Three Reasons Flutter is a Viable Cross-Platform Framework

Three Reasons Flutter is a Viable Cross-Platform Framework

Flutter, as you may know from one of our previous blogs, is Google’s cross-platform mobile development framework. Flutter has recently entered beta as of February 27th. I have only been working with this framework for about a month here at Shockoe, but in my limited exposure, I have seen the many ways in which Flutter can improve our delivery to clients.

 

For most products in any field, there are two important aspects of development: time to market and product quality. If there are ways for us as a company to improve these areas we have an obligation to look into them. With that in mind, I was eager to explore Flutter. Here are three reasons I believe Flutter is a viable cross-platform framework.

 

1. Flutter’s Implementation of Widgets.

 

One of the key fundamentals of Flutter is that everything is a widget. I really like this concept as Google provides many out-of-the-box options to help speed up development. Flutter doesn’t have a bridge to the native world as many other cross-platform frameworks have. Instead, Flutter controls every pixel on the screen, which allows for various great options for custom UI to be tailored to a client’s every need. With that, the widget catalog also gives developers a plethora of options to mimic native controls. This enables any idea to use the catalog to create a beautiful product without compromising quality. The following graphic gives a great visual of how widgets can be laid out for specific components:

 

Flutter’s-Implementation-of-Widgets

 

The section above is made up of four types of widgets. The parent row would be the outermost element containing 3 columns which each contain an icon and text. There’s a huge advantage to having a widget for seemingly almost everything, and the list will only continue to grow.

 

2. Fantastic Debugging Tools.

 

Flutter includes plenty of tools that have sped up development, including one of my personal favorites: the hot reload. With almost any update to the UI, you can use hot reload to instantly see all changes made. Additionally, Flutter offers plug-ins for multiple IDE’s (VS Code, IntelliJ). I personally use IntelliJ and the plug-in provides autofill, debugging, among many others features. Debugging within the IDE contains an abundance of options, but overall, my favorite is the debug painting tool. This tool allows the developer to see the borders on all of their widgets along with the paddings and margins to help clarify where a widget might need to be adjusted.

 

Fantastic-Debugging-ToolsAnother notable feature is the toggle platform tool which allows users to see the UI differences between iOS and Android with the click of a button on the IDE. This debugging tool helps keep development quick and efficient while maintaining quality across platforms.

 

3. Flutter’s Great Documentation.

 

When I was introduced to Flutter, I was excited and daunted by the task of learning a new language. As I started to dive into the documentation and was pleasantly surprised by how thorough it was. It made it extremely easy to start creating applications. Flutter uses Dart, which is a programming language developed by Google. A Javascript or Java developer should be able to transition to Dart with relative ease.

 

Overall, I’m excited to see the future of Flutter. As the community grows, I’m looking forward to seeing the plug-ins that are created and the new projects we will undertake at Shockoe! I have confidence that if a client comes to us with an idea, we will exceed their every need using Flutter to increase development speed without compromising quality.

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: 

Check out the latest from our developers!

SQL vs NoSQL, the ultimate database match

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Google Flutter goes Beta at #MWC18

Google Flutter goes Beta at #MWC18

What is Flutter? 

 

According to Google, Flutter is a mobile UI framework for creating high-quality native interfaces on iOS and Android. As a Google Partner and a company that has focused on building cross-platform mobile solutions for individuals and organizations, it is amazing to see a product like Flutter be released into Beta.

 

Better than other Cross-Platform Solutions

 

First of all, this initiative is backed by Google, which gives it a strong start. Also, the performance and platform integration are seamless and the structure allows us to build at high speed with great performance on both major platforms (iOS and Android.) Sure, there are some bugs and shortcomings, but that is always expected in a Beta version. We are on a trial run and, so far, our team loves it.

 

 

The team at Flutter highlights the benefits best on their Medium Post (Seth Ladd, Product Manager @ Google for Flutter):

 

  • High-velocity development with features like stateful Hot Reload, a new reactive framework, rich widget set, and integrated tooling.
  • Expressive and flexible designs with composable widget sets, rich animation libraries, and a layered, extensible architecture.
  • High-quality experiences across devices and platforms with our portable, GPU-accelerated renderer and high-performance, native ARM code runtime.

 

As a cross-platform mobile application development company, we are very excited about this solution because we can start using it immediately with our current apps. We don’t need to write our complete app in Flutter, we can simply add new Flutter-based screens to existing apps. Flutter is better than most of the cross-platform solutions we use today because it allows us, not only to build for two platforms but to make changes to the source code and see the UI updates in seconds, making the development process significantly faster.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Flutter, please reach out to schedule an informational meeting.

