Expert Guide Series

Native Mobile Apps vs. Flutter & FlutterFlow

  
Welcome

Introduction

Every year clients come to us at Glance and ask us "What is the difference between Native Apps and Flutter or FlutterFlow?"

This is a very good question. We can certainly understand the need to know the difference, after all your choice of approach will most likely be one you invest in for years to come. At Glance we primarily produce Native Apps but the truth of the matter is that a Native app might not be the best fit for you. In fact a Flutter app or FlutterFlow project might be the better option.

This article is going to cover the pro's and con's of each type of app in an honest and transparent manner. This way by the end, you'll be able to identify which is the best fit for you.

  
Setting the Scene

Understanding Native Mobile Apps and Flutter/FlutterFlow

When it comes to building mobile applications, developers have a range of approaches to choose from. Two prevalent approaches are native mobile app development and using frameworks like Flutter or tools like FlutterFlow. Each has its strengths, weaknesses, and specific use cases, making it crucial to understand their core differences to make an informed decision. 

The technology you use impresses no one. The experience you create with it is everything.
- Sean Gerety - UX leader

Native mobile apps are developed specifically for a single platform—either iOS or Android. This means they utilise platform-specific programming languages: Swift or Objective-C for iOS and Kotlin or Java for Android; we use the 'native' language of the device (where the term comes from) . On the other hand, Flutter is a cross-platform framework developed by Google, utilising the Dart programming language to create apps that run on both iOS and Android from a single codebase. FlutterFlow further simplifies this process by offering a no-code platform that leverages Flutter's capabilities to enable faster and more accessible app development to non-programmers or budget restricted projects. 

In this article, we will delve into the distinct characteristics of native mobile apps and those built using Flutter or FlutterFlow, comparing their quality, performance, and reliability. Whilst Native Apps are often hailed as the gold standard due to their optimised performance and robust reliability, Flutter and FlutterFlow are emerging as popular alternatives, particularly for budget-conscious projects. Let's explore how each of these options stacks up against each other.

  
Key Differences

Comparing Native Mobile Apps and Flutter

When discussing the key differences between native mobile apps and Flutter apps, it's essential to consider several critical factors, including performance, development speed, and user experience. Native mobile apps are developed specifically for one platform (iOS or Android), using platform-specific programming languages like Swift for iOS and Kotlin or Java for Android. This approach ensures that the app can fully leverage the device's capabilities, resulting in superior performance and a smoother user experience. Ultimately this is how the platforms want apps to be built for them.

On the other hand, Flutter, a popular framework developed by Google, allows developers to write a single codebase that can run on multiple platforms, including iOS and Android. This cross-platform capability stands out by reducing development time and costs. However, these benefits come with trade-offs. Flutter apps, while capable of delivering effective user experiences, don't match the performance and native feel provided by apps designed specifically for a single platform. 

Criteria Native Mobile Apps Flutter Apps
Codebase Separate for each platform (iOS and Android) Single codebase for multiple platforms
Development Speed Slower, as development happens separately for each platform Faster, due to a unified codebase
Performance High, optimised for the specific platform Generally lower than Native Apps
Cost Higher, due to separate development and maintenance Lower, thanks to reduced development time and resources
Access to Native Features Direct and complete access Access via plugins; introduces some limitations
UI/UX Platform-specific, providing a more native feel Customisable and consistent across platforms, but lacks some native elements
Hardware Integration Seamless, especially for complex integrations Possible, but requires additional effort and plugins
Community Support Mature and extensive Growing, but not as extensive as native development communities


Another distinction lies in the area of maintenance and updates. Native Apps benefit from the continuous support and updates provided by their respective platforms (Apple and Google), ensuring that the apps can quickly adopt the latest features and security enhancements. In contrast, Flutter relies heavily on its own set of tools and plugins, which, despite being robust, lags behind in adopting the latest platform-specific advancements. 

User interface (UI) consistency is another area where Native Apps regularly excel. By aligning with the design guidelines of their respective platforms, Native Apps usually offer a more seamless, platform specific and intuitive user experience. Conversely, Flutter provides a flexible UI toolkit that can be highly customised, but this often leads to inconsistencies in user experience if not carefully managed.

Choosing between native development and Flutter often comes down to the specific needs and constraints of your project. If performance, reliability, and a polished user experience are paramount, native development is the preferred choice. However, for projects heavily constrained by time and budget or those requiring rapid deployment across multiple platforms, Flutter presents a compelling alternative.

  
Budget-Friendly Development

The Appeal of Flutter and FlutterFlow

For startups and small businesses, budget constraints are often a primary concern. Here’s where Flutter and FlutterFlow can help. By leveraging a single codebase to produce apps for both iOS and Android, Flutter can reduce development costs—sometimes by as much as 25%. This can be significant for businesses looking to make an initial entry into the world of mobile apps without breaking the bank. 

But it’s not just the cost savings that make Flutter and FlutterFlow appealing. The frameworks offer a lower barrier to entry for developers, thanks to features like hot reload. With this capability, developers can see changes in real time, speeding up the development process. This can mean faster iterations, quicker testing, and a shorter time-to-market. 

