Should I buy a pre-made app or get a custom app built for my use case?

Two Ways to Make an App

If you want a specific app or virtual experience that requires development, the dream is often to have a fully custom app built with exactly the features, interface, and design you’re looking for. But not every use case demands a fully custom app or experience, and a semi-custom app created from an existing base app and interlaced with your content may be all you need. The two models are only a word apart, but are actually very different in practice.

Custom development is a one-of-a-kind creation with endless possibilities. The tradeoff is that it takes more time to develop, costs a lot more up front and depending on the app, may cost more to maintain. Lower up-front costs can be achieved with a semi-custom app made from a pre-built template. But while semi-custom apps are still capable of tailored functions, they are typically more limited in capabilities and design options. Time from purchase to launch is also a factor that favors semi-custom development.

Still unsure what the difference is or which one is better for you? Let’s take a closer look at custom vs semi-custom development.

Fully Customized & Unlimited

Pros: More functions, fit your specifications exactly, and you get a wholly unique experience that you own.

Cons: Expensive and takes a longer time to develop.

Developing a custom app is no joke. It’s a big endeavor, and depending on the features required, may cost a pretty penny. And whenever building a fully custom app, be sure to account for not just building it, but maintaining it throughout its lifespan.

If you want powerful functionality for your business, you can accomplish almost any task with a fully-custom app.

Fully-custom development is also the better choice for brand recognition . If you expect to reach a wide userbase with something like a mobile app for your customers, you probably want something unique and memorable, rather than a template that might be shared by other companies.

Semi-custom & Off the Shelf

Pros: Fast development, more affordable, pre-built features.

Cons: Fewer options for features and visual style, and a shared template that may be recognizable.

The more affordable option for app development is getting a semi-custom or off the shelf app. You can still tweak it here and there to suit your needs and brand’s image, but the bigger picture will be premade and unable to change. That doesn’t mean it can’t be flexible, however. So long as you’re okay with how the overall app functions, you can still add personalized features needed for your business.

In some spaces, there may be little to no risk of crossover or recognizing that your app is actually made from a template. For example, if you implement a semi-custom training app into your yearly training program, chances are your employees aren’t going to see it anywhere else.

Which Development Path is Best for You?

Ultimately, that’s going to depend on your needs and budget.

If you want to spend less up front or simply can’t afford a fully-custom app or game, you may find a customizable app to suit your needs. And if your project scope doesn’t call for full customization, it might be better not to spend more, even if you can afford it. 

If you want something wholly unique or need a specific function you can’t find on the open market, you’ll need to look into custom development. The sky really is the limit here (sometimes beyond that!), which means you have a lot more flexibility to create the experience you truly want.

One caveat here on costs : Just because something is less expensive up-front doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be less expensive long term. If you use a SaaS product that charges a monthly fee per user, you could quickly spend more than the up-front cost for custom development. Map out lifetime costs for each option including set-up fees, maintenance, user fees, hosting fees, and more.

Another consideration is data privacy and security, especially for businesses that operate in the EU.

Need help navigating these decisions? Have quotes that you aren’t sure are realistic?

Although we do provide development services, we also offer advisory services and consulting , even if we’re not the right dev team for you.

Oh and our first meeting is always free.

So if you’re in need of a second opinion, or just permission to do what you already know you want to do … reach out now.


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