App development has seen a significant shift over the years. Thanks to the rise of cross-platform development frameworks, developers can now create apps for multiple platforms using a single codebase. FlutterFlow UI builder is one of the newest additions to this list of frameworks. Let’s explore what FlutterFlow is, its features, and why it could be the future of app development in the context of early product validation and gathering user feedback.
But first, let's take a trip down memory lane. A few years ago, some Google engineers created a cross-platform app development tool called Flutter that let developers make and run mobile apps for both iOS and Android. The Flutter framework was a big hit because it made the development process faster and more efficient.
Fast forward to today when two former Google engineers decided to venture on their own to create FlutterFlow, which takes the power of Flutter and adds a drag-and-drop interface to make app development even easier. You don't need to be a coding wizard to use FlutterFlow.
Under the Hood — Key Features
FlutterFlow uses Dart just like Flutter, but in FlutterFlow the code is organized in such a manner that you don’t need to be a skilled developer to create digital products. Which brings us to the next feature.
Drag and drop
One of the most notable features of FlutterFlow is that it’s a drag-and-drop app builder. The platform has a wide range of templates, pre-built widgets, and integrations to choose from, so you can create a functional and polished app or web application without writing any code.
Boilerplate code are pre-written code snippets that perform common tasks and can be reused across different components of an app. They are the parts of app code that have to be included for the product to work but the code itself doesn’t do any complex jobs. In FlutterFlow, boilerplate code saves time and effort by providing the necessary functionality that can be easily integrated into an app. Boilerplate functions can be accessed and added to an app through the FlutterFlow visual editor.
Source code and APIs
While it is not necessary to have programming knowledge to use FlutterFlow, the platform allows users to access the source code to further customize their apps beyond the visual editor's capabilities. This feature gives more advanced users the flexibility to modify the generated code, add new functionality, and extend their apps' capabilities. There’s API support using the "External API" widget where you can add third-party services like payment gateways or social media platforms.
UI templates and Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM)
FlutterFlow also offers pre-built UI templates, such as buttons, forms, and layouts, which further speed up the development process. Push notifications go through Firebase Cloud Messaging. Real-time feedback is where you can see changes made to an application in real-time as they are being made. This means that as a user makes changes to their app, they can see those changes reflected immediately, without having to reload or rebuild the app. By integrating Firebase with your FlutterFlow project, you can use Firebase services to build powerful and scalable mobile and web applications without writing much code.
The Enlightenment — What Is FlutterFlow For?
When launching a digital product, it’s important to ship it quickly to your target audience (or at least a small pool of it) to gather data that shapes the product’s next releases. Native app development or cross-platform development in Flutter, although they offer superior capabilities in terms of end product, can take months. So timewise FlutterFlow is looking pretty attractive: it might even be called the go-to MVP builder.
Less time, less money, fast results, all sound great, but maybe too great? We’ll need to dig a little deeper and explore FlutterFlow from a commercial standpoint. Tom Urbanski, product manager at nomtek, used FlutterFlow in one of his projects and gave me the lowdown.
FlutterFlow Pros and Cons in App Development
The catch with FlutterFlow in production development
The biggest catch to using FlutterFlow for app development is that the generated code from FlutterFlow may not be perfect and may require some tweaking to meet your needs. But it can still save you a lot of time and effort in building your Flutter app from scratch. Also, FlutterFlow is a relatively new tool, so it may not be as reliable as some of the more established options. There are bugs to contend with, and updates can be risky as they can potentially break your project without warning. Take a look at the list of issues that Tom encountered.
FlutterFlow updates can be unpredictable and may break the project without any changes made by developers. This issue can be mitigated by conducting additional quality assurance (QA) work.
There are quite many bugs in FlutterFlow, and some of them can be frustrating — without support from a more experienced developer, it can be difficult to figure out how to fix something.
Lack of production and staging support
FlutterFlow doesn’t have support for different environments (such as production and staging). Also, only one Firebase project is available for both production and staging, which can be resolved by using a custom backend or a different low-code backend.
FlutterFlow is a subset of Flutter, which means that not all functionality is available.
Tricky project estimation
The limitations and bugs in FlutterFlow can make the estimation process difficult.
Faulty visual editor
The visual action flow editor can sometimes force developers to copy and paste actions, such as when handling errors.
Low-quality official support
The quality of support from the FlutterFlow team is average. You might have problems getting answers to some of the more complex problems.
Note: For a seasoned developer, all this might look like a load of BS. I mean, why not just do it properly in Flutter and not play around with some amateur app development platform. But writing flawless apps in FlutterFlow is not the point of this builder. So now take a look at the advantages to clear things up.
The good things from the business perspective
While it doesn't look like there are a lot of good things going on with FlutterFlow, when you focus on its core use case, the platform offers a promise.
When you want to get your product to users as fast as possible to start gathering information, FlutterFlow can significantly speed up the development process and with significant savings. With traditional Flutter app development, getting the product to users takes more time, essentially taking away the often critical very early validation with clients. That said, with a validated product idea based on a working product built in FlutterFlow, you can incorporate the learnings into a Flutter-based app and create an awesome app that you know the client will enjoy.
Here’s more on FlutterFlow’s benefits in product development:
Fast development speed for non-complex logic applications
FlutterFlow is a tool for quickly creating basic versions of mobile apps and web pages. However, it is not recommended for long-term development because it has limitations and has yet to fully mature. But it’s great to develop apps and get user feedback and make product decisions.
Not limited to drag-and-drop interface: supports custom code
If a developer needs to switch from FlutterFlow to custom code, the backend can be reused without needing any changes. Also, developers can write custom code to add functionality to their app or web page, though this has some limitations.
FlutterFlow offers very dynamic and collaborative development environment
FlutterFlow offers several features to facilitate team collaboration including a shared workspace, version control, collaboration tools such as comments and chat, roles and permissions, user authentication, and third-party integrations with tools such as Slack and Trello. These features help teams to work together more effectively and efficiently on their projects.
Every week new valuable features arrive which make the tool look promising
FlutterFlow's drag-and-drop user interface is good for small projects but not optimal for larger ones. While FlutterFlow is improving, it may still have bugs and lack some basic functionalities. But there are frequent updates that often solve the more pressing bugs and limitations.
Early-stage companies can jump into the market faster
To avoid depending solely on FlutterFlow, it's best to use it alongside other development tools. There is also a risk of bugs when FlutterFlow automatically updates, but this can be reduced by adding more quality assurance effort.
Gather valuable data with Google Analytics or Mixpanel
FlutterFlow is compatible with popular analytics tools that help businesses collect valuable data to test business hypotheses.
Note: One thing to keep in mind when building products in FlutterFlow. For a project, it is best to have one or two mobile developers with basic Flutter knowledge, paired with support from a backend developer using either custom backend or low-code options. The team should also include a quality assurance team to ensure a high-quality end product.
FlutterFlow — A Tool for Fast Development of Cross-Platform Apps and MVPs
FlutterFlow is a powerful tool that simplifies app building process and changes the way developers approach app development. Its simplicity, pre-built components, and community support make it an attractive option for teams that want to build the first version of a product fast. With the right team and knowledge, FlutterFlow can be a valuable app development tool, especially for MVPs released to get initial user feedback and validate the main business hypothesis. But FlutterFlow isn’t yet ready for sophisticated apps or longer development.
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