January 11, 2022
Do you want to build a sleek mobile app quickly and efficiently? Then you've probably heard about two leading frameworks - Flutter and React Native. But what's the difference between them? Which one is better for building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)?
In this post, I will cover these questions (and more) to give you a better understanding of how your business can benefit from Flutter and React Native development and when to choose which framework.
If you're still wondering if a cross-platform app is a wise business direction, you can get rid of your doubts. Delivering content to multiple platforms and devices is a smart choice in 2022 and beyond. While the number of mobile devices and laptops owned by a single user may have declined recently, the number of tablets, smart watches, smart home devices, and TV streaming devices has been growing, so as a product owner, you have to be ready to meet your potential users where they are.
Device ownership worldwide - January 2022 (Source: DataReportal)
This trend, in turn, forced companies to better meet user expectations and create cross-platform versions of their products for major platforms, making them fast and easy to use and thus ensuring they stay competitive in the market.
Read more about cross-platform development: Cross-Platform App Development 101: What Is It and How Does It Work?
Flutter, a framework developed and supported by Google, is one of the technologies worth considering when building cross-platform apps if you’re interested in having only a single codebase for your project.
So what exactly is it? Well, according to their official site, Flutter is a software development kit:
for building beautiful, natively compiled applications for mobile, web, and desktop from a single codebase.
It is offered as an open-source technology and is available for developers and designers free of charge.
And what about the Flutter future? Since the tech giant backs it, we can comfortably say it will be supported for a long time.
Read more about Flutter-based apps: Top 10 Apps Built Using Flutter
React Native, next to Flutter and PWA, was called a revolution in cross-platform app development delivering a great mobile experience.
Read more about apps written in React Native: 6 Apps Built with React Native You Should Know in 2023
The Popularity of Flutter and React Native
When it comes to cross-platform mobile application development technology trends, both React Native and Flutter are pretty similar in terms of popularity, and both are still quite young (React Native was released in 2015, and Flutter in 2017). Both technologies rank very high on GitHub with 144k stars (Flutter) and 110k (React Native).
We can see that the interest in Flutter has been rising since 2020 and is growing rapidly.
Interest in Flutter vs. React Native in 2023. Source: Google Trends
Flutter is currently the most popular cross-platform mobile framework used by global developers, according to a 2021 developer survey. Based on the survey, 42 percent of software developers used Flutter, while React Native is right behind it, with a score of 38% in 2021, slightly less than a year before.
Cross-platform framework popularity from a survey of over 30,000 responses. Source: Jetbrains
Staying for a second longer in purely technical matters, installing and running either Flutter SDK or React Native is rather straightforward, and the available documentation is on par with that of any other mature environment.
As for long-term support, Flutter's future and React Native's future are in good hands, considering big companies manage them.
Below, I list five particular aspects of Flutter which make using it a pleasant, enjoyable experience:
Flutter supports both Android and iOS mobile platforms, and because it renders everything by itself, it lets you run everything off one codebase. It's a big time-saver!
In Flutter, the user interface is built with widgets and small UI building blocks assembled using a technique called Composition. The whole process is similar to using React components.
Two sets of widgets are available out of the box: Material Design, which is compatible with Google’s design guidelines, and Cupertino, compatible with Apple's Human Interface Guidelines for iOS.
Flutter manages every pixel of the screen, so we can be sure that our widgets will look the same on every mobile device (even the older ones), essentially removing our potential device support woes. This, in turn, allows us to create amazing-looking user interfaces that look exactly the same on both Android and iOS with a single codebase.
This is where Flutter truly shines: the hot reload feature allows you to introduce changes on-the-fly, allowing you to see them immediately during development. This feature makes the app development process significantly faster!
As mentioned, the Flutter SDK is a cross-platform tool that allows us to develop for desktop, mobile, and the Web using a single codebase. It also enables you to create beautiful, expressive UIs with Flutter's widgets, layers, and interactive assets.
The MVP is an important step in the development process before the product becomes a full-fledged app. Such an approach offers several benefits:
2. It allows us to test business and product ideas and get rapid feedback from your user base.
3. It helps you to prioritize tasks and separate the essential features from the nice-to-haves.
Flutter helps save development time primarily due to its cross-platform support because it eliminates the need for platform-specific codebases.
On top of that, the hot reload feature, which helps tremendously when adding new features or fixing bugs using the well-rounded debugging process, makes Flutter a highly performant tool.
1. It has limitations in UI rendering on native platforms, e.g., video on Apple TV or Android TV.
2. Features newly added on native iOS and Android systems will naturally be introduced in Flutter later than on their native versions.
3. Although Flutter is easy to learn, you will probably need some experience with native app development to build a functional cross-platform app.
Using libraries such as React Native for the web or ReactXP allows a developer to build a cross-platform app that runs on the web, too, so there’s no need to build separate apps.
React Native is a fairly mature framework that also made a name for itself in the world of mobile development. What are its main benefits?
Just like Flutter, it allows fast development for iOS, Android, and the web with one codebase. Sharing one codebase for iOS, Android, and other platforms leads to faster development of multiple-platform apps.
React Native allows you to add new code to a running app decreasing the risk of losing some functionalities during a whole reload or app rebuild.
The active community of developers working in React Native creates quality informational content easily available online. Developers can join a Facebook group with over 49,500 members or read through over 6,900 questions tagged [react-native] on Stack Overflow.
1. It still lacks some custom, platform-specific modules, and you may need expertise from a native developer to create them.
2. The navigation is not as smooth and cross-platform development might cause performance and device-related app issues.
3. There are better choices for apps that include games or heavy animations.
See how choosing React Native for cross-platform development allowed us to build mobile apps sharing 99% of the code, and 80% of the code with the desktop version. Read the Guild case study.
We’ve already covered Flutter’s and RN's essential characteristics and how they differ, so one last question remains: what is the future of cross-platform development? Is there even a winner in the React Native vs. Flutter race?
As always - it depends. For me, Flutter has it all that makes a perfect framework for cross-platform development, although the competition is fierce. I prefer Flutter, but both frameworks offer many features that can help us develop beautiful-looking applications with a better user experience, and do it faster - letting you save more time and money.
Every application and business idea presents a different case and choosing the right technology should be discussed from the very start with the rest of the team so that the choice is ultimately made based on the pros and cons of all the solutions considered.
All you need are developers who encountered their share of framework-specific issues and can act as your CTO. Consult your idea with us and develop a beautiful application.
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