Analysing Google's new development app: key findings from Flutter Live

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Flutter Live 18 took place in December in London.

What is this ‘Flutter’ thing we've been hearing about?

According to its website: “Flutter is Google’s mobile app SDK for crafting high-quality native interfaces on iOS and Android in record time. Flutter provides free and open code that is used by developers and organizations around the world.”

In layman's terms, it means you can create iOS & Android apps easier, quicker and more beautifully, eliminating design compromises.

Coming from a native (iOS) background, everything feels very intuitive and allows users to leverage our native experience and app-submission, profiling, etc all at the same time. Flutter is not just for developers though, designers now can now fully participate from start to finish in the development of an app.

Flutter Live 18

At the start of December, the first Flutter Live event was held at the London Science Museum. Here Google revealed their vision for the platform and what the future holds. As they put it:

“A powerful, general purpose, open toolkit that builds stunning experiences on any device. This is an UI kit that can be used wherever you need to paint pixels.”

Although Flutter has been a hot topic for the last year or so, it is only now officially production-ready, and its future is looking bright; 200 million people are using Flutter based apps, 250,000 developers are using Flutter, with 3000+ Flutter apps on the App/Play store.

As expected there were a lot of product launches, but refreshingly these are free for all tools:

  • 2Dimensions launched Flare - a powerful real time vector design and animation for app and game designers alike. The primary goal of Flare is to allow designers to work directly with assets that run in their final product, eliminating the need to redo that work in code.
  • Square launched their plugins; Reader SDK - in-person payment system, and Square In-App Payments SDK - payments inside a mobile app.

Flutter itself announced future developments; Hummingbird - a modern portal that runs off the standard web. This experimental desktop version runs on the same code as its mobile counterpart, continuing Google’s quest to provide a toolkit for building cross-platform applications.

At Big Radical we have been exploring and using Flutter. We have even added to the free source code community (a key factor to Flutter’s success).

Here is what we have found.

What is good about Flutter (almost everything)

  • We can build apps quicker
  • We can build apps cheaper
  • There are many native features available on both IOS and Android platforms out of the box
  • It ‘hot reloads’ – you don’t have to rebuild your app each time you update, saving so much time
  • The UI-building features are easy to use and many extensions/plugins are available
  • It is much more stable than other tools, like React Native

The limitations of Flutter (today)

  • Flutter can be embedded in a native app, but not the other way around - although this is being worked on.
  • The complex custom controls are more difficult to create.
  • The Text Fields are clunky (on iOS, support for a more native feel is coming soon).
  • Flutter is new, so we don’t have years of experience building Flutter apps, but it is extremely intuitive.
  • 3rd party libraries need a per-platform implementation.

What we did

We took existing designs we had implemented natively, including some work-in-progress designs we had produced for clients, and used these to create full-featured apps and prototypes. Here is an example of functions we rapidly and easily created while testing the limits of Flutter.

We believe in learning fast, learning well and put those learnings into practice at speed to achieve sustainable advantage. Rather than theorise, we learn by doing, to breakthrough and deliver more value to people, business and society.

Mike Bignell and Ben Grant, senior iOS developers, Big Radical, part of the Etch Group

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