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Julia Guthrie
March 16, 2016

Should You Buy It Or Build It? 5 Considerations for When Your Business Needs a Mobile App

So you’ve decided your company needs a mobile app. Congratulations! Eventually, the outcome of said decision should help streamline communications, keep data organized, and solve some of your most pressing business challenges.

But before you reach that goal, you’ll need to make a few more choices about how to achieve the mobile app your organization needs. Luckily, you’ve got a multitude of options at your fingertips.

Not too long ago, access to mobile app development was limited to those with large budgets, experienced IT teams, and time to spare. The recent rise in popularity of DIY app builders has created a boom in technological self-sufficiency, and more than ever corporations are looking to develop their own mobile tools with the least investment possible and the ability to iterate on demand. And these DIY platforms make it easy for everyone in the company to build and improve upon custom mobile apps-- removing reliance on IT teams.

Whether you work for a large corporation or run a small business of your own, it’s worthwhile to consider both the “buy it” (developing native apps in-house or contracting development to third parties) or “build it” (utilizing DIY app development platforms) options based on a number of considerations about the solution you need. How much time can you afford to wait for the app? What are the budget limitations? Will the app need to adapt to changing business processes?

So, should you buy it or build it? Below we have outlined a few considerations we hope will guide you to the app development route that’s best for your company.


Budget (or lack thereof) is likely the most important factor for organizations when it comes to developing a mobile app. According to Clutch.com-- a service that helps businesses find software-- the average cost of a traditionally developed mobile app is anywhere from $40,000 to $171,000.

Simple apps will obviously start on the lower end of the price spectrum-- but most businesses need apps that can perform complex functions and that keep data secure. Those necessities will drive up the development costs considerably.

Before decisions about features can be made, it’s necessary to have a discussion about available funds. If the budget for the app is any less than $30,000-$40,000: build it. Platforms like AppyPie, Como, and AppSheet provide comprehensive DIY development options that can be leveraged with minimal cost and time investment.



Next you’ll want to consider the kind of data protection your app and its users will require. Don’t just impulsively decide that all data will need to be kept completely secure;  the more security you require, the higher the cost of development will be. Some types of data can remain secure without the necessity for complex and expensive measures.

For example, if you’re creating an educational app designed to keep track of student information, you likely do not want others getting a hold of the student data. This doesn’t mean you need to pay thousands of dollars for a highly secure or encrypted native app. Many DIY app builders offer quite robust security options. In fact, here at AppSheet we use the industry-standard OAuth protocol to secure access to your cloud file system in order to build apps. So if you need an app and you feel secure keeping your data hosted on a cloud platform, you’re probably a great candidate to build it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating apps for hospitals and need to be HIPAA compliant, or for other organizations who rely on stringent and/or legal security protocols to keep data safe, you’ll want to take the safe route and buy it.


How desperately do you need access to mobile tools? Are you wasting valuable time and resources recording data by hand and later transcribing it? Or, perhaps you need a mobile app for an upcoming event a few months down the line. Each situation carries different implications.

We did a bit of research on the average development time of a traditional native iOS or Android app, and we found the answer to be around 18 weeks, depending on the features the app calls for. Here’s a nifty infographic, courtesy of the folks over at Kinvey:



© Kinvey, 2013

With this in mind, how long can you wait? If you need the app sooner than later, try your hand on one of the many DIY, code-free app platforms out there to build it yourself. These products allow for rapid and affordable prototyping, and remove trepidation associated with investing in an expensive solution that may or may not ultimately be sufficient. If you’re planning ahead for an event or simply have some time before you’ll need the app, you might be able to afford the wait time required to buy it

Classes of apps

If you’re looking for the next Angry Birds, you’ve pretty much only got one option: buy it. Interactive games, chatting apps, and apps with certain types of third party integrations are extremely complex and cannot be accomplished without thorough coding knowledge and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though, if you’re able to settle with a simpler game concept and design, you might find some suitable templates on DIY platforms like AppsMoment.

Similarly, social networking and image and video editing apps are also very difficult to build without a coding team to create the assets and the budget to cover the necessary resources. For this class of apps, you’re definitely going to want to buy it.

If your app doesn’t require any of the functionality above, you might be a good candidate to build it yourself. Fortunately, many DIY app builders offer powerful platforms with intricate feature offerings. Programs like Yapp focus on code-free apps for events and conferences, while AppSheet apps allow you to create apps for eCommerce, field service, and almost anything in between-- all while keeping your data synced to the backend.

Adaptability of apps

Even if you’ve got the budget to spend on developing (or outsourcing development of) a native app, once you have the app, you may be very limited in terms of updating or improving its features alongside any corresponding business developments. If your app’s requirements are fairly static-- and you have the budget for traditional development-- buying it might be the best route.

However, if in fact you do anticipate needing to iterate upon your app-- or even requiring multiple apps-- as your requirements change, building it yourself provides that ability. DIY platforms allow for rapid modifications with the added capability to create as many apps as necessary to accomplish an organization’s varied goals.


Whether your mobile needs are simple or complex, affordable or expensive, time-sensitive or not, it’s worth exploring all mobile app development options available. Why spend upwards of $100k if you can do it yourself? And if your needs are too complex for DIY, perhaps a DIY prototype might help reduce future development costs. However, if you have rather specific security requirements, or need an app with social networking capabilities, it's likely best to outsource development. 

Whatever is right for you, being informed about all possible solutions will help you to make the best decisions for your company's mobile strategy.

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