Power Platform

Mobile apps development boom: Power Apps vs Flutter

November 8, 2021

Under the hood of the two approaches

Mobile apps development reigns supreme as the world relishes the digitization of business activities. Day by day, they all migrate to gadgets – smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Half a billion applications will see the world in the next five years, Microsoft predicts. Therefore, the newer hassle-free (so-called at least), cost-efficient, and fast-to-develop cross-platform solutions – Power Apps and Flutter, each backed by a world giant – Microsoft and Google respectively (though Flutter is, in fact, an open-source UI software development kit) – are in a position of advantage now, as they help keep up with the mobile application boom.

“Flutter, which is a development framework from Google, and Power Apps, a low-code service from Microsoft, are both relatively young yet robust cross-platform technologies for creating some much needed, functional and efficient mobile solutions for business relatively quickly – whether for Android or iOS.”

– Nicolai Krarup, COO at Global Mediator

At Global Mediator, we work with both technologies. And while neither of them is likely to replace more traditional app development platforms in the near future, we would like to single out these two viable options that may turn a winning strategy when building a mobile app – whatever you choose, depending on your preferences and needs. Since any comparison must be based on a list of certain criteria, we weighed the set of the key ones to help you form an opinion about the technologies.

Ease of use

Programming language and code usage. Flutter, an open-source hybrid technology, implies being familiar with Dart – a programming language that is a sensible middle between Java and JavaScript and the backbone for Flutter code and UI. The programming language is optimized for users (a developer-friendly language) and that makes it one of the main benefits of choosing Flutter as the technology to build an app with. Unlike Flutter, which does imply being Dart-savvy, Power Apps implies being on familiar terms with Microsoft Excel, which is the basis for Microsoft Power Fx – an open-source formula language used by Power Apps. Such similarity makes things much easier and boosts the development process.

Technology building elements. In Flutter, all elements of the app UI are created with fully customizable widgets – like icons, text, images, etc. In fact, everything in Flutter is a widget. The framework does not depend on any native components. Instead, the developers leverage widget trees (including both visible elements like icons and the ones that remain in the background like containers), set the necessary parameters and arrange, size, and align the widgets to create a friendly UI with beautiful visuals and animated elements – meaning that both UI elements and business logic are built with Dart. In Power Apps development, the UI is quite simple and built with elements called controls. A huge benefit of the app building process leveraging the Power Apps is its drag-and-drop functionality, which dramatically accelerates the development cycle and the time to market.

Applications’ UI design. The UI design of the applications created with Power Apps is somewhat bounded by the simplicity of the technology, but in no way does it undermine the app’s performance. If a modest design is not an option and a fancier one is preferred, Flutter is good to go here.

Previewing the apps. The responsive debug/preview modes in both technologies facilitate the development cycle. Two types of compilation are available for Flutter – making it some sort of middle ground for developers. A classical Ahead-of-Time (AOT) compilation makes the final app as fast as a native one. The Just-in-Time (JIT) compilation – a great tool for debugging – instantly displays any changes made by the developer and helps test the app straight away. Similarly, there is a preview mode available in Power Apps to test the changes on the go as the developer sets/updates the application parameters, modifies its layout and UI, and more.

Integrations. One of the greatest advantages of Flutter is that it integrates with practically any other app and can work with the device’s hardware like cameras, sensors, flashlights, etc. The thing is that these integrations are impossible as the “out of the box” options, so either the ready-to-use components or additional coding might be necessary. Power Apps, on the other hand, seamlessly integrates with the Microsoft ecosystem connectors like Office 365 Outlook, SharePoint, MS Teams, Dynamics tools, and many others. Moreover, over 300 connectors are available to connect Power Apps to external sources – and the number of the connectors increases each day.

Databases used. One of the undeniable benefits of Power Apps development is the ability to get data from one or multiple sources – including MS Dataverse and external sources of your choice. Something to consider here is the fact that connecting to external databases might be quite challenging in case the existing connectors do not meet your needs and a specific one must be built from scratch. So, even though the Power Apps service is positioned as a “low code for a citizen developer”, the assistance of software engineers is very much appropriate. Flutter uses a single codebase to create natively compiled apps for mobile, web, and desktop. The Google toolkit deals flawlessly with Firebase – a BaaS app development platform that provides, among others, the services like real-time database and cloud storage. Flutter database options are not limited to Firebase exclusively – other databases can also be opted for.

Flutter and Power Apps – young yet robust cross-platform technologies for efficient mobile solutions

Application areas and data security

That is where the most interesting part of the story begins. Unlike Flutter, which may become the base for various types of applications, Power Apps is used to build solutions for business purposes within the Microsoft ecosystem. It might seem like a limiting factor at first sight, but being a part of the Microsoft family is a security guarantee due to its licensing policies. This is how it works: download the Power Apps from either Play Market or App Store to your mobile device or tablet. Sign in to Power Apps with your Microsoft account to access the specific applications set based on your Microsoft license. And voilà – you are ready to use Power Apps. In Flutter, data security depends to a high degree on the application developer’s skills. Even though Flutter allows authorization via several ways like Google account, Apple ID, Facebook, and Microsoft too, these options are possible due to additional coding.

Adaptation to platforms

Flutter seamlessly adjusts to different platforms: the single codebase allows for the app to be identically functional and beautifully designed on either Android or iOS, as well as Web, Windows, MacOS, and Linux. The story is a little different with Power Apps which does not adapt to different platforms as easily as Flutter does. To leverage Power Apps, it must be downloaded separately for Android and iOS platforms. Also, Power Apps does not adjust to the device screen size so separate applications must be created for mobile devices and tablets. Though the platform usage simplicity and development speed neutralize such a peculiarity. And since Microsoft strongly promotes the platform, they might someday want to fix such an oddity.

Final Score

Needless to say, there are several elements about the Flutter/Power Apps choice to consider. Either Power Apps or Flutter is a reasonable option to accelerate the time to market – due to the low code technology and widget-based framework respectively. Both technologies are successfully applied to building internal business apps – considering the foremost goal of the application. In case a beautiful design is a must in addition to fast application response, Flutter is at your service. If a less fancy, but fast-to-develop app is needed – Power Apps, secured by Microsoft licensing, is a good pick. So, which one would you choose?

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