How do I go about hiring someone to build a mobile app?
March 5, 2013 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Where and how can I hire someone in the U.S. (or India or any other country with these skills) to write a mobile app for me? I'm aware of websites like elance and odesk where programmers bid for work. What's the cost range for this type of quality work?

I have an idea for an Android/iTunes type mobile app to be used by certain professionals (one myself I would use but is currently not on the market). But I have zero programming experience.
Also, assuming I can hire someone to write the app, how do I get copyright protection for it? Or is there absolutely no protection for mobile apps...everyone can just make their own version after the first guy comes out with one?
posted by KimikoPi to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
"making their own version" is different than infringing on your copyright. As a practical matter, if you did have something unique that you had copyrights/patents on, it would cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to go after each violator.
Asking how much does it cost is like asking how much a house costs, are you talking a 1 room micro-house or a 28 room mansion?
There's sites which let you prototype your app, do this first and work out the logic before talking to developers.
posted by Sophont at 10:13 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Such work could cost you anywhere from $5/hour for inexperienced programmer in a place like Bangladesh to $75-200/hour for an experienced programmer in the US and Europe.

You can do projects on an hourly payment basis or project payment basis. If you are doing hourly, ODesk has the advantage of having a tool that takes screenshots of the developer's computer screen periodically so you can verify he/she was working on your job when he/she said he was.

The more detailed your specs are written up in advance, the less problems you'll have during development.

Make sure you ask the contractor how much time they will have available per week before you hire them.

You should consider hiring a UI/UX user interface designer separately because many programmers are not good at making the user interaction and visual appearance work well and look good.

You can look into using a cross-platform development tool like Appcelerator Titanium or PhoneGap to speed up development time and reduce cost. If your app has a backend, you can also use a backend-as-a-service (Baas) like Parse or StackMob to speed up time and reduce cost and reduce ongoing server administration needs.

You can copyright software easily yourself or with a lawyer.
posted by Dansaman at 10:17 PM on March 5, 2013

One other thing: always expect the project to take at least twice as much time as the developer estimates (and maybe as much as five times longer if you don't have detailed specs written up in advance).
posted by Dansaman at 10:35 PM on March 5, 2013

Developing apps for iOS is very different than making something for Android. What you think will work on both platforms often doesn't; many developers pick one platform to start and only port their project to another platform when the product has proven financially viable. You need to do some research. Do the people in your particular profession use iPhones or do they use Android devices? Would your device be for mobile phones, or would it be universal and usable on tablets like the iPad? If you want something universal available for both iOS and Android, be prepared to spend more money than you think you want to spend to make sure that the app is compatible with the main devices in each.

Also, it would probably be a good idea if you did some research on how app development works in general so you have reasonable expectations and know how to communicate with the developers you hire. A programmer only works on the programming aspect of an app. They don't do the graphics, they don't do user support, and some are not very good with user experience design. Are you prepared to hire someone to develop wireframes and figure out the look and feel of your app before a programmer goes in to develop it? Who will be Q/A testing the app (ie exhausting all possible avenues that may result in a bug so that the programmer can address said bugs)? Will you have a developer on retainer so you can address any issues that may arise in the first few weeks and months that your app is live? Do you understand the requirements set forth by each market so you don't inadvertently create an app that violates any of their major rules? (You'd be surprised at how easy it is to do this.)

You may have better luck contracting the development of this to a boutique app development company rather than a single developer because the company will have the programmer, the designer, and the tech support to help you, whereas a lone wolf/independent contractor may not.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:06 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The cost range is $500 to $500,000. There is no way to narrow it down without more detail, and without a lot of preparation on your part.

Sophont is spot on: The more legwork you do yourself ahead of the actual development, the less you will pay for development. And the less room there is for mistakes during development, or, worse, decisions made in your absence because you didn't anticipate them ahead of time. e.g., "I don't know how KimikoPi wants feature x to work, but I think it should work like this."

1. Write up a narrative about what the app can do, who it's for, who its competitors are, and what your app offers that the competitors don't have.

2. Figure out every screen of the app. Think of the major tasks the user can do, and plan out every step and every view. Make sure the user always knows what he should do on each screen.

3. You can record all screens as sketches on paper or in an online prototyper.

4. Write up a new detailed document that details how every task in the app works. e.g., A user buys a plane ticket by doing actions a, b, c, d, and e. Then he gets a confirmation. Then he gets an email. Then he closes the app. Make sure your prototype shows all these steps.

5. Now you are ready to be a good customer in search of a mobile developer. And the estimate you get will be more accurate because you've already created documentation for how it should work.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:08 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Please don't take offence at this, but I get the impression from the way your question is worded that you're nowhere near ready to deal with a developer. To hire someone to produce a high-quality, effective app/site you typically need something like:

- A clear summary of the app's purpose, target audience etc. so the developer fully understands what you're trying to achieve (and, hopefully, shares your enthusiasm)
- A detailed list of features, both user-facing and behind-the-scenes
- Any specific technical requirements (e.g. OS versions to support, integration with other systems, etc.)
- Wireframes of key screens
- Either design guidelines or design materials to work from

Any decent developer will then come back with a whole load of awkward probing questions for you to consider & answer.

Yes, you can hire someone to help with the planning phase, but it needs to be treated as a project in itself with you closely involved and a disciplined process, rather than giving a developer some initial vague hand-wavy concepts and leaving them to produce everything (which in my experience leads to misery on both sides). You have to get your hands dirty with painfully pedantic details.

Your copyright worries are something often raised by non-coders with ideas. Have a sensible contract with anyone you work with, but in my view pre-quote NDAs are pointlessly irritating unless you have specific inside information to protect (e.g. a hush-hush deal with another business) and any developer has their own great ideas they'd rather work on if they find the time. Unless you're going to patent certain features you should focus on creating something that's good enough to be worth trying to rip off.

Basically what I'm saying is that if you're not up to speed with planning a technical project then you need to learn (perfectly possible with the right effort & assistance) before throwing money at coding.
posted by malevolent at 4:25 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sound like you need more than a 'person' to make you an app. You need a company that can do design, programming, take it through the approval process, help market your app, etc. Also factor in maintenance. There's no guarantee that when Android/Apple updates their operating system/devices that your application will continue to work.

As for how to find that company, I would look through the software catalog of similar applications and ask them if they do contract development. Find a few that you like, write up a detailed proposal (which you should do well before you've gotten this far), get them to sign confidentiality agreements, and ask them for bids. I would expect to pay mid 5 to low 6 figures.

As for copyright/trademark/patent... You can trademark things like the application name, icon and some interface elements, and the actual code is under copyright. (Be sure that's yours under the contract you sign with them!) You might be able to patent unique smaller functions of your app. That's another $10-50K per feature. But as for the entire package, yes, anyone can make an application that does the same thing. This isn't limited to mobile apps, this is how the software industry works. It's how most industries work.
posted by Ookseer at 6:13 AM on March 6, 2013

I think if your idea is simple and you can prototype (even on paper) how each screen will look, where the buttons will be, and possibly flowchart the processes behind each button click and what happens in the back end, and you've got the passion to drive people who you hire to get the job done, then why not try?

I should point out, I have no experience in either side of this, other than a friend of mine did something similar without knowing a thing about development, project planning or whatever and managed to get it made and sold and is making cash with it. His product though is very simple.

If you'd like some success stories that sound similar to what you are going through, this might be good reading.

That article is not about my friend
posted by Admira at 4:33 PM on March 7, 2013

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