In this blog, we are going clear the air on one of the questions that was recently asked by our client who wanted to build a cross-platform application – “Is Flutter a good option for my cross-platform app?”
Well, as the demand for scalable, efficient, and flawless cross-platform applications rises, choosing the right app development frameworks becomes crucial to meet the quality criteria. Considering it as a most common concern while developing a cross-platform app, we have decided to help you dig a little deeper into the world of Flutter and explore its features, advantages, and potential limitations so you can make the right choice for your cross-platform development.
Understanding Cross-Platform Development
Let’s start from the beginning! Cross-Plaform Applications, what are they? Here’s a brief explanation:
What is a platform app?
Cross-platform apps are the applications that are designed and developed to function on various operating systems including Android and iOS while running on a single codebase.
Let’s understand it in simple terms. Imagine you want to create an application that can function seamlessly on Android and iOS devices, in this case, you’ll need to develop them separately for each operating system. And this will double up your work as you need two different versions of the same application to make the application function on both operating systems. And this is where cross-platform development comes into the game making it easier for software developers. Cross-platform applications (also known as cross-platform agnostic apps) are the ones that are designed and built to run on multiple operating systems and platforms. In your case, they can work seamlessly on both iPhone and Android devices.
Cross-platform development is the practice of developing software applications that perform smoothly on multiple operating systems and platforms with bare modifications. Cross-platform application is mostly used for mobile app development.
Here are the key aspects of cross-platform development:
- Write Once, Runs Anywhere (WORA)
In Cross-platform development, developers write a single codebase for an application that is deployable on various platforms. This is an alternative approach to traditional native development, where individual codebases are required for each platform.
- Frameworks and Tools
Software developers use cross-platform app development frameworks such as Flutter, React Native, and Xamarin and tools to build applications that can run on various platforms. These frameworks consist of a set of libraries, APIs, and tools that separate the platform differences enabling the developers to work on a unified codebase. Flutter is one of the commonly used frameworks for developing cross-platform applications.
Now that we have understood what cross-platform development is, let’s start understanding Flutter, its advantages, and whether it is a good choice for your next cross-platform app development.
Introduction to Flutter
Flutter was launched by Google in 2015, it is an open-source UI toolkit powered by the Dart programming language and is one of the cutting-edge frameworks used to develop cross-platform applications from a single codebase for any web browser and operating systems including Android, iOS, macOS, Fuchsia, or Windows.
The objective behind building Flutter was to build cross-platform applications that can deliver consistent user experience. Flutter framework has been a top choice for the cross-platform application development community along with two other frameworks -React native and Xamarin. The reason behind its popularity is its UI toolkit which provides an extensive set of customizable widgets that power the expressive user interfaces that seamlessly adapt to various platforms.
Advantages of Choosing Flutter for Cross-Platform App Development
Why should you choose Flutter for your cross-platform app development project? Well, the answer is very simple, its diverse set of capabilities, including
- Hot Reload: One of Flutter’s standout capabilities is hot reload; a feature that allows you to inject updated source code into a running app. When developers write code to create an app, they can press the “hot reload” button, and the changes they made in the code are immediately implemented in the running app without having to stop it and restart it.
- Single Codebase: Another feature of Flutter that is loved by our developers, is its ability to write a single codebase that functions across various platforms. It not only helps in saving up development time but also allows effective use of resources.
- Dart Programming Language: Flutter uses Dart Programming language which is a modern, object-oriented language that is also developed by Google, particularly for building web, mobile, and desktop applications.
- Expressive UI: Flutter allows software developers to build aesthetically pleasing and interactive UI which might include transitions, animations, and complex UI elements.
- Rich Set of Widgets: Flutter offers an extensive set of customizable widgets that help us build intricate yet expressive user interfaces. These widgets are made to fit the platform’s visual styles, giving them a native performance and feel.
- Strong Community Support: Strong Community Support: Flutter has great community support as it is very popular among developers as it enables them to build applications for multiple platforms including Android, iOS, web, and desktop without compromising the user experience and performance.