 

google-flutter-goes-beta

 

Mobile World Congress (#MWC18)

 

MWC is one of the biggest events on the mobile calendar. This year, more than in the past, the focus is going beyond our traditional understanding of Mobile Apps and pushing into the connected life or what MWC is calling “Intelligently Connected.”

 

Follow Shockoe to keep up to date on the key themes this year:

 

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI & ML)
  • Forthcoming 5G & LTE enablement
  • IoT smart city technology and edge computing devices
  • Big data and analytics
  • Technology in society and net neutrality
  • Consumer smartphone and tablet devices

SQL vs NoSQL, the ultimate database match

SQL vs NoSQL, the ultimate database match

In the blue corner, SQL stands with an arched back and titanium walker. In the red corner, NoSQL maintains steady movement and a toddler’s impatience.

Created in the early 1970s, SQL was the unrivaled choice for applications both large and small that were in need of storing, managing, and retrieving data. Deciding to implement a SQL-driven database was a no-brainer for developers and system architects because it was unmatched by its alternatives not only in reliability but also in its reporting capabilities. In recent years, however, SQL, the once unrivaled query language, is being replaced slowly but surely by the new kid on the block: NoSQL.

Let’s take a moment to evaluate and discuss the differences and similarities of these database models with a few areas of focus. For the sake of this discussion, we will use MongoDB as the NoSQL example and MySQL for the SQL example, but the assertions for NoSQL are not limited or specific to Mongo but also apply to numerous other NoSQL campers like MapReduce, Bigtable, Cassandra, and others. Many of these NoSQL technologies have similar capabilities and advantages, as well as weaknesses. Similarly, on the SQL/RDBMS side, we will reference MySQL, but the same ideas carry over for other solutions like Oracle, SQL Server, and others.

The Back Story
We first need a bit of backstory. We’ll begin by asking ourselves what SQL vs. NoSQL really means. To answer this we have to understand what a database and a database system are. Now, bear with me here, without trying to bore you to death, we may agree that a database is a system for storing and managing data and a database system is a program for managing databases. Got that? So next, the data in a database has to be organized in some way. The way in which various database systems choose to organize their data is referred to as a database model, and this is where SQL and NoSQL come in. On the surface, think of SQL as the relational model and NoSQL as the non-relational model. Diving deeper, we find that the relational model uses set theory and predicate logic, in which the data looks like it is organized in tables and columns, while the NoSQL model stores data as key-value pairs without any strict relation to each other. End of backstory; you’ve uncovered the plot, so now let’s jump straight to the three-round fight scene.

Ding!

Data scientists and architects assert that SQL is not out for the count, and I agree. Relational databases have a huge advantage compared to these wannabe newcomers primarily because they have excellent tooling, community, and support. The “why change what’s working?” question comes up pretty often when developers and system architects are faced with the decision of rolling out a data management tool. SQL offers two main advantages: first, it introduces the concept of accessing many records with one single command; and second, it eliminates the need to specify how to reach a record; e.g., with or without an index. Since most NoSQL databases lack the ability for joins in queries, the database schema generally needs to be designed differently and lends itself to some inefficiencies, giving SQL round one of this match by a small margin.

Popular NoSQL databases were pioneered by top Internet companies like Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook to overcome the drawbacks of the relational model. The relational model is not always the best solution for all situations as it cannot meet the increasing growth of unstructured data.

NoSQL is better for unstructured data

You may have paused to ask yourself why some organizations have unstructured data. Well, social media posts and multimedia are only two examples of unstructured data, which should answer that question, but more importantly, since the world’s data is doubling every two years, companies now have a much greater need to not only store and accommodate unstructured data, but also to aggregate and use this data meaningfully. This is where the relational model takes a hit to the face giving round two to NoSQL.

Round three has three main focus; performance, planning, and price. Ideally, this is where the rubber meets the road in this decision. With NoSQL, instead of retrieving all the data

with one query, it is common to do several queries to get the desired data, but NoSQL queries are often faster than relational SQL queries so the cost of having to do additional queries may be acceptable. So if an excessive number of queries would be necessary and the company’s culture values performance, SQL or NoSQL may take the performance point for this round.

Planning is the second judge and it is very important, yet subjective. SQL databases have predefined schemas while NoSQL databases use a dynamic schema due to the nature of unstructured data. Therefore, SQL databases can be scaled vertically whereas NoSQL databases can be scaled horizontally. This means that to scale an SQL database, we simply increase the processing power of the hardware, while to scale a NoSQL database, we increase database servers in the pool of resources to reduce the load. Based on the organization’s planning culture, either SQL or NoSQL can take the planning point and this leave price as the final factor.