Moreover, Flutter's rich library of pre-designed widgets simplifies building a functional user interface. You can achieve a standard app appearance with options that still allow for somewhat unique branding and layout. This blend of functionality and flexibility makes it a popular choice for developing modest cross-platform apps with reasonable resource utilisation.

    
Why Quality Matters

The Reliability of Native Apps

When it comes to the reliability of mobile applications, Native Apps set the gold standard. Designed specifically for a single platform—either iOS or Android—Native Apps leverage the full potential of the device’s hardware and operating system. This exclusive focus on platform-specific development ensures that Native Apps deliver high-quality performance, often characterised by faster load times and smoother animations. Furthermore, Native Apps adhere to the platform’s guidelines and conventions, guaranteeing a consistent and seamless user experience for users of each platform. 

Imagine a scenario where your app needs to handle complex tasks or high-performance requirements such as gaming or augmented reality. In these cases, native app development takes centre stage. Native code—Swift for iOS or Kotlin for Android—offers granular control over system resources, allowing apps to optimise memory consumption, processor use, and power efficiency. This not only ensures superior speed and responsiveness but also extends battery life, an essential factor for mobile users

  • Native Apps provide direct access to hardware features like the camera, GPS, and microphone.
  • Platform-specific coding languages such as Swift (iOS) and Kotlin (Android) facilitate optimised performance.
  • Native Apps benefit from immediate platform library updates and new technologies.
  • Native development is ideal for complex applications such as 3D games and high-performance tasks.
  • Granular control over system resources enhances app responsiveness and battery efficiency.
  • Higher development and QA costs due to separate codebases for iOS and Android.
  • Native Apps have more extensive third-party libraries and SDKs.
  • Strong community support for native app developers.

Reliability also translates into better security. Native Apps have the advantage of leveraging built-in security features of their respective platforms, making it easier to implement robust security measures such as biometric authentication, app encryption and secure data storage. Additionally, because Native Apps are developed using the platform’s official SDK, they have direct access to updated security patches and enhancements provided by iOS and Android updates. 

Testing and maintenance are another critical area where Native Apps shine. The uniform environment of a single platform reduces the complexity associated with multi-platform testing. Developers can more easily identify, diagnose, and fix issues. Over time, this translates into lower maintenance costs and a more stable, reliable application. Regular updates and improvements are straightforward to implement, leading to a continually improving user experience. 

Ultimately, while the allure of budget-friendly options like Flutter and FlutterFlow is tempting, especially for startups and smaller businesses, the reliability offered by native app development is hard to beat. For projects where performance, security, and user experience are paramount, investing in native development ultimately delivers the highest quality and most reliable application possible. This ensures that your users enjoy the best possible experience, fostering trust and satisfaction that can significantly impact your app’s long-term success.

    
Performance Metrics

Native vs. Flutter

When it comes to performance, Native Apps lead the way. Built specifically for their respective platforms—iOS or Android—Native Apps take full advantage of the device's hardware and software capabilities. This allows for smoother animations, faster load times, and overall better responsiveness. Think of them as the luxury cars of the app world, engineered for optimal performance and customer experience. 

In contrast, Flutter employs a single codebase to create apps for multiple platforms. Google's Flutter framework is compiled to native ARM code and leverages Skia’s graphics engine for swift rendering. While this increases development speed and offers cost efficiency, it can't quite match the finely-tuned experience that native development provides. Flutter's performance metrics have certainly improved, however, Native Apps still hold the edge where user experience is concerned. 

Aspect Native Apps Flutter Apps
Codebase Separate for each platform Single for all platforms
Performance Highly optimised, best performance Acceptable but less optimised
Development Speed Slower, platform-specific development Faster, simultaneous development
Cost Higher, due to separate codebases Lower, due to shared codebase
UI/UX Platform-specific, highly polished Customisable widgets, standard look
Access to Hardware Features Direct and seamless access Access via plugins, less seamless
Community and Support Strong, platform-specific communities Growing, but less mature


Another key consideration is battery consumption. Native Apps, being tailor-made for their platform, often consume less power. This can be crucial for apps requiring heavy background processing or constant connectivity. Flutter apps, despite optimisation efforts, often lag in this area due to the intermediate layer between the app and the device’s hardware. 

Performance also extends to app launch times. Native Apps generally boast quicker launch times, particularly important for user retention and satisfaction. However, Flutter’s hot-reload feature can significantly speed up the development and testing phases, getting your app to market faster while still offering acceptable performance. 

While Flutter offers a compelling, cost-effective alternative, Native Apps still reign supreme in critical performance areas. If your project demands the highest standards of quality, responsiveness, and efficiency, going native remains the wiser choice.

      
Pros and Cons

Native App Development

Pros of Native Apps: One of the standout advantages of native app development is its impeccable performance. Native Apps are tailored specifically to their respective platforms – be it iOS or Android – which means they leverage the full potential of the operating system and device. This results in ultra-responsive and fluid user experiences that are difficult to replicate with other development frameworks. Moreover, Native Apps have immediate access to the latest platform libraries, APIs, and developer tools, ensuring they remain ahead in functionality and performance. 

