Mate, have a Flutter on the Darts: Google's mobe app toolkit for Fuchsia, others emerges

Preview release arrives to entice devs who believe cross-platform code is a good idea

Dart board

On Wednesday, Google's cross-platform mobile framework Flutter reached Preview Release 1, a designation that places the code somewhere between buggy beta and less buggy 1.0.

"The shift from beta to release preview signals our confidence in the stability and quality of what we have, and our focus on bug fixing and stabilization," said Google group product manager Tim Sneath in a blog post.

Introduced in May 2017, Flutter provides a way for Linux, macOS and Windows developers to create mobile apps in the Dart programming language that can run on Android, iOS or Google Fuchsia, an operating system that Google is working on.

There's no shortage of cross-platform mobile frameworks, despite the fact that native frameworks tend to give developers more options to take advantage of hardware, if they choose to do so.

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Developers seeking to write once and deploy on two or more platforms can use Microsoft's Xamarin, React Native, Ionic, Adobe PhoneGap and the associated open source project Apache Cordova, to name a few possible options. And that doesn't include gaming-oriented frameworks like Unity and Corona.

But the possibility that Flutter apps might eventually be usable on Fuchsia, once it starts showing up on actual devices in a year or two or whenever, makes the framework uniquely appealing to developers anxious about missing out what could be, maybe, the next platform landrush.

Such trend-chasing may appear unseemly, but developers learned from the arrival of the iOS App Store that early platform colonists have an opportunity to prosper before the market becomes saturated with competitors.

A Fuchsia future

Priming the developer pump through Flutter also provides Google with a way to ensure that compatible apps will be ready the moment its Fuchsia hardware arrives, without the need to wait for developers to get up to speed. The alternative, encouraging the creation of apps once the platform has been built didn't work out so well for Microsoft's Windows Phone.

The arrival of Preview Release 1 was announced at the GMTC Global Front-End Conference in Beijing, China because Chinese developers have shown interest in the technology.

Sneath says Alibaba has deployed a Flutter-based app to millions of devices and Tencent is in the process of rolling out a Flutter app called NOW.

Developers who aim to create apps in Flutter write their code in Dart, a programming language developed by Google and released in 2011 in the hope it could replace JavaScript.

That didn't happen and Dart adoption has remained modest. But Dart's utility in Fuchsia could change that.

The emergence of a Flutter community could help too. Sneath says many new packages have been contributed to the Flutter Package site, which stores libraries that can be added to projects for specific functions. There's also a web-based tool for creating Flutter-based user interfaces called Flutter Studio that's being developed.

Release Preview 1 sports broader capabilities than previous incarnations, including support for hardware keyboard and barcode scanners, video recording, and loading application assets from the local application folder.

Those curious enough to kick Flutter's tires can find it here ®.

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