Okay, tell me honestly — how often have you heard debates (or been involved in one) about what kind of development framework is better, faster, and more efficient: native or cross-platform? Frequently, I suppose.
I’m no exception to this. And to tell you the truth, I was passionate about native development until very recently. The toolkit that provides native iOS development was more than enough for me, and I hardly ever opted for anything else.
But at some point in my career path, I was proposed to develop an app in cross-platform development with Flutter. I decided to give it a shot for two reasons. First, it wouldn’t be a wise decision to miss something new that might offer some advantages over what I was using. Second, I already had my eye on it, and the opportunity intrigued me. In this article, I share my early impression of the Flutter toolset and compare it to native mobile development for iOS.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know that comparing a programming language with a toolset is kind of challenging, and although may sound crazy, I’ll give it a try.
If you’re already wondering which I recommend, I’ll jump ahead and tell you: there’s no one correct answer. But let’s start from the beginning.
1. The basics
2. Comparing pros and cons
3. Flutter for business: yes or no?
4. Choosing the framework for your project
5. Final word
Let’s revisit what’s what:
Flutter is an open-source framework created by Google core developers and released in 2017. It combines simplicity with workflow consistency for a variety of platforms (not limited to mobile operating systems).
When I talk about native iOS development, particularly in this article, I mean using the Swift programming language. Swift was basically created to develop applications for iOS and macOS.
Comparing pros and cons
Every platform has its strengths and weaknesses that you should keep in mind.
Pros of cross-platform development
Here are some highlights of the strengths of cross-platform development:
- Shared codebase. Operations that run in the app are the same for iOS and Android platforms, so you program once and it works on both platforms.
- Reduced hiring. You need only one development team instead of two. The development cost savings, compared to native development, is estimated to be 25% to 40% on average.
- Fewer errors. Usually, code written with the Flutter framework contains 1.5 times fewer errors than code written with a native language.
- Testing speed. The shared codebase, single development team, and reduced error rate positively impact program testing speed, making it faster than native development.
- Simplicity of building UI elements. Compared to native development, rendering all front-end elements with Flutter is less complex and less effortful.
- Cheaper bug and failure fixing. Without doubt, there will always be some errors during the development process or after the app launch and you’ll need to dedicate resources to fix them. The shared codebase across platforms means quicker fixes, compared to native development, which cuts costs for this stage of development.
Cons of cross-platform development
Throughout the development process with the Flutter framework, I’ve faced some challenges that you should keep in mind as well.
- Reduced performance. Certainly, native development allows for the full use of native resources, making app performance super fast. For Flutter, the picture is a little bit different. An extra abstraction and visualization layer added to the app code makes the app a little slower than apps developed natively. However, Flutter has good performance in general.
- Limited functionality. Cross-platform development with Flutter may have some challenges when accessing and using permissions for smartphone functionality. For native development, it’s simply granted (like geolocation permission). Of course, this can be addressed in Flutter, as you can add elements written in the “native” programming language through bridges for both iOS and Android. But this is not really what we want when starting development with Flutter as we’d like it to handle permissions as smoothly as when developing native code.
- UX context. No cross-platform development framework can offer a complete native experience like the experience users are already accustomed to seeing on their mobile platforms.
See also: Android vs iOS App Development: What To Choose For Your Project
Pros of native development
Let’s start with the advantages that native iOS development offers.
- Broader functionality. Developers have immediate access to all APIs and instruments that native development platform provides, whereas cross-platform tools have some constraints.
- Greater scalability. Given the previous point, native mobile apps are more scalable, thanks to easy resource management and a broader choice of tools.
- App performance. This is a decisive advantage of a credible UX. Although I can’t quantify the performance advantage native iOS development provides, you should pay particular attention performance advantages like speed and memory usage, especially if your app is complex in any aspect.
Cons of native development
Now let’s look at some challenges of native development.
- Higher cost. Launching an app on more than one platform (e.g., Android and iOS) requires more funds. The reason is that it takes more effort to write code for each platform individually than it does to write code once that can run on multiple platforms.
- Time-consuming. In native mobile development, you have to write code for each platform from zero, which is a time-consuming development process.
Flutter for business: Yes or no?
There are a lot of considerations impacting your decision when selecting a development framework, including:
- Platform stability
- Support and evolution of the technology or product released to the market
If either of these has some challenges, you’ll incur financial outlays.
From this point of view, Flutter decreases risks in the following ways:
- Growing availability of experts: The number of programmers working with Flutter is growing. Finding highly skilled developers won’t be a problem.
- Easy integration with other services: You can easily find a list of global companies using Flutter, like Alibaba, Google Ads, and AppTree to name a few, contributing to Flutter’s credibility.
Choosing the platform for your project
Your decision about which development framework to use will significantly affect the time and effort spent on a project and, consequently, its price. I’ve listed some examples of when native development is a better choice and when you’re better off choosing cross-platform development.
Go for native if
- Your app will need access to multiple device resources
- The app will change or is highly likely to scale — that is, you plan to extend the functionality or
- The app will include complex tasks and elements or specific animated parts
Cross-platform development with Flutter will be more efficient if
- Your app has a simple workflow
- Your app development is time-restricted or
- Your app’s development has a tight budget
See also: Software development pricing models
Flutter isn’t a one-stop-shop for all types of apps, and, it certainly is no for substitute native development. Still, the technology is promising. You can see some apps written with the Flutter framework here.
If you’re looking for an option that enables relatively fast development and on low resources, Flutter is an excellent choice.
In contrast, native development is a perfect fit for complex tech-savvy projects that have numerous cutting-edge features or a lot of animations.
I can only say that at the end of the day, which development environment you choose all depends on personal and business needs.
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