An introduction to Flutter - Rapid App development ecosystem
Story by Mila Klimkowicz
8 min read
Mobile applications have transformed the way we interact with the digital world. In the past decade alone, their popularity has skyrocketed, with billions of downloads and users spending endless hours on their smartphones daily. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that mobile app development is the area that sparks the interest of both established companies and startups.
Among the many programming tools available for app development, Flutter stands out as one of the most popular cross-platform mobile frameworks, as revealed by a 2021 developer survey. Statistics show that 42% of software developers used Flutter. But what exactly is it and how does it work? In this article, we will explain in simple terms the concept behind this tool as well as some of its interesting features.
What is Flutter?
So first things first - what is Flutter? Simply put, it is a free and open-source mobile app SDK (software development kit) for building apps on multiple platforms with a single codebase. It was created by Google and released in May 2017. Flutter's initial version, called "Sky", ran on the Android operating system. At present, Flutter supports development on iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, MacOS, and the web.
You may have already come across apps that are built using Flutter! Many renowned companies like Toyota, eBay, Etsy, BMW, Groupon, and numerous others have chosen to use Flutter to develop their mobile apps.
How does Flutter work?
To better understand how Flutter works it’s important to know the difference between native app development and cross-platform app development.
Native app development
Native app development refers to the process of creating an app exclusively for one platform - in most cases Android or iOS. For instance, when developing a native Android app, developers will use programming languages like Java or Kotlin, while for iOS apps Swift or Objective-C. This means that if you want your app to operate on different platforms you would need to have different versions of it created. A benefit of this solution is that it offers high performance due to the utilization of platform-specific programming languages and APIs at its core. This makes native apps faster and more responsive and, in turn, enhances the overall user experience.
However, the downside that comes with this is that, if you would like your app to be available on multiple platforms, you need to hire more than one development team. This increases the time and cost related to the development process. More lines of code also mean a higher risk of errors in it. Not only that but if you do come across some mistakes later down the line, you will need to fix them separately for each version.
Cross-platform app development
Cross-platform app development is the process of building an application that is compatible with multiple operating systems. In this case, developers create a single version of the app that is designed to function across various platforms (rather than creating it separately for iOS and Android). There may be certain drawbacks associated with cross-platform app development, such as potential limitations in user experience and worse performance when compared to native apps. However, on the positive side, cross-platform development enables the creation of consistent branding across different platforms, as the details, functionality, and user interface remain the same throughout. Another huge advantage of cross-platform apps is that they are less costly as you only need to hire one development team.
As mentioned above, Flutter is not just a cross-platform development framework but a complete SDK for app development. This means that it contains everything that is needed to create a cross-platform application (this includes libraries, tools, documentation, and APIs).
When working with Flutter you will be using “widgets”, which are essentially the building blocks of your app. There are two types of widgets:
- Stateless Widgets - these are widgets that display the same thing all of the time and never change. They are used to create the visual components of your app like text, icons, or buttons.
source: Flutter documentation
Stateful Widgets - these types of widgets are dynamic. These widgets change their appearance based on user interactions or data reception - for example checkboxes or input fields.
source: Flutter documentation
If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of how Flutter works from a technical standpoint we recommend watching a video about Flutter from the Google for Developers Youtube channel.
Flutter’s top features
Now that we know what Flutter is and how it works, let’s go over some of the features that make it stand out.
- Dart programming language - Flutter is written in the Dart programming language, which was also developed by Google and introduced in 2011. Dart is known for its simplicity and ease of learning. In addition, it is one of the rare programming languages that support Ahead-of-Time (AOT) compilation.
- Open-source - Flutter is a free and open-source tool, backed by Google. Any company can use it without incurring any licensing fees. Moreover, you can contribute to the development of the app and share your work on GitHub. This collaborative approach empowers developers to explore new ideas and push the boundaries of mobile app development, leading to innovative and creative solutions.
- Hot reload feature - The hot reload feature in Flutter is something that provides a competitive advantage over other similar tools. It allows developers to make changes to their app's code on the fly, and see the results in real-time. This means it is possible to make quick modifications without having to restart the application.
- Widget library - In Flutter, everything is represented as a widget - from simple components like colors, paddings, and menus, to more intricate and customizable user interface elements. Flutter gives you access to a huge collection of pre-built widgets that can be used in your app. Some of the popular ones include Cupertino and Material Design. You can visit the Flutter Gallery website to explore the different sets of widgets that Flutter has to offer and play around with them to see which ones are to your liking.
When should you use Flutter?
🔍 Based on all of the evidence that we’ve gathered up to this point, it’s safe to say that Flutter is the perfect choice for companies that seek to enhance productivity and cost-effectiveness in app development.
🚀 As Flutter allows for faster app development compared to native approaches, it can significantly lower the overall costs involved. This makes it an ideal solution for companies with limited resources or startups aiming to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and rapidly test their ideas.
🛠️ Regardless of whether you are creating a prototype or a complex app Flutter's rich set of tools, documentation, and community support makes it easy to kickstart your app development journey.
Hopefully, by now you have gained a clearer understanding of what Flutter is and what sets it apart as a powerful app development tool. Since it is still relatively new, finding a Flutter developer may be a bit challenging. However, it has become a go-to option for many developers and it seems like it holds a promising future in the world of app development. So the question that you may be asking yourself right now is - should I use Flutter for my project? The answer to this question can’t be answered easily as it depends on many factors and every business is a unique case. At Direktpoint we have experience in developing many ambitious projects and bringing various ideas to life. We would be delighted to share our opinion with you, so if you have any questions don't hesitate to let us know!