Why Google’s Dart and Flutter are so popular for app design

  • Dart, a programming language built by Google and used for mobile development, was named by GitHub last year as the fastest growing programming language, growing by 532%.
  • Its growth was driven by Flutter, a toolkit developed by Google that allows developers to easily design the look and feel of apps and make changes in real time.
  • Here’s why Dart and Flutter have become popular among companies like eBay and Groupon for building mobile apps.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

In 2011, Google released a programming language called Dart to help engineers develop applications. This ultimate language has become the “secret sauce” for an open source toolkit called Flutter that Google launched in 2017 to help users design the look of mobile and web apps.

Dart’s popularity has skyrocketed since:

Last year, open source project hosting platform GitHub named Dart the fastest growing programming language, as usage increased 532% on its site between October 2018 and September 2019 (GitHub did not disclose data for the fastest growing programming languages ​​this year).

Flutter and Dart allow developers to build fast, stylish, and useful apps, and allow designers and developers to collaborate faster and easier, including seeing changes in real time.

Today, big companies like eBay, BMW, Square, Groupon, Capital One and, of course, Google itself are using Flutter and Dart to build their apps. The duo have also taken off in China, with giants like Alibaba, Baidu, ByteDance and Tencent also using them. Currently, the Google Play Store has about 125,000 apps built with Dart and Flutter, according to Google.

“You see a lot of other companies starting to experiment,” Larry McKenzie, senior developer at Flutter and chief technical officer at eBay told Business Insider. He added that even banks or companies that traditionally don’t have “strong engineering depth” are learning to embrace Flutter.

An August survey of the Flutter team showed that the percentage of its users working for companies increased from 26% to 31% between May and August.

Here’s how Dart and Flutter started at Google and how they became popular thanks to an increase in demand for mobile apps:

How Google Built and Uses Dart to Ensure Its Apps Are “Battle-Tested”

Google started creating Dart in 2011 to see if it could increase the speed of development and scripting, which allows a program to perform tasks automatically. The language is designed for large-scale applications and also works with JavaScript, the most popular programming language for web development.

“We started to create this framework on a trial basis and found that you can create great experiences that leverage learning for the web,” says Tim Sneath, Google’s director of product management for Flutter and Dart .

Google has since used Dart to build some of its larger apps, including the Google Pay app, the company’s Google Ads platform for selling ads, and the app associated with the Stadia gaming platform.

“It gives us confidence when we ship to other external customers,” Sneath said. “They can count on Dart because he is battle tested.”

In 2014, Google also launched Flutter as “a bit of an experiment,” Sneath explains. Initially it was called Sky and still used JavaScript, but the team realized that Dart was a better fit. Flutter makes it easy for developers to design the look, feel, and feel of their apps. It lets them “control every pixel on the screen,” Sneath explains, and includes customizable widgets for features like scrolling, navigation, icons, and fonts.

Since Flutter works on any platform, developers don’t have to worry about designing different versions of their app for different types or generations of devices.

“As a designer you have a lot more control over the visuals,” Sneath said. “You’re never limited in trying to maintain compatibility on those older iPhone and Android devices, so you can create with whatever widgets, design, and visuals you want. “

Notably, Flutter also uses a technique called “stateful hot reload”, which allows developers to see what changes they make in their application would look like in real time.

For example, a designer can sit down with a developer, make suggestions on what to tweak, and then watch those changes happen, live, as the developer tweaks the code. The feedback loop between designers and developers thus becomes much narrower.

“Flutter is a canvas for [developers’] wildest dreams, “said Sneath,” and we want to make that possible for them. “

Jamie Iannone ebay

EBay CEO Jamie Iannone.

Harry Murphy / Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

How companies like eBay and Groupon are using Dart

When Google released version 1.0 of Flutter in December 2018, eBay was creating its Motors app, which is used to buy and sell cars and parts.

