How to Justify the Cost of Appflow

You know the benefits of using Appflow instead of building your own app delivery solution from scratch. Let’s help you make the business case.

Andrew Haire
Head of Marketing

Choosing the right software can be time-consuming at best, and a roadblock to your project objectives at worst. These large decisions often require buy-in from the leadership team and your peers. 

If you’re just starting your research on the best software to streamline application delivery for your business, or if you’re an avid Appflow supporter looking for compelling information to share with your team, this article will help speed up the decision process. 

In this article, I’ll explain how to make the case for purchasing Appflow versus building your own app delivery solution from scratch. I broke it down into two parts. Part one explains how to frame the discussion for your teammates at work (or to yourself). Part two will go deeper into what it would take to build your own version of Appflow.

Part 1: Framing the Discussion (Hint: Focus on Opportunity Cost)

The decision to build or buy usually comes down to time and opportunity cost. Simply put, the time spent building your own solution to handle native binary builds, app store publishing, certificate management, and remote app updates, is time you are NOT spending on the things that actually matter to your users—the unique features and value that only you can provide.

In other words, while you’re spending weeks or months managing your own app delivery solution, you’re not spending time working on the features you users need.,

Whatever it is you’re building, whether it’s a better way for travelers to check in for a flight, or a faster way to auction off wine, when you are spending time rolling your own app delivery solution, you're not any closer to finishing your mobile project. That’s because—to your users—how you generated the native app binary or published updates to the app, simply doesn’t matter. What users care about is that the app has the features they want, and functions like it’s supposed to. 

Here’s a way to quantify this for your boss or for your peers who might be skeptical:

Step 1: Calculate the value of the project to the business

First, the app project that you’re building must add value to the business. It either generates revenue directly, or it saves the business money by helping the company operate more efficiently. No matter what though, it will be worth something to your business. Otherwise, there would not be a business case to build it in the first place.

You can usually quantify the value in terms of dollars per week. For example, let’s say that the project you’re supporting is worth $500,000 dollars per year to the business (either in direct revenue or avoided costs). If you divide that by 52, you can assume that the app is worth about $9,615 per week to the business.

Step 2: Estimate how long it will take to build your own Appflow solution

Now let’s assume that to “save money” you decide to build your own app delivery solution from scratch instead of purchasing Appflow or another ready-made solution. If it takes you six weeks to build the solution (a modest estimate given that the Appflow engineering team has been working on the product for more than four years now), you would delay the project by a commensurate amount of time—because the time you’ve spent building your own solution is time that you weren’t spending on the new project you’ve been tasked with.

Step 3: Multiply the value lost per week by the time it takes to build your DIY solution

In order to save the $499 per month or $5,988 per year you would spend on Appflow, you have ultimately cost the business a total of $57,690 (or 6 weeks x $9,615 per week of business lost). 

Another way to think about it is to calculate the value of your time to the business. If you’re an engineer making $120,000 per year, that equates to about $459 per day (assuming 261 working days in a year). That means that, if Appflow saves you just one day of work per month, it  pays for itself.

When you put it in those terms, it’s pretty clear that buying makes a lot more sense than building from scratch. 

Part 2: What It Takes to Build Your Own Appflow

Consider this a partial list of what you’d need to do to build your own app delivery solution. The exact number of scenarios is hard to predict, but these are the broad strokes.

To set expectations, maintaining Appflow requires around four to five  full-time, very talented Ionic engineers dedicated solely on working on Appflow features and updates, and it has been in production since 2018. So, to match Appflow’s features and stability, you must be willing to make a pretty significant commitment of time and talent.

Nonetheless, here is a list of things you’ll need to build your own solution:

Set up and maintain your own build servers

You need to make sure that your build servers are regularly patched and updated, and running the latest versions of build tools for both iOS and Android. Managing and maintaining your own build environment can be time-consuming and requires specific expertise. 

