What is web app development?
Web application development focuses on creating specialized code for use on the internet. Browsers interpret this code and render the web app usable. Common browsers include Firefox, Edge, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer. By their nature, web applications have a high level of interactivity.
Web apps and websites share many common traits. Both work only when the user has an internet connection. Developers use the same front-end technology stack for both apps and websites. Likewise, they use similar back-end technologies for both apps and websites.
How do software developers create web apps?
What are the differences between web apps and websites?
Web apps and websites have different purposes, however. Web apps aim to give the user an interactive experience. Web sites, though, aim to provide information. Websites may have some interactivity, but the main purpose of a website is rather one-sided. Customers use web sites to consume information. Think of a website like a brochure, and a web app like the physical store.
A new way: Progressive web applications
As the internet evolves and changes, so do our options for development. A new approach to app development has gained popularity in the last few years. Progressive web apps (PWAs) fall somewhere in the middle of a mobile app and web app. They have more functionality than a typical web app. Because of developments in browser caching, users can access a progressive web app while offline. From a UX standpoint, Progressive apps behave more like a mobile app.
Progressive web apps, like standard web apps, don’t require installation or approval from Apple or Google stores. But both Microsoft and Google allow PWAs in their stores. Users access PWAs from their browser just like a typical website. Progressive web apps offer the best of both worlds: flexibility, ease-of-use and speed. They don’t have features like push notifications. Progressive web apps also have to perform within the constraints of the browser. Companies that have used progressive web apps have reported better engagement numbers than with a standard responsive website.
Progressive web apps behave more like a mobile app than a typical web app. Users can access PWAs from an icon on their home screen. PWAs allow for push notifications and users can access them even if they are not online.
Web app framework and technologies
To create a great web app, software development teams need the right front-end and backend tools. Let’s take a close look at what tools teams use to build web applications.
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML provides the structure and content for all websites and web apps. HTML uses tags and elements to tell the browser what information and images to present to the user.
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. CSS tells the browser how to render the information and images in the HTML code. CSS gives instructions on colors, fonts, and spacing.
Developers use a wide array of tools for back-end development, depending on business requirements. Software development teams use both physical and virtual tools to create and support web apps. They use programming languages like PHP, Java, Python, and Ruby on Rails for coding. They use Databases and servers.
Databases store information. The front-end accesses this information by presenting the database with queries. Structured Query Language, or SQL, has the most popularity among back-end developers. SQL comes in several flavors and functionalities, including MySQL, Oracle and SQLite.
Servers store and serve code. When a server receives a request for information from a network it responds to the client with the proper information. Servers communicate in HTTP or the secure variant HTTPS.
APIs connect two or more types of software. When you log into a third-party website using your Google or Facebook account, this connection happens through an API. Any time a website allows payment through PayPal, that also happens thanks to an API.
Web app development, step-by-step
Web app development follows a similar path to any software development project. Having the right team and tools will help deliver the best results.
Define the problem you want to solve or feature you want to provide. What do you want the web app to do for the customer? What need will you fulfill? The more information and thought put into this step, the better your project will run.
Decide whether to hire in-house developers or to find an outsourcing partner. Outsourcing makes sense for many reasons. Many medium and smaller companies outsource to speed up production cycles while keeping costs down. They find that by hiring an outsourced team they reduce their overhead. Some companies save as much as 60-70% of what it would cost them to do the job in-house. At the same time, demand for outsourcing software development grows every year.
Plan your workflow. Organize how you will tackle the project and what methodology you will use. (Here at Blocshop, we love Agile). Make a list of deliverables and the time frames needed to create each piece.
Create prototypes and wireframes to flesh out your ideas. This will help find any shortcomings in the project and gives the team a complete understanding of what the final app should look like. Test and share prototypes with users to get feedback. If outsourcing, work closely with the agency to ensure the prototype meets business needs.
Validate your prototype. Share with stakeholders to ensure the app meets their needs and requirements.
