January 10, 2020
What is Flutter? How is it different from React Native? Is Flutter the best choice for MVP (Minimum Viable Product)? And is it really the future of mobile app development?
In this post, I will be covering all of these questions to give you a better understanding of the benefits offered by Flutter and React Native.
These days, mobile applications are more prevalent than ever before. This sweeping expansion has been driven primarily by the fact that smartphones have become much cheaper and faster, while mobile networks have spread to the point to allow us to remain connected to the Web almost constantly. This trend, in turn, forced companies to better meet user expectations and create native versions of their products for major mobile platforms, making them fast and easy to use, and thus ensuring they stay competitive on the market.
If you’re interested in building sleek mobile apps, there are a couple of technological options to choose from, particularly when you’re interested in having only a single codebase for your project. Facebook’s React Native, the younger sibling of React, is one such framework. Flutter, a framework developed and supported by Google, is another technology worth considering.
So what exactly is it? Well, in theory, Flutter is a software development kit:
"for building beautiful, natively compiled applications for Mobile, web, and desktop from a single codebase”.I
It is offered as an open-source technology and available for developers and designers free of charge!
Flutter is great for 2D mobile apps that are meant to run both on iOS and Android. It is also a smart choice for interactive apps that you want to run on desktop or web pages.
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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, Flutter in 2017). Both technologies rank very high on GitHub with 71,9k stars (Flutter) and 79,6k (React Native).
We can see that the interest in Flutter has risen significantly in 2020 and is growing rapidly.
Interest in Flutter vs React Native in 2020. Source: Google Trends
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.
Below, I listed five particular aspects of Flutter, which make using it a pleasant, enjoyable experience:
1. One codebase. 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!
2. Beautiful interfaces in no time. In Flutter, the user interface is built with widgets, small UI building blocks assembled using a technique called Composition. The whole process is similar to using React components. There are two sets of widgets 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.
3. Pixel rendering. 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.
4. Faster development with Hot reload. This is where Flutter truly shines: hot reload feature provides the ability to introduce changes on-the-fly, allowing you to see them immediately during development. This feature makes the app development process significantly faster!
5. Cross-platform app development. As already 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.
Framework popularity from a survey of almost 60,000 responses. Source: Stack Overflow
In the development process, the MVP is an important step taken before the product becomes a full-fledged app. Such an approach offers a number of 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 using platform-specific codebases.
On top of that, the hot reload feature, which helps tremendously when it comes to adding new features or fixing bugs using the well-rounded debugging process, makes Flutter a highly performant tool.
These qualities make it a highly appealing mobile framework when considering the technology to choose for MVP or POC development.
1. It has limitations in terms of UI rendering on native platforms, e.g. video on Apple TV or Android TV.
2. Features that are 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.
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?
1. It is a mature framework with stable API, backed by Facebook.
3. Just like Flutter, it allows fast development for iOS, Android and Web with one codebase.
4. React Native allows you to add new code to a running app which decreases the risk of losing some functionalities during a whole reload or app rebuild.
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. It's not the best choice for apps that include games or heavy animations
We’ve already covered Flutter’s essential characteristics and how it differs from its fellow cross-platform frameworks, so one last question remains: is it really the future of mobile development? Does it win in the React Native vs Flutter race? Yes.
Although both frameworks are really great for mobile app development, Flutter offers many features that can help us develop beautiful looking mobile applications, with a better user experience, and do it faster - letting you save more time and money.
Many sources, citing the steady rise in Flutter’s popularity over the last couple of years, predict that the trend will continue in 2020 and beyond. Is Flutter the future?Interest in mobile development technologies in 2020. Source: Google Trends
Of course, every application presents a different case and choosing the right technology is something that 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 taken into consideration.
Flutter has already made a name for itself in the mobile application development world, and I think 2021 is the perfect time to finally give it a shot if you’re considering it for your next mobile MVP.