All companies make an effort to keep cost low so price an important factor. Most, if not all NoSQL databases are open source or very very low cost, which makes them very appealing. For the example, MongoDB, Couchbase, CloudDB, and Amazon’s Dynamo DB all allow very affordable implementations. On the other hand, among the major players in the SQL space, only MySQL (and its fork MariaDB) offers an open source solution. Both Oracle and SQL Server can be very expensive solutions due to the support they offer, which is usually readily available from their vendors or a fair number of independent consultants. NoSQL databases rely mainly on community support.

The Judge’s Decision
Depending on your vantage point or who you ask, some may agree that this match could have ended in a technical draw a few paragraphs prior, where unstructured data was a definite need and nothing else mattered. Another vantage point may have revealed that this match has ended in a TKO if no budget was allocated to database implementations and management couldn’t care less about database models, giving priority to an open-source-only solution. Ultimately, you decide who wins round three and therefore the match.

Despite your vantage point or decision, we all can agree that SQL and NoSQL serve very different purposes, with their own unique strengths and weaknesses; without them, developers and system architects would have been pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to utilize data locked away in filing cabinets to generate predictive analysis and graphs.

Ding!

 

Editor’s Note: 

Learn more about what our developers choose as their everyday tools and what our thoughts on these are:

Comparing React Native to Axway Titanium 

Kotlin: Three Reasons to Start Using it Today 

Node.js – Storing data with MongoDB

How to Choose the Right Software Development Firm

How to Choose the Right Software Development Firm

Thousands of companies have adopted enterprise mobile apps during a time when they were becoming popular and they wanted to “check the box” that they had an app. While most companies understand the benefits of mobile technology, unfortunately, some have failed to exercise due diligence when developing their app and selecting the proper vendor for their project. There are many great mobile development firms out there, but making sure you have a good fit for a particular project is the most important factor to consider when selecting a vendor. Let’s go through the checklist of items that should be considered any time your organization wants to develop an enterprise app.

1. Does the developer have previous experience with similar projects?

This is an important question to ask because the quality and agility of the project will be significantly better if the mobile dev team has completed a similar project before. For example, if you’re in the banking industry, look for a firm that has made banking apps before. They may have made other great apps for other industries, but that doesn’t always translate into a successful project in yours.

2. Does the vendor have a dedicated UI/UX team?

If the answer is no, immediately disqualify that vendor. Huge mistake companies have made was neglecting the end-user experience. The “it doesn’t matter if it looks that great because they have to use it anyway” line of thinking is counterintuitive with the premise of increasing employee work performance and satisfaction. A dedicated and experienced UI/UX team will make sure the app is intuitive. After all, a user interface is like a jokeif you have to explain it, then it’s not very good

3. Look at customer reviews.

Most mobile agencies, if they have been in the industry long enough, will have customer reviews. These can be found on sites like Clutch and GoodFirms and can provide great insight into how successful similar projects were and how easy it is to work with their team.

4. Get to know the team.

When selecting the right firm, get to know the team that will be assigned to your project. Typically a team will consist of a couple developers, a designer, and a project manager. It’s important to get to know these people to determine how easy it will be to work with them, and also to decipher if they are qualified to take on your project.

5. Look for someone who is concerned with the overall objective, not just the app.

Mobile agencies need to understand the “big picture” that the client wants to accomplish. Some developers may get caught up with the app development and making it really “sweet,” which is good, but clients don’t care about how cool the app is if it doesn’t address the business objectives it is supposed to help accomplish.

6. Don’t get hung up on price.

The saying that “you get what you pay for” has never been truer than in the mobile dev industry. A huge mistake that a lot of companies have made was selecting vendors who proposed the lowest prices. More often than not, those apps did not perform as desired and business goals were never realized. Make sure the mobile agency you select fits all the other criteria, and then discuss pricing.

7. Ask for a demo.

Even if the app is custom, always ask for a demo of an existing app that is similar to the project you want to be completed. This is the easiest way to determine the quality of the apps that could be developed for your company.

8. Ask a lot of questions.

This seems like a no-brainer, but failing to ask lots of questions was a common mistake made by companies that paid for apps during the initial mobile app frenzy. In an effort to save money by going with the cheapest vendor, these companies instead wasted money on apps that didn’t meet their needs. In the long run, they spent more on app development than they would have had they chosen the best agency for the job instead of the cheapest. Bring in all the internal stakeholders and come up with a list of questions to ask the vendor to make sure no details are left out, which could be detrimental to the project down the line.

