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  • 1.  App developers and cost

    Posted 02-08-2015 07:21 PM
    Hi all--
    I'm working with a nonprofit institution who want to launch a basic facility tour app with the option to expand later. We need some information about the following:

    1. Recommended app and website developers in the San Francisco area (or West Coast if they're really great) who have worked with museums or cultural institutions on a budget
    2. Ballpark cost of app (and website, if possible) development and rollout

    We're probably NOT looking for a bespoke solution that requires lots of staffing after launch. We'd prefer to use a templatized, existing platform, so any info about what's worked at your institution would be most welcome!

    Thanks very much for any info you're willing to share,

    Therese Littleton
    Curator and Content Developer

  • 2.  RE: App developers and cost

    Posted 02-09-2015 02:19 PM
    Therese, what a great question!  I see this need coming up more and more and would love to be included in any information you receive about this.  For those of you reading this, if you send information directly to Therese, would you mind sending it to me as well?  Please send it to


    Barbara Punt
    Punt Consulting Group
    Redondo Beach CA

  • 3.  RE: App developers and cost

    Posted 02-09-2015 03:07 PM
    I build all the App/Web sites for the Newark Museum. I am not crazy about Apps because you need to account for all visitors and not just iPhone users also I believe its harder to get a visitor do download an app.  I built a mobile web sites tour that will allow almost anyone with a smartphone/tablet to access the content.  We have tried in the past to use QR codes so the visitor can quickly access the content but found the many visitor did not have the QR software installed and goes back to the issue above (it hard to get visitors to download Apps). 

    What I ended up doing is setting up a very simple URL something real short that visitor can easily enter into a mobile browser. I do not recommend using something like TinyURL because for mobile users a link like TinyURL can create a difficult URL for mobile users.  I made sure that the URL did not have numbers or any special characters that would make a visitor hunt for the characters.

    If you decide to build a mobile web site your cost drops dramatically.  There are a couple of things you can do:
    1. If your main web site already supports Mobile then you can use that.
    2. You can setup a Wordpress site (using your new short URL) and buy a template that supports mobile.  (You may need a developer to tweak this a bit to make it do exactly what you want.
    3. You can have a custom mobile site built.  This will cost a bit more and generally not integrated into a CMS (Content Management Systems)

    For our museum I built a custom mobile web site for visitors to listen to an audio tour.  For our museum we may only adjust copy but once the site is built it's there for all to use at any time.

    Smartphone Apps are generally created for one platform at a time and starting price is around $10,000 for one platform e.g. iPhone. In addition you will find that modifications to a mobile App can eat up a budget.  Also some App developers charge a hosting cost which is an additional monthly cost starting around $40.00 per month.

    Mobile web sites are much cheaper and a simple one can cost around $1,000 to $2,000 and complicated ones can cost $5,000 to $10,000. But the benefit of a mobile web site is that any good HTML programmer can update the code/content for a lot less then an App.

    Raymond Stivala
    Manager of Web & Multimedia Development
    Newark NJ

  • 4.  RE: App developers and cost

    Posted 02-10-2015 08:04 AM
    Hi Therese,
    This sounds like a great project. However, in order to ballpark a figure, any agency or freelancer you contact is likely going to want a bit more detail in the specs. It might be a good idea to get everyone involved and hash out what you absolutely must have in terms of features, what would be nice to have, and what you do not want. That will help people respond appropriately to your RFP.

    If I may offer another opinion, it may be a bigger upfront cost, but have longer returns, if you consider doing a responsive web site rather than a standalone app. If you go with a responsive site, it's device agnostic, so it doesn't matter if you're accessing on iOS or Android or Tablet or Kindle or whatever. This is not to discourage you from the app, but it might be less hassle in the long run.

