Google is aiming to ease cross-platform mobile application development with the Tuesday release of the Flutter toolkit, representing yet another attempt to create a standard to address all possible use cases. That said, Google's position as the creator of Android—and the developer of dozens of iOS apps—puts the company in a much better position to address the needs developers realistically face every day, compared to frameworks such as Apache Cordova.
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According to Google, the primary benefits of Flutter are fourfold. First, it allows developers to have complete control over the app design, claiming that "Flutter lets you control every pixel on the screen, and its powerful compositing capabilities let you overlay and animate graphics, video, text and controls without limitation," adding that the toolkit "enables" Google's Material Design visual design language.
Additionally, Flutter's use of the Dart programming language makes Flutter significantly faster than alternative cross-platform toolkits (or, feasibly, programs developed without the use of said toolkits.) Google touts it as "[being] able to support glitch-free, jank-free graphics at the native speed of your device," and compiling to native 32 or 64-bit ARM code for iOS and Android. It also supports stateful hot reload, making it possible to change code in the app without requiring the app to restart or losing the app state, for more efficient testing and debugging.
Lastly, Google highlights the open source BSD-style license, which prevents any future uncertainty about the use of the toolkit. The tech giant has been embroiled in a years-long legal battle with Oracle, as that company claims that Android violates copyrights and patents due to how Android implements Java.
Google is also working on additional wrappers for Flutter, including Desktop Embedding, letting developers create Electron-style wrappers for their apps, allowing them to run on Windows, OS X, and Linux. The ability to run Flutter apps in web browsers—not just browsers like Chrome that use Google's Blink rendering engine—is also a priority.
A Fuchsia future for Flutter?
Google's mysterious Fuchsia operating system has been in development since at least August 2016, using the Zircon kernel rather than Linux. Flutter, and the underlying Dart language, have been in development slightly longer. Google's creation of a cross-platform mobile application framework could plausibly be inferred as a first step to transitioning developers to writing code which is deployable on Fuchsia.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Flutter is a cross-platform development toolkit which today allows for apps to be written for Android and iOS, and is planned for use with Windows, OS X, Linux, and in browsers in the future.
- Flutter could play a larger part in Google's plans for the Fuchsia operating system, which has been in development at Google since 2016, though no formal announcement of its purpose has been made.
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James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.