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Flutter vs. Java: Is Flutter likely to replace Java for Mobile app development?

This blog post is a compilation of the discussion during the webinar on May 27, 2021, organized by Josh Software. The webinar focused on Flutter vs. Java and whether Flutter is likely to replace Java for mobile app development.

Let’s delve into it.

Flutter: The Newbie of The App Development World

The webinar was designed to discuss Flutter, its features, evolution, and whether it can rise to meet the growing need for hybrid app development tools. 

A great example of this is Google Pay. Upon unifying its codebase with Flutter, it has gone down from two million lines of code to 1.1 million.

The popularity of Flutter

During the annual developer conference organized by Google, it was announced that there are more than 200,000 apps using Flutter in the Google Play Store. Additionally, within Google, over 30 teams choose to build with Flutter for its productivity. 

The growing popularity of Flutter has led to a team of over 300 engineers, the largest after the team at Google, working on the My BMW app using Flutter and Dart. This application is being used to serve about 5 million customers across nearly five continents. 

Similarly, Flutter has been adopted by Kotak Mahindra for building a trading app in just six months. Dealing as the domain does with real-time data, the app needs to be responsive during trading hours. They are now attempting to replicate the same experience on the web using a single codebase.

Now, moving to the companies that contributed to the growth of Flutter – Toyota, Canonical, Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft Surface. 

Toyota is currently working on a Next-Generation infotainment system within their cars using Flutter. This will also make their desktop systems much more smooth.

Sony is leading the effort in bringing Flutter onto the embedded Linux system. Samsung and Microsoft are working on integrating Flutter into their platform for developing applications.

What Constitutes Flutter’s appeal?

Any coding platform cannot grow without community support. Flutter has a wonderfully engaging online community. While Flutter is only three years old, there are over 200,000 applications that have been created using the app. There are plenty of tutorials online as well as blogs. Stack Overflow is the most dynamic platform for Flutter discussions and knowledge sharing. 

Research by Statista shows that Flutter is growing incrementally year on year and is only a few points behind React Native. Based on the growth and scale, we believe Flutter is here to stay.

How does Flutter simplify cross-platform mobile app development?

Until now, when we go in for app development, the first question is on which platform is this app going to be deployed? Whether it is Android or iOS. 

Flutter is a cross-platform mobile app development tool that renders this question moot and changes the narrative. So, with Flutter, you need to ask what kind of app you want to build? 

This is because Flutter offers many features and capabilities that developers can use for purposes apart from mobile app development. It could be for desktop app development, for the web.

Let us deep dive into the framework that makes this possible. Dart.

In the above image, the framework has four different layers, as can be seen. The lowest, most basic layer is the ‘Foundation’ and consists of Animation, Painting, and Gestures. 

This is followed by rendering and the next layer of widgets. 

Flutter has grown increasingly popular for its widgets. Why? What is the deal with them?

To give a little bit of an introduction, widgets are UI constructs, and Flutter app development is done using widgets. They are of two main types- Stateless and Stateful widgets. The difference is that the look and feel, or maybe even the text of Stateful widgets, can be changed. Stateless widgets are those whose look and feel cannot be changed. 

Now, the topmost layer is that of UI. A significant advantage of Flutter is its UI. Why? Because it is a material UI built from a combination of Android and Cupertino. The latter is mostly used in iOS as part of the framework itself. 

Now, apart from the framework itself, Flutter has a great engine and Embedder. Both of these will be dealt with at a later time. Now, going ahead into the game changer – the single code base. 

Single Codebase

1. Write once, run everywhere

The single codebase allows code to be written just once and deployed across multiple platforms. 

2. Shared UI, Business Logic, and Device Configurations for all platforms 

This allows the code to be compatible across various devices with differing configurations. This includes screen sizes, resolution, device orientation, font, etc.)

3. High Productivity

With the reduction in time taken to code separately for disparate platforms, the single codebase enhances productivity. This saves time, money, and resources. 

4. Increased time to market speed

With higher productivity, Flutter reduces the turnaround time. Whether you are a start-up or an established corporation, Flutter minimizes the time taken to develop an app irrespective of how many platforms it needs to launch across.  

5. Easy to track the tasks/bugs in JIRA

For instance, if the same bug is present across three different platforms, it must be rectified only once in the codebase. Additionally, it makes it easier to track the tasks and figure out how many are done and pending. 

6. Repo Handling – PR Review, Merging, Conflict Resolution, etc.

Flutter simplifies the above. 

7. Consistency

Flutter simplifies maintaining the look and feel of an app consistent across multiple platforms, whether Android or iOS, as the entire system is based on a single codebase. 

Hot Reload

This feature is a boon for developers. Instead of writing lines of code and then launching them through a simulator, the Hot Reload feature resolves this issue. 

This feature allows developers to see the changes to the code in real-time and whether or not it is delivering the expected result. This boosts performance and increases the scope for innovation with much less turnaround time. 

Hot Reload allows the app to go through several iterations rapidly with bug fixes and excellent quality. 

Background Compatibility

The Dart framework in place is vast with built-in features eliminating the worry about background compatibility across iOS, web, desktop, and android. 

Platform Specificity

Flutter allows for platform-specific code. If you want a particular feature only on the iOS app, Flutter makes that possible too. In case you do not have any such requirement, then everything will be handled by Flutter. 

Essentially, the Dart framework takes care of all of the above. 

Aesthetic Appeal

Flutter makes it possible to create interactive, intuitive applications. Additionally, developers can easily port applications built using Flutter to your web application.