- Open Source: Developers can contribute to the development of Flutter and customize it as per their needs, It’s open-source advantage is the reason behind its widespread adoption and continuous development.
Case Studies and Success Stories
To provide you with a better understanding of the capabilities of Flutter that made top-notch brands choose this framework, we have given a brief throwback to the adoption of Flutter by BMW and Google Pay:
BMW, the prominent luxury car manufacturer brand and also one of our esteemed clients chose Flutter to build its application to deliver seamless and personalized experiences for their customers. The brand’s app has some impressive features including vehicle diagnostics, remote services, and appointment scheduling. BMW’s cross-platform application is one of the most spoken of Flutter success stories.
Challenge Faced by BMW
Initially, BMW’s mobile app was more focussed on the iOS version but later in 2018, they came across the challenge of rising disparity between the Android and iOS versions. This introduced the need to provide equal functionality to all their users regardless of the devices they are using.
How Flutter Helped To Overcome The Challenge?
To meet this requirement, they required a cost-effective solution. So, after testing several proofs of concept with different frameworks, Flutter appeared to be an optimal choice to overcome this challenge. Flutter’s ability to have a single codebase across platforms was made possible with Flutter. BMW discovered that Flutter was the only cross-platform framework that could provide a responsive application after exploring other options.
- Google Pay
Who hasn’t heard of and used Google Pay? Everyone is familiar with this prominent online payment platform. Google Pay is one of the popular apps built with Flutter. The framework enabled a consistent and smooth user experience of Google Pay on all the platforms and devices.
Google Pay was also initially a native app using Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android, the reason being that native apps are considered a better option than the hybrid frameworks as they offer better security, performance, user experience, and hardware access.
With over 100 million users in dozens of countries, Google Pay gives a platform to its users to pay, save, manage expenses, and more. But to do that effectively, they relied on 1.7 million lines of code between their Android and iOS apps — and it didn’t feel sustainable as Google Pay continued to expand to new countries, each of which would require its own unique features. Later on, Google decided to transition to Flutter due to the resource shortage and the growing size of its user base.
How Flutter Helped To Overcome The Challenge?
Flutter was chosen for its outstanding capability to deliver a consistent user experience across diverse platforms. The use of Dart in Flutter app development makes the development process faster and more efficient. The ahead-of-time compilation ensures high performance and streamlined deployment. The Just-In-Time execution engine allows for immediate reflection of code changes, offering a stateful hot reload feature that updates the running app without losing its state. Google’s development teams appreciate Flutter for reducing the time needed to create a polished user interface, thanks to its high-quality widgets, UI development consistency, and efficient hot reloading, leading to increased developer satisfaction and a smoother development process.
Potential Challenges and Considerations
- Limited Third-Party Libraries: Being a newer framework, Flutter has a relatively smaller ecosystem of packages and third-party libraries as compared to other established frameworks such as iOS and Android. In simple words, its library support may not yet match that of other well-established frameworks. Therefore, Software developers can find it a little difficult to locate some packages for specific functionalities or may face challenges with maintenance and compatibility.
- Integration Challenges: While integrating Flutter into an existing codebase, especially if it is developed using different technologies, it can be a little bit complicated. The best you can do to eliminate the challenges during integration, keep the factors such as data synchronization and user authentication. Also, you should start introducing Flutter components into your existing application for minimum disruption.
- Long-Term Maintenance Requirements: Like any other emerging technology, Flutter-based applications also require long-term maintenance and updates to remain compatible with the continuously changing requirements of the application and security standards. Without good planning, managing the long-term maintenance of Flutter apps can be challenging.
- Device-Specific Testing: Since testing is one of the crucial stages of an application’s development cycle, Flutter applications are required to work seamlessly on a diverse range of devices and screen sizes. Ensuring the effective testing of the Flutter application can be a bit challenging due to the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem and various iOS device models.
- Native Access: Flutter offers high native access through various platform channels. React native also offers native access but it may need the use of native modules for certain functionalities.
Flutter’s Community and Support
Flutter’s robust community support has a vast no. of tutorials, forums, and open-source contributions where the developers can find resources and overcome the challenges they face during development. Since Flutter is backed by Google, it surely has solid support from the giant. The evidence of Google’s commitment to revolutionizing app development can be assumed by the constant updates and resource sharing, adding value for the entire community.
