10 min read


Flutter vs Native Development: Step-by-step Comparison


Today, when it comes to mobile development, you have many choices. There are various programming languages and frameworks to pick from. This often leads to debates about which option is best for creating digital mobile products.

The main question is whether to use cross-platform frameworks or stick with native methods while creating a mobile app. The answer is simple – both options work just fine. However, the feasibility of using native technologies is primarily determined by how many resources project owners are willing to invest in the digital product and what requirements, specifics, and needs for IT solutions are set.

So, let's compare two most popular mobile development approaches, Flutter vs Native, and figure out which one is the better choice for you.

Flutter Development: Overview

Flutter is an open-source framework created for cross-platform software development that allows building beautiful, natively compiled, multi-platform applications from a single codebase. The framework is based on the Dart language and created and supported by Google.

Among Flutter's strengths are its native performance, modularity, and fast development speed, making it a trusted choice among developers worldwide. 

While we are focusing mainly on Flutter in this article, it's crucial to remember that there are other cross-platform frameworks widely used by developers. These Flutter alternatives include .NET MAUI (Xamarin), React Native, and Ionic. They definitely have their own pros and cons, which are defined by the specifics, goals and requirements set.

Yet, in this article, we decided to focus on Flutter as it's a much more popular framework than its cross-platform alternatives today. Thus, over 1M apps were created with Flutter, while around 46% of developers in 2022 used Flutter to create cross-platform applications, giving it a lead of nearly 14% over its closest competitor.

About Native App Development

Native development has a somewhat different approach than cross-platform frameworks. It involves using specific and separate SDKs and programming languages like Kotlin and Java for Android or Swift and Objective-C for iOS. Essentially, you need to create two separate mobile applications for Android and iOS, which can be somewhat more expensive and time-consuming.

The main advantage of native development is its high performance and the ability to fully utilize the platform's features. However, the downside is the complexity of porting the app to another platform due to differences in commands. 

Let's compare: Flutter and Native Development

So, let's look more precisely at how Flutter and Native Development are different and which one to choose for your project. For this, we will also look at the frameworks and their programming languages – Dart, Swift, Kotlin – to compare them from as many aspects as possible.

1. Performance

When it comes to native development, no framework can match their application productivity on devices. Kotlin-based apps will perform better on Android, while apps created with SwiftUI will have maximum speed on iOS.

On the other hand, Flutter uses a rendering mechanism to interpret code during runtime on devices, somewhat reducing their productivity. Nevertheless, the framework is actively improving and narrowing the gap between itself and native technologies. For example, developers are already planning to revamp support for multiple Flutter views in 2024, with a focus particularly on iOS and Android, as well as to introduce compatibility with modern AI frameworks.

2. Speed 

Regarding development speed, native frameworks and programming languages significantly lag behind Flutter. More precisely, during native development, it is necessary to create two separate iterations of programs for Android and iOS, either by allocating a budget to hire two teams or spending time on sequential implementation.

In contrast, Flutter has a single codebase, as well as a hot reload feature (displaying changes without fully reloading the application) and a widget library for quickly creating and customizing UI. All of this accelerates both app development directly and their adaptation to different systems.

3. Features & Documentation

Flutter has an active community and comprehensive documentation that can help solve basic and fairly complex issues. 

Right now, Flutter also boasts

  • 155k Stars on GitHub

  • 3rd most OSS GitHub contributors
  • 240k Followers on Twitter

  • 175k Members on Meetup

Unlike native frameworks, where the community is less communicative and loyal, and the documentation is usually too complex to quickly search for necessary information.

Regarding features, Flutter is also ahead, as it offers capabilities such as a layout editor, hot reload, and a widget library. Thus, Flutter offers over 20,000 packages, plugins, and integrations for custom UI components, authentication solutions, state management libraries.

