choose the right keywords for your app to rank high. But this principle only applies to apps in the App Store.

Google Play also considers outside factors like SEO backlinks when ranking your app. Backlinks are links from other websites or blogs that lead to your app listing. For this app store, it’s not enough that you get the right keywords. Google Play also considers the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your app listing to determine how high it should rank. The App Store does not assess this particular metric.

In short, app publishers or developers have relatively more control with ASO in the App Store than on Google Play since the latter partly relies on external factors for app ranking.

Maintaining an app: How do I keep my mobile app at the top of its game?

Last but not least, app maintenance is a crucial issue to consider when creating an app business.

In the fast-paced tech world, nothing stands still. It takes money and resources to keep apps safe, relevant, useful, and enjoyable despite the rapid changes in the industry. This is the reason why setting up an app business is so important. Without a business model to pay for app maintenance, even the most well-engineered app won’t be able to keep its desirability and functionality for long.

App maintenance could fall into any of the following categories:

  1. Security Updates. Prevent data breaches and build user trust
  2. Compatibility Updates. Keep apps functional despite new platforms, devices, and operating systems
  3. Performance Optimization. Maintains app speed, responsiveness, and efficiency
  4. Regulatory Updates. Ensure that app technical components and services comply with local and international laws and regulations
  5. Bug Fixes. Ensure that apps are free from glitches and errors

The presence of bugs or glitches is among the most obvious (and critical) signs of poor app maintenance. In fact, a healthy food company called Grill’d struggled a lot with maintaining its business due to a faulty app. After collaborating with us, the Grill’d app became 99.9% crash-free and started attracting 51% more active users.

Ultimately, addressing the technical and other aspects of app maintenance leads to success and growth.

HHIITMAA: Grill'd mobile app crash statistics

HHIITMAA: Grill'd mobile app screenshot

How hard is it to make an app?: The verdict

The answer to this question can’t be purely technical. In a highly digitalized and connected world, the business side of making apps has become as crucial as the technical aspect.

Whether you’re talking about writing code to power an app or setting up an app business, it becomes less difficult if you’re willing to work with the right partners in your app development journey.

It’s possible to become that genius who can single-handedly create world-class apps. But given that there are more than 10 million mobile apps globally, the chance of succeeding as a lone wolf has become slim. Or if you do succeed alone, it could take some time. Time better spent getting your app to market quickly and benefiting greatly from it.

There is no shame in asking for help, even if you’re as smart as Bill Gates. Though Gates could code software on his own, his company’s employees built the momentum that led to his billion-dollar earnings.

As Microsoft amplified Gates’ vision, let us do likewise for you. Book a free consultation with us and let’s work together to turn your idea into a sustainable and successful app.

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