In simple terms, the Flutter community is not just a support system for developers, it is a driving force accelerating the framework forward. The amalgamation of Google support, an enthusiastic community, and open-source development means that Flutter is always at the forefront of cross-platform mobile app development. The community of Flutter is a living example of the value of teamwork and collective creativity in the technological industry.
Comparison with Other Cross-Platform Frameworks
Besides Flutter, React Native and Xamarin are also quite popular from cross-platform app development. All of them offer new-age solutions for building cross-platform apps. Below we have mentioned a brief comparison of Flutter with React Native and Xamarin (Flutter vs. React Native) and (Flutter vs. Xamarin):
Flutter v/s React Native
- Performance: Flutter offers outstanding performance because of its compiled nature. React Native also provides optimal performance by utilizing native components.
- UI Paradigm: Flutter follows a widget-based approach offering enhanced consistency in UI across various platforms. React Native has a component-based approach resembling the web-development practices.
- Development Flexibility: Flutter provides you with a higher level of control over your UI and animations, further allowing more scope for customization. React Native on the other hand uses native components and therefore it requires third-party libraries for developing complex UI elements.
- Community & Ecosystem: React Native has a bigger and more mature community, thus offering a vast range of third-party libraries and modules. Flutter is a comparatively newer framework, so its community is relatively smaller than React native but it is rapidly growing with more and more support and contributions every day.As of February 2023, Flutter has 487,428 repository results and React Native UI library stands at 355,832. For Flutter, this number has almost doubled as in 2022 there were “only” 241,632 against React Native’s 232,168.
Flutter v/s Xamarin
- Performance: Flutter delivers excellent performance because of its compiled nature, Xamarin also provides good performance specifically with the Xamarin.Native by utilizing native components. If we compare both in terms of performance, Flutter is the winner.
- Language: Flutter uses Dart programming language whereas Xamarin uses .NET and C#. The choice between Flutter and Xamarien might be influenced by the developer’s familiarity with these languages.
- UI Paradigm: Xamarin provides Xamarin.Forms for Xamarin.Native or shared UI to build more platform-specific user interfaces. Flutter has a widget-based UI paradigm in which the user interface is made of nested widgets, allowing the development of expressive and customizable user interfaces.
- Native Access: Flutter gives high native access through platform channels, with which developers can easily integrate platform-specific functionalities. Also with Xamarin, you get full native access and get high level of flexibility, developers can leverage it to access platform-specific APIs and features.
- Learning Curve: The learning curve of Xamarin can be moderate to high especially if the developers are not familiar with C# and .NET. But since the framework aids to a seamless transition for a smooth transition for the developers who commonly work with Microsoft technologies.
- Community and Ecosystem: Xamarin has a larger and more mature community with a well-established ecosystem as it is an older framework. Flutter’s community is rapidly growing, but Xamarin has been around longer which gives it a benefit in terms of familiarity.
Flutter v/s Xamarin & Flutter v/s React Native- Key Highlights
|Hot reload, Widget-based UI
|JSX syntax, Native modules
|Access to native APIs, XAML
|Community and Ecosystem
|Relatively New but Growing Rapidly
|Large and mature
|High (through platform channels)
|Integration with Native Code
|Alibaba, Google Ads, Reflectly
|Facebook, Instagram, Airbnb
|Microsoft, UPS, Alaska Airlines
Flutter community is a vibrant community, with successful case studies from industry giants (including BMW, Toyota, Google Pay, and many more). Developers can leverage the advantages of Flutter against the potential challenges and make wise choices based on the requirements of their projects. As an experienced software development company, our vote goes to Flutter as it stands out as a compelling choice for cross-platform app development offering a diverse set of features that allow our developers to work on a single codebase However, the right choice for the cross-platform app depends on the specific requirements of your product.
Need tech consultation to choose the right framework for your next cross-platform application project? Fill out the contact form and send us your query. We will surely try to provide you with the best consultation based on your requirements and project goals.