Native Apps also offer superior access to device capabilities. Whether it’s the camera, GPS, accelerometer, or any other hardware feature, these apps interact seamlessly with the device, allowing for richer functionality. This is particularly beneficial for applications that require intensive processing power, such as 3D games or complex video editing tools, which demand high-performance graphics and processing efficiency. 

Cons of Native Apps: On the downside, native development comes with increased complexity and cost. Maintaining two separate codebases for iOS and Android means higher development and quality assurance (QA) efforts. This division often results in longer development timelines and higher budgets, which can be a constraint, especially for start-ups or projects with severely limited funding. 

The community support for native development, while strong, doesn't always match the innovation seen in cross-platform frameworks. However, for projects where performance, access to device-specific features, and user experience are paramount, the benefits of native app development often outweigh any associated challenges.

      
Pros and Cons

Flutter and FlutterFlow

Pros of Flutter: One of the most talked about benefits of using Flutter is its single codebase, which allows developers to write once and deploy across multiple platforms including iOS, Android, web, and desktop. This leads to faster development cycles and quicker time-to-market. Additionally, Flutter’s hot reload feature significantly enhances productivity by enabling real-time UI updates without restarting the application. Its extensive library of widgets provides a rich set of tools for creating customisable interfaces. Furthermore, Flutter's moderate learning curve makes it accessible to a broader range of developers. 

For those who prefer a more visual approach to development, FlutterFlow offers a no-code platform that allows you to design and build apps through an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. This can reduce the need for extensive coding skills and speed up the development process, making it an attractive choice for startups and budget-conscious projects where an out-of-the-box design is a possibility. 

Cons of Flutter: Despite its strengths, Flutter comes with its own set of limitations. One key drawback is that Flutter-built apps tend to be heavier compared to their native counterparts, impacting overall performance and download times. Additionally, Flutter lacks the extensive ecosystem of third-party libraries found in more established development environments. This can be a vital consideration for projects that rely heavily on external libraries and plugins. Another point to consider is that Flutter can struggle with platform-specific features and hardware APIs, leading to suboptimal performance in many use cases. 

FlutterFlow drawbacks: While FlutterFlow excels in simplifying the development workflow, it can't offer the same level of flexibility and depth as traditional coding. Developers often find themselves constrained by the limitations of a visual builder when trying to implement complex, custom functionalities. The lack of direct control over the code can often lead to quality and performance issues, making it less suitable for applications demanding high performance and fine-tuned optimisation. 

While Flutter and FlutterFlow provide efficient and cost-effective solutions for app development, they come with notable trade-offs in terms of performance, flexibility, and scalability. Thoroughly considering these pros and cons relative to your project's specific needs will guide you in making the best choice where the success of your mobile app should be your main consideration.

      
Long-Term Considerations

Native vs. Budget Options

When weighing long-term considerations, the scales often tip in favour of Native Apps over budget options like Flutter and FlutterFlow. This decision is primarily driven by the superior performance, higher reliability, and robust capabilities Native Apps inherently possess. But let's break it down further. 

Scalability and Future-Proofing 

As your app grows, native mobile applications tend to handle increased user load and complexity far more efficiently. They are built specifically for each platform, ensuring seamless integration with new features and updates rolled out by the operating systems. Flutter and FlutterFlow, while nimble, often lag in supporting the latest platform-specific innovations immediately. This leads to potential delays in delivering critical updates to your users. 

Security Concerns 

Native Apps offer robust security frameworks inherent to iOS and Android platforms. They allow you to leverage the advanced security features of these ecosystems, such as biometric authentication and encrypted data storage. Flutter and FlutterFlow, being cross-platform solutions, don't always exploit these capabilities as effectively, leaving your app more vulnerable to security breaches. 

User Experience and Performance 

From a user experience standpoint, Native Apps provide a more polished and responsive interface, which is crucial in retaining user engagement. Native development enables the utilisation of platform-specific UI components and gestures, offering a more natural and intuitive interface. In contrast, Flutter and FlutterFlow don't offer the same level of finesse, often resulting in a user experience that feels generic or slightly sluggish with a direct impact on the apps success. 

Maintenance and Updates 

Although maintaining Native Apps can be more resource-intensive, it allows you to address bugs, perform testing, and deploy updates in a streamlined manner. Each update can be optimised for maximum performance and compatibility with the respective operating systems. On the other hand, Flutter and FlutterFlow developers often face challenges in maintaining the codebase across multiple platforms, commonly needing to implement workarounds to ensure performance parity. 

      
Summing Up

Conclusion

Ultimately, the choice between native and budget-friendly cross-platform solutions hinges on your project's long-term vision and priorities. If your goal is to provide an uncompromising, high-performance experience with the best possible security and seamless integration of new features, native app development stands out as the superior choice. However, for those with constrained budgets or more basic app requirements, Flutter and FlutterFlow offer a practical and efficient pathway to market.

We understand that every project is unique, and navigating the best path can be challenging. If you're considering a native app and want to ensure the best quality, performance, and reliability for your users, we're here to help. Reach out to us to discuss your project and explore how we can turn your vision into reality with native app development expertise.

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