    Regarding costs. I'm pretty involved in the web community here in Pittsburgh, and generally, the rates for website development here- where the cost of living is pretty darn cheap- is in the neighborhood of $150-185 an hour. Freelancers may charge a little less. One model is "Our budget is xx dollars, do as much work at your rate as xx dollars gets us". You may be able to find someone to do the work for a flat rate (the project is xx dollars, regardless) but fewer agencies do this model because it might be hard for them to make money from the deal. I passed your question by a developer friend, and his response was "Without more information on the specs, it's hard to give an estimate, but it might be at least $10,000, who knows, maybe even $50,000 depending on what features and how much they want or need." Don't take that as gospel- but be prepared for RFPs that come back in that range.

    If you want to save money, it might be worth considering an agency outside of San Fran or the west coast. Agency rates there tend to be, like most things, a bit higher than in other areas of the country. This has the attendant issues of communication, but I'd imagine they'd set you up with a Basecamp or Slack account to keep track, and have regular check in Skype meetings and perhaps an in person kick-off meeting.

    The last thing to consider is support once the thing is launched. Does this organization have a developer on site or on retainer already? What are his/her skills? Whatever you decide to do, it is important that it matches the skills of the person you have in house, or you have budget and plan for an outside agency to take care of the housekeeping of the site/app on a day to day basis.

    Sorry this is so long- hope it helps.


    Tracey Berg-Fulton
    Collections Database Associate
    Carnegie Museum of Art
    Pittsburgh PA

  • 5.  RE: App developers and cost

    Posted 02-12-2015 11:12 AM
    Totally and utterly agree with @Tracey Berg-Fulton and @Raymond on this.  Apps are VERY hit and miss with visitors to Museums or pretty much any educational institution.  A responsive website could cut costs by at least 5 fold.  Apps need to be managed and uploaded to the varying appstores and built PER device type and brand.  iPhones get a different app then iPads, Android devices are a little better with 1 app for tablets and phones, and the experience tends to not be the same.  
    Getting visitors to even download an app for a short 1 day or couple hour visit is near impossible
    One option is YOU could provide devices with the app preloaded on it, but then you need a system in place to prevent walk offs (like a driver's license hold or credit card deposit), device maintenance,  and you would manage the app and experience that way,

    I would agree with Tracy in doing a responsive website option.   With new HTML5 properties, some of the phones' features can be accessed, like Geolocation, websockets, storage.  AND an website is much easier to maintain, can instantly see changes without having to always resubmitting to the app store and recompiling a bunch of code.  Also users just need to easily go to a website and not download anything onto their device.  We have found a user would much rather go to a website than download an app.  Apps seem more permanent to the user,  A website is nice because it is a passing experience and they don't feel you are installing something they don't really want on their device.

    And I would definitely look at someplace other than just the Silicon Valley area for developers unless you have the budget.
    There are developers and agencies all around the U.S. that can build just as good and innovative products and the Silicon Valley area.  

    Carlos Mosqueda
    UI/UX Designer and Developer
    Denver Museum of Nature & Science
    Denver CO

  • 6.  RE: App developers and cost

    Posted 02-12-2015 12:02 PM
    I used HTML 5 for our mobile audio tour, as I talked about before a very simple URL. (if you are going to view this please use Google chrome on a desktop or smartphone/tablet) 

    The only drawback I found is that smartphones and tablets do not allow you to pre-download.  For example if you view this in Google Chrome on the desktop the page will automatically download all of the audio but on a smartphone it will only download when requested which results in a slight delay.  Not a big issue but I thought I would but it out there.

    There are a ton of developers in the US and I would recommend staying away from big cities like NYC because you will pay a premium.

    We looked into having devices pre-loaded with apps which is an option but there is a lot of maintenance and staff training in order to pull this off seamlessly. And yes you will need to account of unites walking off there is no real way to prevent this if someone see value in the device they can easily by-pass any security measures by simply wiping the device and re-installing a new OS. 

    Raymond Stivala
    Manager of Web & Multimedia Development
    Newark NJ

  • 7.  RE: App developers and cost

    Posted 02-12-2015 01:00 PM
    Thanks very much for all this great information, everyone! I appreciate being able to benefit from the community's experiences.

    Therese Littleton
    Curator and Content Developer