Flutter makes it possible to create applications showing real-time updates of shipping or food delivery.  Creating aesthetic applications is simple with Flutter. Additionally, third-party codes are available for animations that developers can import. 

Q&A

1. What are some of the limitations of Flutter?

The app size is a drawback. The size is quite significant as it contains code for the web application as well. However, with the rapid growth of 5G, we believe it will not pose a problem. Unfortunately, in areas with spotty internet, it will be tough, 

The team at Flutter is working to resolve this at the moment. 

2. How difficult is it to migrate from any native framework to Flutter if you already have an existing app?

It is relatively simple to migrate to Flutter. Due to the current code base, you will need to write everything in Dart. It is a simple language to learn, and there are plenty of tutorials available. The single codebase will drastically reduce the single codebase, the time to write the app. The hot reload feature makes fixing bugs and updating super simple as well.

3. Is there a feature that allows any codebase written for mobile to be viewed on the web or vice versa with a single click?

So, let’s say you want to deploy an application. As applications come with different packages, the first step is choosing the platform you want to deploy it on. 

Now, if you want to deploy it across all these platforms, there is a specific command. This command creates the build for all the supported frameworks. This means it will create a package file for Android in the build directory and then generate the relevant JavaScript Code for the web.

This is how it works. Additionally, the Flutter team created a demo application, which is available on GitHub called Flutter Folio. This is a repository and can be downloaded. This is suitable for both web and mobile app development. So you can download the code from here and understand how a single code base works. 

If you are running it on a mobile device, it must be built to be responsive to touch gestures. While building the application, you have to use mouse clicks and everything related if you plan on being web-based. These small details are already taken care of by Flutter. 

So, that is the main advantage of going with a single code there. The Flutter Folio on GitHub is an excellent resource. You can download the repository and turn it on desktop, web, and mobile applications

4. What kind of backend does Flutter support?

It supports all kinds of backends ranging from Java, PHP, Dotnet core APIs, etc. It is possible to have different types of backends integrated with Flutter. 

5. Have there been any recent updates on Flutter, or are we expecting anything new from Google?

In the Google IO Conference conducted recently, Google announced that the desktop and web versions of Flutter now have stable support. Initially, they had support only for iOS and Android, but now they have expanded. Additionally, Flutter can now run on embedded systems, as evidenced by Sony making strides in the same direction.

There is also speculation that Google is now working on a separate code base for their phones. However, this has not been confirmed. 

6. How well can Flutter cope with the latest iOS releases? Would it create a seamless move from one version of the OS to another? Are there any limitations? 

So, iOS 14 was released in Sept of last year. By January or February 2021, Flutter 1.1 or 1.2 was released, which contained support for iOS 14. Additionally, iOS released a feature called app clips. This allows you to use the app without installing it, which is similar to, what we have on Android. 

Delay was there to support these new features, but considering these are out of the box, Flutter pulled through in a few months. Flutter launched the operating system in June. June to September allowed developers to beta test. This is done by being able to download a small portion of the app and use it. Additionally, they offer close support to Flutter, and we expect to see compatibility for iOS faster.  

7. How can we distinguish between Flutter Web and React Native?

So, the web browser works with JavaScript. For instance, JSX is not understandable by web browsers. So, we use web deck or any similar libraries to convert React or Angular to Native Java Script. 

This means the build generated by Flutter will look similar [notations, syntax, etc., offer]. 

It is not possible to see the production build. If you want to distinguish the two, it will necessitate checking the code or header information or the details being added by the different libraries. 

Pros and Cons of Flutter?

One thing I can think of is that Flutter is a framework focussing mostly on dynamic

design elements. Using Flutter for static portals is not recommended. Using Flutter for web applications rich in UI is a good choice. However, we will need to wait for specific benchmarks to make a comparison. 

8. Can Flutter be used for DevOps related information?

The language which is powering Flutter is Dart. So with Dart,  you can write server-side code and create applications. Dart supports server-side programming as well and can help with writing a web API. 

9. What is the learning curve for Flutter if you know JavaScript? 

There is a certain similarity in nomenclature and syntax between Flutter, Angular, and React Native. You can import the libraries. While there are minor differences in the syntax, the core principles remain the same. Having been working on JavaScript, I am exploring Flutter by myself, so I believe the ease of learning is very high. 

10. Help us understand widgets in Flutter?

C Sharp, Java, etc. have classes while UI components in Reactive Native, Angular, etc. are similar. On Flutter, they are called widgets and are the smallest building blocks. 

Widgets handle everything on Flutter. These widgets can be stateless or stateful. 

11. Flutter Vs. React Native

Let us start with Native frameworks. Let us assume we are developing an app, which is hardware-centric—for instance, games. 

So, in such cases, we don’t recommend Flutter. In such cases, you have to go with native languages. So, if your app will be based on hardware, we recommend not moving it to Flutter. 

Now, looking at the performance of the two. 

React Native will require different codes for separate platforms. However, Flutter has a single codebase for various platforms, including web and desktop. Flutter has nearly 15% more performance advantages because of the framework. Dart is written using C++, which is very near to the OS with all the resources. 

But it is necessary to wait for benchmarking for performance.

For more information on Flutter vs Java for your app development and how thttps://joshsoftware.digital/ebooks/flutter-vs-industry-leading-frameworks-the-ultimate-comparison-guide/o use Flutter for your next mobile app development project reach out to us at Josh Software.

Article by supriya jadhav

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