4. Usage & Popularity

As we've already mentioned Flutter turns out to be one of most popular cross-platforms solutions. For example, search queries with the framework name Flutter were at least twice as high as Kotlin queries and nearly four times as high as SwiftUI queries in 2023, according to Google Trends. Additionally, Flutter has a significant presence on GitHub (where both professional developers and enthusiasts gather), with nearly 650,000 repositories.

Major companies like Alibaba, BMW, eBay, Square, Groupon, and CapitalOne trust and use Flutter. This indicates the popularity of the framework and the trust in it by corporations.

As for the native development, this method is mostly used by the developers of the Android (Google) and iOS (Apple) platforms, so the most interesting examples of applications can be seen in stock solutions. Regarding third-party applications, they are most often developed using cross-platform frameworks because it is easier than building separate versions of mobile apps.

5. Code maintenance

The best thing about Flutter is that it has a single codebase, which significantly simplifies and speeds up the application maintenance process. Unlike native technologies that require changes to be made in each app version, in Flutter, you can simply edit the code, add new features or integrations, and save the changes immediately for all iterations of the application.

Moreover, the hot reload feature will also reflect the changes made in real-time. It is convenient, efficient, and innovative.

With native frameworks, it's necessary to separately maintain each mobile application version. This increases support costs and is less efficient than cross-platform technologies with a single codebase.

6. UI components

As we've already mentioned Flutter has a powerful widget library and composition tools for rapid prototyping and customization of the app's interface. 

As for native development, a separate design is implemented for each version of the mobile app. Additionally, stock SDKs do not have built-in generative functions. This somewhat increases the time it takes to create interface elements and effectively prevents compatibility (reducing the UX for the audience transitioning between systems) between apps for different platforms.

7. Testing & Integration 

Speaking of testing and integrations, it's worth noting that when developers create apps using native SDKs, they usually need to use additional tools like Selenium, JMeter, and Postman for testing. However, Flutter comes with its own set of tools for testing and integration, such as Flutter driver for automated testing and Flutter CI for continuous integration and deployment.

8. Cost of development

On average, the cost of development with Flutter is lower than that with native frameworks. Since it has a single codebase and interprets commands directly during the application's operation in the system, fewer resources might be used for its development. That is, less time, effort, and specialists are required.

For native development, a larger team (sometimes meaning more time) is required, along with quite specific skills. Also, additional resources are required to support and modernize apps, which is not always a cost-effective solution.

Flutter vs Native: Nubank case

Let's look at Flutter through the prism of a real application and for this let's take the case of Nubank. The goal of the Nubank team was to identify optimal frameworks for migrating the application to cross-platform solutions instead of using native technologies.

Theoretically, this was supposed to reduce deployment time and lower maintenance costs. In practice, they achieved the desired result simply by comparing the potential of Kotlin Native, React Native, and Flutter. Switching to Flutter led to a 30% improvement in success metrics and a 600% faster deployment of new mobile app iterations.

And how about creating and releasing a life insurance feature in just three months? Such mobility is exactly what the Nubank team has been able to achieve after switching to Flutter.

Could Flutter Eventually Replace Native Development?

Given Flutter's rapid development, expanding capabilities, and narrowing gap with native technologies, it could potentially replace Kotlin and SwiftUI in the future. While it's not yet as productive as native solutions, even iOS and Android developers are enhancing their platforms for better technology compatibility.

In the next five years, the industry will see significant changes due to AI integration, like Copilot, transforming development processes. This might positively impact Flutter, making it the go-to solution for app development.

Wrap up

We can state that Flutter is not yet a cure for all business needs but is on the right path. You can use its potential to present your digital product quickly and vividly to a broad audience, regardless of the devices they use.

Flutter offers an affordable way to enter the market, ensuring almost native performance and a high level of UX.

However, native development still maintains its market share, as it is indispensable when it is necessary to implement a high-performance mobile app with maximum compatibility between the application code and the OS functionality.

So, if you want to launch your product, consult with FTL experts. We will guide you on where to start, what to focus on, and how to develop a digital solution.