When you need to capture the attention of a wide-ranging digital audience today, what do you do? Increasingly, the answer is to offer an application. But how can you make sure your app reaches the widest possible audience without over-complicating the development process?
The answer lies in using multi-platform frameworks for development, allowing you to target mobile application users across iOS and Android while simultaneously offering versions for MacOS, Windows and the web, all from a single codebase.
While multi-platform framework use is becoming increasingly popular, there are some notable differences between developer approaches. Namely, organizations each have their own preferred technology tools.
The leading offerings are Flutter, from Google, and React Native, from Meta. Which one of these is right for your particular needs? That answer will come down to a few specific factors, and the resulting decision will set the course of your multi-platform development going forward.
Why Choose a Multi-Platform Framework?
The ultimate objective of using Flutter and React Native is the same — to create a single development workflow dealing with a single codebase that can reach all relevant platforms. That means before choosing between the two frameworks, it's worth considering why your business should use either one in the first place.
The reason to opt for multi-platform development comes from evolving preferences around how audiences interact with digital content and how companies create it. Businesses want to present the highest-possible-quality digital experiences for their user bases, but those users view the content on a wide range of devices and operating systems — iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows and the web are among the most important channels. They expect the same high-quality experience across each touchpoint.
Skipping major platforms isn't an option, because it pays to reach the largest possible audience. Should your company split its development team into multiple sub-groups of native developers to develop apps for each platform? That represents a traditional approach to development, but it's prone to problems around cost, speed and general communication.
Shifting development to a multi-platform framework such as Flutter or React Native alleviates the issues and delivers:
- An end to functional silos: With all developers united around a single codebase, you can focus all your personnel on the same set of issues without maintaining a massive headcount or understaffing any specific platform's team. This approach allows engineers to work on specific areas of the user interface from end to end rather than being caught up in polishing a specific single-platform native app.
- A quicker approach to updates: Whether you're fixing bugs or adding new features, development, coding and quality assurance processes are faster when there's a single codebase involved.
- Lower upkeep requirements: Maintaining multiple codebases can become unwieldy quickly, with a significant investment going into squashing bugs across platforms — this may hamper the company's ability to effectively roll out new functionality.
- Improved communication: If development is split between individual teams for each platform, it's easy for differences to spring up around cadences and development styles, and for this disconnect to slow down the overall process of maintaining an app.
Unifying around a single framework, codebase, and UI development team helps your organization stick to its roadmap for your application, responding to user feedback, correcting bugs and rolling out features on time. So, let's learn a bit more about each framework.
All About Flutter
You might have heard about Flutter before, essentially because it is one of the most popular frameworks used by development teams around the world. For those who need an introduction to it, it's a user interface platform created and maintained by Google using the Dart programming language. It's meant to be approachable, open source friendly and powerful enough to build beautiful, natively compiled, multi-platform apps from a single codebase.
The philosophy of Flutter centers on the principles of control, performance and fidelity. This means a Flutter developer should be able to access each layer of a system and create apps that deliver highly usable and appealing experiences for the end user.
Flutter's creators highlight the challenge of running separate software development teams for multiple platforms due to the associated high costs. However, recognizing the importance of reaching a broad audience, they emphasize the need for a solution. Flutter was designed to bridge this gap and enable development for multiple platforms more efficiently.
The History of Flutter
Flutter had its initial release in December 2018. Version 2 debuted in March 2021, with version 3 following in May 2023. The framework has received new capabilities, features and functionality along the way. These updates have largely involved its ability to work more effectively with different platforms. Developers can now create native-quality apps for MacOS and Windows, for example.
You can read more about Flutter’s history so far in this blog post.
Flutter Under the Hood
The basic theory behind Flutter app development involves using the up-to-date Dart language. There is a thin layer of C/C++ code over that base, allowing the apps to run on various platforms. The primary rendering of Flutter apps happens in the platform's own engine, rather than tapping the resources of individual operating systems or web browsers or using native components. A new engine is on the way, which promises even greater power.
The Flutter Ecosystem
The Flutter app development community is made up of developers creating and customizing widgets. Flutter is open source, and there are many ways for a Flutter developer to get involved in the ecosystem by making feature requests or bug reports, or by contributing code to the overall project. Google supports pub.dev, an official repository where engineers can share the most useful packages for Flutter and Dart. The Flutter Ecosystem highlights especially useful and high-quality offerings.
Read our whitepaper for more insights into the value of multi-platform development for businesses.
All About React Native
React uses components from the React web framework, brought into a multi-platform context. React Native app development is intended to allow developers to work more quickly than they would in true native development with teams split between operating systems, yet still access native features of each device. React Native is meant to be quick and easy, and it's possible to port just some features to the framework.
Native application component development, creating UI elements that work on multiple platforms through wrapping, makes up the core of the React Native app development experience. The idea of one codebase with some React wrapped native UI components is primarily meant for mobile development, though the community has created options for PC operating systems and the web.
The History of React Native
The first release of React Native came in 2015, followed by frequent updates from a team at Meta. It originated as an outgrowth of the React web development framework, allowing developers who had been working with the tool set for web projects to expand into the mobile space via multi-platform methodology. It became the framework of choice for Meta itself as well as companies such as Microsoft and Amazon for the iOS and Android apps, with the latter converting in 2016.
React Native Under the Hood
The React Native Ecosystem
React Native is an open source framework, and it welcomes contributions from its community. It was the involvement of the React Native developer community that helped the framework go beyond its iOS and Android roots and create separate, ported GitHub repositories for Windows, MacOS and web applications.
Flutter and React Native: Where do they diverge?
Both Flutter and React Native exist to solve the same basic issue — it's too expensive and time-consuming to reach modern standards of high-quality app development without a single, unified codebase. They're also both based on open source principles and welcome community involvement. The technical details of their approaches, however, are different.
Interaction with native user interfaces
React Native, true to its name, is known for using React primitives to render native platform UI. Flutter, on the other hand, is based on creating the equivalent of native performance while rendering within the platform's own engine. These two styles are both designed to accomplish the same goal, namely, creating positive user experiences with a single codebase.
Approach to platforms other than mobile
While Flutter is designed to be truly multi-platform and go beyond iOS and Apple to encompass the web, MacOS and Windows, React Native is a web framework at its core which first moved to mobile. With that said, both of the frameworks welcome contributions from their community, and this has enabled React Native to receive support for those platforms through ports.
Ready to Start Multi-Platform Development?
With that said, in recent years, developers who have learned Dart for frontend work are finding themselves increasingly capable of committing to full-stack Dart development, aided by new tools. You can dive into Dart Frog, a backend framework for Dart developed by the VGV team that can be used by any developer wanting to build a scalable backend.
You can also select your framework based on alignment with your views around the best way forward from a mobile development perspective, or gather inspiration when engaging with the open source community.
Our team of experts can help you clarify your next steps and get started on a new approach to application UI development, whether you're most excited to shift an existing app or start a project from scratch.