As the team assessed what was needed to create the app, they ultimately decided to use Flutter as it was the best technology that met all of their requirements like speed and compatibility for different mobile devices. . The team would run workshops to try out Flutter and learn Dart.

These tools made it easy for developers to create the Motors app. For example, the team created an image gallery feature with Dart for the Motors app that allows them to categorize images of cars listed on eBay.

“It’s a technological choice that we made that we believe would help us move forward quickly,” McKenzie said. “It’s been very successful so far.”

Likewise, Groupon worked last year on improving its tools for merchants and small businesses and used Dart to develop mobile apps that allow merchants to manage their business interactions, which they need to put in place. set up individual campaigns or manage payments.

The team was looking for ways to speed up the release of their code. So she looked at various platforms, including Facebook’s React and Flutter. Some teammates who work on mobile apps had read about Dart and Flutter, so they came up with the idea of ​​using it.

The team ultimately went with Flutter because it was easy to use and involved the designers. Additionally, Groupon CTO John Higginson says it’s faster than other options, including Facebook’s open source mobile app development software React Native.

Groupon Worker Office

Workers work on projects at Groupons international headquarters on June 10, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Plus, because Dart is similar to Java – a programming language widely used by Groupon – it was easy for engineers to understand.

“It’s a pretty familiar language,” Higginson said. “It doesn’t take a ton of learning or retraining to be productive.”

Engineers can use Flutter and Dart to write mobile apps that work for both iOS and Android.

“For the ecosystem itself with Dart and Flutter, we really love the ability to create compelling user experiences,” Higginson said.

Why is Dart growing so fast

For engineers, Dart is an entry point for building mobile apps, and large companies are turning to Flutter to facilitate mobile app development, which has contributed to Dart’s popularity.

As Higginson mentioned, Dart isn’t hard to learn either. EBay’s McKenzie said there was no learning curve for his team:

“It’s pretty easy to learn and pretty easy to write,” he said. “That means you spend a lot less time explaining the language to people. You have a lot less complicated code.”

Additionally, the enthusiasm of the open source community has helped Dart and Flutter become one of the biggest software projects on GitHub, according to Google’s Sneath. Dart and Flutter Meetups have sprung up around the world. The Flutter Interact conference was attended by 150 people last year, but over 800,000 connected virtually and over 10,000 conference-related community groups participated.

Google has also been particularly helpful in providing resources and new features for using Dart and Flutter, which has helped it grow rapidly, said Groupon’s Higginson.

But the main reason Dart has grown so fast, according to McKenzie, is because he’s fun to use. This allows for rapid development cycles, allowing engineers to get instant feedback, making the experience “a lot more fun,” he said.

“The users absolutely loved it,” McKenzie said. “This is the kind of thing that is really driving that growth, because you start to have time to think about it, to play and to experience, and to do things that you never have. done before. “

Flutter has become popular in China and more recently in India which has even overtaken China as the country with the most Flutter developers.

The future of Dart

The industry is on the cusp of a new generation of programming languages, says Groupon’s Higginson, and the rise in popularity of Dart proves it. Today, Java and Python are widely used, but Higginson predicts that Dart, Rust, and Elixir will be more popular in the future.

Right now, Dart is primarily focused on mobile development, but Higginson can see it becoming a general-purpose language, similar to how Python has grown significantly from its roots in data analytics. Already, developers can use Dart to build payment services, data models, desktop apps, and more.

Read more: Python has overtaken Java as one of the most popular programming languages ​​in the world, according to GitHub. Here’s how a boom in AI jobs is helping developers use easy-to-learn language to land six-figure salaries.

McKenzie only expects the trajectory of Dart use and adoption to continue.

“The development experience with Dart is so superior to traditional Android and traditional iOS development that once you try it,” McKenzie said, “you never want to go back.”

Do you have any advice? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected], Signal at 646.376.6106, Telegram at @rosaliechan or Twitter DM at @ rosaliechan17. (PR pitch by email only, please.) Other types of secure messaging available on request.

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