The Essential Guide to Outsourcing Mobile App Development


This is a guide for companies that want to outsource mobile app development. It will go over the different routes available, the specific considerations involved with each avenue, and the associated pros and cons.

The Options For Outsourcing Mobile App Development

Companies that choose to outsource mobile app development will find during the vendor selection process that there are many options available to them. Below are the most common:

Boutique Mobile App Development Firms

Firms in this category,focus specifically on mobile app development rather than offering it as an ancillary service. These firms typically:

Employ an agile development methodology
Emphasize product strategy and UX/UI design
Have strong technical capabilities and specialized platform knowledge

Even within this category, you will find a broad range in quality. Aspects including specific technical expertise, experience, proven ability to deliver, project complexity, team size and more will vary significantly.

Depending on the needs of your business and the requirements of your project, you may want to research aspects like the vendor’s past clients and projects; their experience with specific technologies or features similar to what you need developed; team size and location; and the complexity of projects that they have delivered.

Big App Development Firms

These firms are typically branches of large multinationals – think IBM or Accenture. The majority of technology and software companies offer mobile app development as a secondary service to other core business functions. Their strengths include:

Consultation and product strategy
Strong technical expertise and development capabilities
Often employ an agile development methodology (though not always)

These firms, while highly capable, have disadvantages which may include:

Lack of responsiveness and flexibility needed to meet client needs
Inability to ramp-up quickly, which is a key consideration for companies with time sensitive projects
Less attentiveness to clients than you would find with smaller firms

The big development firms also typically charge the most, which is another factor companies will want to consider when outsourcing app development to a third party.

Independent Developers

Mobile is in high demand, and there are plenty of talented developers out there. Independent developers typically have strong technical skills, and many of them even work at firms that build mobile products and freelance as a side job. They are typically significantly cheaper than alternative options, with the exception of offshore firms.

However, if you outsource app development to an independent developer, you will typically find gaps that can affect the overall quality of your product, including:

UX/UI design competency
Product strategy/discovery
User and market research
Platform specialization (typically, but not always, independent developers will specialize in only one platform like iOS or Android)
Ability to leverage knowledge/experience of a team to fill knowledge gaps

For small businesses or cash-strapped entrepreneurs, independent developers may turn out to be the strongest mobile app outsourcing option – particularly if they will need to focus the majority of their budgets on marketing their product.

Offshore Firms

The decision to outsource mobile app development to an offshore firm is generally made due to budgetary constraints. These firms are significantly cheaper; however, there are many caveats that come with the cost savings. Offshore firms tend to fall short in a number of significant areas, including:

Technological and design standards
Overall quality of work
Ability to actually deliver
Adequate security and IP protections
Cultural understanding to successfully build for target markets outside of their region
Responsiveness/communication due to large time differences
Off-the-shelf Solutions

Opting for an off-the-shelf solution is quite a bit different than any of the options we’ve mentioned so far, and typically isn’t grouped in with mobile app outsourcing per se. These aren’t custom solutions, but rather out-of-the-box platforms that can sometimes be white-labeled. E-commerce is a great example of an area where off-the-shelf solutions have seen widespread use. And they do come with a number of advantages, such as:

Feature-richness
Quick deployment
Typically lower upfront costs compared to custom app development
Built-in maintenance, or ability to purchase maintenance

However, opting for an off-the-shelf solution for your mobile app outsourcing needs also comes with a number of downsides, which include:

Difficulty customizing the solution to meet your particular needs
Unnecessary features and functionality – you’re paying for features you don’t necessarily need
Vendor lock-in, since it’s typically expensive and time consuming to transition away from these kinds of solutions
Standardized UI/UX
Inability to adapt quickly to changing business or market needs since you need to wait for the solution to make updates.

Which Option is Right for my Business?

Outsourcing app development is a decision that needs to be informed by your organizational goals and the requirements of your project. Determining what these are will help you eliminate some of the options that don’t fit your needs, early in the process. Other things you will want to consider include the amount of risk your organization is willing to take on; your budget for mobile app development; how important it is to customize your solution given the expectations of your customers and your competition in the market; how polished your product needs to be; whether you need a more consultative engagement on top of development, and more. Once your company is able to determine the best route, you can begin researching and narrowing down vendors that tick the right boxes.

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