Manage Mac hardware for iOS builds

In order to build and publish an iOS app to the App Store, you need a Mac OS device. Unfortunately, major cloud service providers like AWS don’t offer Mac OS VMs that you could easily spin up when needed. That means you either have to acquire, setup, and maintain your own Mac OS servers, or you have to find a highly specialized cloud provider.

Orchestrate a command-driven multi-step build process

Building a mobile app is a multi step process (web build > Capacitor or Cordova build > native binary). Building the binary also requires knowledge of specialized tooling, such as Xcode and Android Studio. Each of those comes with specific requirements and processes for how to do things correctly. There are tons of moving parts. If you get just one thing wrong, it won’t work.

Manage your security certificates for the App Store and Google Play Store

Certificates (or “certs”) are used to validate that the IPA or APK file is something that the end devices can trust. The proper management of certs sets up a trust relationship between your app and the app stores. 

If you choose to roll your own solution, you will have to do this all on your own and keep the certs in sync for each app project and across the various app stores. Otherwise, you won’t be able to submit to the app stores any more. 

Appflow manages certs for you in a very easy way.

Manually deploy to the app stores, or set up and maintain your own integration with Fastlane to automate app publishing

There are a dozen or so steps you need to add to your pipeline. On top of that, you will be injecting a manual step in what would otherwise be an automated delivery pipeline—thus slowing down deployment and, most likely, reducing the frequency of changes.

If you’re trying to create your own automated process by integrating with something like Fastlane, this will require extensive setup to get working, along with ongoing maintenance costs. 

With our automated submit to app store feature, you can publish directly to the app stores without the hassle.

Create your own remote live updates feature

This is perhaps the most tricky feature to build on your own. 

There are few ways that things can go wrong. Performance is the big one though. If you’re not smart about how you deliver the updates to different regions of the world, or how you download the updates on the device, your users will experience extremely long load times—which will degrade the user experience in obvious ways.

Other factors include security (can you trust that updates haven’t been tampered with?), edge cases that you might not expect to encounter, and usability concerns. And again, all of this time and effort adds up if it’s not delivering unique value to your users.

The Appflow team has spent years perfecting Live Updates is something that the Appflow team has spent years perfecting, and they are constantly making improvements. Candidly, we’ve never encountered any team that is actually happy with their DIY version of Live Updates. And while technically feasible, it’s very complicated to build (more than you might imagine).

Integrate all of the above with your existing CI/CD pipeline

Finally, if you choose to build your own app delivery solution, you’ll need to figure out this integration on your own.

Or, if you don’t have a CI/CD solution, then you would have to build your own version of Appflow’s Automations feature.

Appflow’s Cloud CLI feature—which comes out-of-the-box with any Appflow subscription—makes it easy to integrate these features into your existing CI/CD pipeline—whether you’re using Jenkins, Cloudbees, Azure DevOps, Circle CI, or any number of other DevOps solutions.

Time-to-market or Cutting Costs: What’s Most Important to You?

In the end, the decision to use Appflow instead of building your own solution comes down to what’s most important to you and your business. 

If time-to-market and user experience are most important, then an Appflow subscription should be easy to justify—especially when the decision is framed in terms of opportunity cost and what you’ll be giving up by wasting time on something that doesn’t deliver unique value to your users.

One last thought: If you’re an individual developer working on a solo project, or an early stage startup with limited cash on hand, we encourage you to check out our Community and Startup plans. We offer significant discounts for qualifying individuals and small businesses, which can make Appflow much more affordable in the early stages of your entrepreneurial venture.  

If you’re an established enterprise looking to use the benefits of Appflow in your next app development project, please reach out to one of our team members to schedule a free strategy session.

About Ionic

Ionic is the leading cross-platform developer solution with 5 million developers worldwide. It powers 15% of apps in the app store, not including thousands of apps built internally at enterprises for every line-of-business need. Ionic is unique in that it takes a web-first approach, leveraging HTML, CSS, and Javascript to build high-quality iOS, Android, desktop, and Progressive Web Apps.

Ionic is a leader in enterprise app development. Thousands of enterprise customers use Ionic to build mission-critical apps for their customers, both external and internal.

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