Test, test and test some more! Teams should test throughout the software development lifecycle. They should test for bugs and errors to ensure a perfectly functioning web application. A full quality analysis, or QA testing, should happen before the app release.
Launch your app. Make sure you have enough server bandwidth and support to give users a smooth experience with fast load times. Ideally, your choice of hosting providers should have the ability to scale to the needs of your web app and its users.
Want to get some inspiration on what to develop? Read on web app development ideas that you might be interested in.
How much does it cost to develop a web app?
It all depends on how you go about your project. Choose in-house developers and you have higher costs and headcount with greater control. Outsourcing makes sense for many businesses who want experts and fast results.
Outsourcing companies typically bill in one of two ways, fixed-price or time and materials. Let’s take a closer look at each method:
When companies choose to use the fixed price model, they know exactly what they will pay. For projects with a short time frame and predictable steps, fixed-price makes sense. Software development teams create easy-to-understand budgets and schedules. Product owners choose fixed-price contracts for their predictability and simplicity. They know exactly what to pay and when to pay for it. Fixed-price billing can stifle good development, since developers may not have time or resources to fix unexpected problems.
Time and materials model
Choose the time and materials billing model if your biggest priority is quality of the final product. The client and the software development team both benefit. Flexibility is the biggest benefit of time and materials model agreements. Software development teams have the power to change requirements and adjust features. They can make changes based on user testing and feedback. Project owners feel free to ask for more features or changes to existing features. Time and materials contracts work well when the software development team uses agile methodologies. Teams using agile value transparency and open communication. They estimate the costs of each sprint. They communicate with product owners. Product owners know how much each sprint will cost. Agile and time and materials contracts work in perfect symbiosis.
How to determine the cost of a web application
Web app development costs estimates must take into account many factors. Below we outline the major determining factors that affect the total cost:
Complexity of the project
The more complicated a project, the more it will cost to develop. How many functions and features will you need to create an MVP (Minimum viable product).
Nature of the business
If your app targets a very specialized audience it will take more time to code than an app meant for a general audience. Likewise, if the app is intended for a highly regulated industry like medical or banking, it will take more time and energy to assure compliance.
If your outsourcing or in-house team needs to deliver on a tight deadline, this will increase costs.
Size of team
Every project will need a few essential team members. Most of the time a Project manager, scrum master, developers, a UI/UX designer and a QA engineer will need to provide the core elements. A larger project will require multiple team members performing these roles.
Read a detailed article on software engineer hourly rate based on region.
Advertising and promotion
You can’t just launch a web app and expect users to find it. You will have to invest in targeted advertising and marketing automation to get customers.
Support and updates
No software development project is ever finished. Continuous updates and constant improvement will retain customers and get new ones. Users will have problems that require a dedicated customer service experience.
Estimating the cost of a web application
Most web application projects fit into one of four categories:
Simple apps with basic functions and not too much interactivity don’t cost very much to create. Many teams can complete such projects within a short time frame with a budget between 4,000 to 20,000 USD.
Medium-level apps have more interactivity and more information. E-commerce, basic social networks and web portals represent medium-level applications. These cost anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 USD and take around 3-4 months to create.
Complex projects have a lot of customizations. They may require their own proprietary CMS (Content management system). Complex web apps aim to automate and streamline a process while ensuring the app generates profits. Complex web apps cost anywhere from 50,000 to 250,00 USD and might take the better part of a year to develop.
Learn more in our detailed guides on how to estimate the development cost. In case you want to develop a mobile app and you are curious how much will it cost, read our "App development cost in 2022" article.
Here at Blocshop, our experts create responsive web apps that scale to desktop and mobile devices. If you have an app you’d like to develop, please tell us more to get a custom cost calculation. Our teams harness the power of Agile. We deliver results on time and under budget. You can also read our case study on how we developed an app for Fairphone, a company that designs, develops and produces smartphones with a lower environmental impact.