9. Do they know your industry?

Mobile agencies that understand your industry and business are invaluable. Instead of just taking orders and accepting the requirements, look for a firm that can challenge your own ideas and provide insight that you may not have thought of before. If they are experienced, they should know plenty about how certain apps work within your business and be able to provide best practices for the project.

In conclusion, after taking everything on this list into consideration, you should be able to narrow down the mobile development firm that is right for your project. Even if your company has had a bad experience in the past, following these guidelines should help you avoid wasting money on an app that in the end does nothing to push the objectives of your business.

Ready to get to know the Shockoe team? Reach out to us and see if we’re a good fit for your next app development project. 

5 Ways Shockoe Supercharged Mobile Workflow

5 Ways Shockoe Supercharged Mobile Workflow

Here at Shockoe, we work on a variety of applications for clients around the world, so it’s not uncommon for our developers to work on more than one project at a time. It’s pretty standard that everyone, at some point or another, is involved in multiple builds for multiple devices. Multiple builds for multiple devices can get unwieldy, so we have crafted a few solutions to help keep our development smooth and efficient.

We supercharged our mobile workflow by:

1. Building a system to distribute our apps

Shockoe created a system for the app teams, including clients and mobile testers, to download and install the app right on their phones. But this isn’t enough on its own. Developers love to automate things, so along with our distribution system, we have been using Jenkins to automate the process of building the apps and uploading them to the website.

2. Using Jenkins to automate builds

We updated our Jenkins continuous integration system to automatically put new builds on our app distribution system whenever developers push new code. We needed a continuous integration system that was easy to maintain, but powerful and flexible enough to handle all of the projects we work on at any given time.

3. Using Gulp.js to automate building apps

The next hurdle we faced was being able to build a wide array of different mobile platforms and frameworks without overwhelming our developers. Every platform has its own unique build process. At Shockoe, we’ve started using Gulp.js to handle building each project, understanding that each coding language has its own set of unique requirements. Gulp acts as a task runner to allow developers to define and run repeatable build steps using Node.js. Gulp allows us to reuse a lot of code between different platforms, and it makes tracking down any build errors much easier because we know exactly which step failed. Using Gulp for our builds also means that the build process is portable. Any of our developers are able to perform builds and upload the apps in the event that our Jenkins computer ever stops working.

4. Automating the building and deployment of our solutions onto remote servers

After the process of building and deploying apps was finished, we moved on to automating our web projects. This was more straightforward than building an app. Again, we leveraged Gulp to remotely connect to the server that hosts the site, pull any new code changes, and finally build the site again. Automating this process also cut down on the number of errors made when deploying a site, thus avoiding simple mistakes like using a test configuration in a production environment.

5. Running automated tests and reporting the results

Earlier, I mentioned that part of the build process includes running automated tests on our projects. Jenkins has many tools and plugins to simplify this process. There are plugins to automatically launch an Android emulator or an iOS simulator when the tests start, and to close it after all the tests have finished. We chose Appium as our automated testing framework. Appium tests can tap, swipe, and type inside apps automatically. Automating the testing process makes it easier to test our solutions more often and more consistently. Each project in the Jenkins dashboard has a section for the test results of every build. This means you can see which changes were made in a build and whether those changes affected any of the project’s tests. When Jenkins does find a test that fails, it immediately notifies the team using Slack. With multiple developers often working on the same project, this step is helpful in finding bugs as soon as they are introduced.

To Summarize

By automating the process of delivering our apps to our stakeholders, we are able to iterate much more quickly on our products and cut down on the number of errors. Building our own website that allows us to control who can download our apps means we don’t have to worry about uploading our apps to different file share sites, or attaching them to an email and sending it to everyone who needs it. The flexibility of Jenkins means that our build computers can continually be upgraded or replaced if necessary. If our build is ever too slow, we can just add more computing power to our Jenkins setup.

Using Jenkins with Gulp allowed us to really speed things up. Since Gulp is powered by Node, our developers found it easy to jump right in and start extending the build process with new tasks like deploying and updating websites automatically.

The final step was to use the wide array of plugins for Jenkins to run automated tests, report the results, and notify the development team when something goes wrong. All of these steps helped our developers concentrate on what is really important: delivering a high-quality product without worrying about constantly building and sending apps.

 

Note from Editor:

If you’re interested in learning more about what our developers are using as everyday tools, check out these Blogs:

How to Document an Existing API Using Swagger

Debugging Titanium Applications using Safari Web Inspector

Kotlin: Three Reasons To Start Using It Today

Interested in what it would take to kick off your project?

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