Last Updated on
May 11, 2024

Flutter vs Ionic - which should you choose?

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Key takeaways:

Flutter and Ionic are both used to build cross-platform mobile apps, but that’s about where the similarities end. 

They’re fundamentally different technologies that operate in fundamentally different ways.

Here at MobiLoud we’ve developed thousands of apps, and make sure we keep up to date on all the latest mobile technologies. 

In this article, we’ll share our thoughts on Flutter and Ionic. 

We’re going to explain how they work, cover the pros and cons of each, and guide you through choosing the right one. 

Let’s get started

What are Flutter and Ionic?  

Let’s start off by covering the basics of what Flutter and Ionic are, and how they work on a fundamental level. 

What is Flutter?

Flutter was released by Google in 2017, and is a powerful framework for cross-platform app development. 

That means you can build apps for iOS and Android from one single Flutter codebase. 

Flutter official site

With traditional app development you had to write completely different codebases for iOS and Android - so Flutter is a huge efficiency improvement in comparison. 

You can read more about Flutter vs native development in this article.

Flutter’s core features are:

  • Widget-Based Architecture: Widgets are reusable, modifiable UI components and are at the core of Flutter
  • High Performance: Flutter compiles to native machine code for each platform, giving superior performance
  • Ecosystem: Flutter has a vast range of widgets, tools, and general resources thanks to support from Google and a large, growing community

The important thing to understand about Flutter is that everything is a widget. 

Widgets are reusable pieces of Dart code (Flutter’s programming language) that define specific UI components for things like text, images, graphics, layouts, and everything else you could imagine. 

They are the core building blocks that lay the foundation of every Flutter app. There are hundreds of core widgets alone, which Flutter developers combine into a tree

This builds the UI, which is rendered onto the device’s screen via Skia, an open-source 2D graphics engine beloved by Google. This gives granular control of every pixel on the screen, and allows for complete consistency of UX across platforms. 

Flutter has shot to the top of the app development world over the past few years, powering countless well-known apps for brands like AliBaba, ByteDance, Google Classroom, and many others. 

If you want to read about Flutter in more detail, check out this article where we break everything down.

Otherwise, let's move on to Ionic.

What is Ionic?

In tech terms, Ionic is rather old, released in 2012 by developer and designer duo, Max Lynch and Ben Sperry. 

Fundamentally, it is an open-source framework for building mobile apps using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Ionic official site

Like Flutter, Ionic is a cross platform framework, allowing developers to build apps for iOS and Android from a single codebase. 

Ionic is the UI layer, consisting of a rich library of customizable and reusable UI components that are designed to mimic native elements. 

Like Flutter, it provides the basic building blocks for the interface, as well as tools for animations and gestures. It relies on other technologies, like Capacitor, to create the actual apps. 

Ionic also powers countless apps, including many for global brands, which we’ll showcase in a later section. 

For now let’s move on to some of the key distinctions between Ionic and Flutter. 

Hybrid vs Native 

Let’s clarify a key point: 

Flutter creates (arguably) native apps, while Ionic creates hybrid apps. 

What do we mean by this? 

Why Flutter apps are native

Well, native apps are native because they are built using the native languages of the platform - Kotlin/Java for Android and Swift/Objective-C for iOS. 

These languages compile directly to native machine code, which the underlying operating system and processor architecture execute directly

This direct compilation into machine code is what typically characterizes a language or framework as "native" to a platform, and is why native apps have the best performance and design freedom. 

Flutter, as a cross-platform framework, is different in many ways from traditional native development. For example Flutter apps do not directly harness the native APIs or components, but rather draw the UI (made of Flutter widgets) onto the screen. 

But, Flutter does compile to native machine code for each platform, and so Flutter apps are “native” in this key sense - especially when compared to Ionic. 

Why Ionic apps are hybrid 

Ionic apps are hybrid apps. 

Hybrid apps are essentially web apps that run in a native “wrapper” called a webview. A webview gives a way to render web content in an app, using the same device's rendering engine. 

This doesn’t mean that all hybrid apps are just a “box” with a website running in them. An app is hybrid because some parts of it are from the web, but other parts can be built natively. 

With MobiLoud apps for example, the apps are based on your website or web app. But we add a ton of native features and UI elements on top to make the experience just like a high-end native app. 

This lets you keep the best parts of your website, and blend them with the best parts of native app tech. Get a preview of what your MobiLoud app could look like here.

Coming back to Ionic, it works in a different way. 

The apps are built with web technologies like Angular, HTML, and CSS. Typically, the entire UI is built like this and rendered within the webview. 

This is possible because Ionic provides a large range of pre-designed components that mimic native UI elements such as buttons, toggles, nav bars, tabs, and much more. 

This is similar to Flutter’s widgets, on a high level. 

These components are combined and styled to create the UI, which behaves consistently across different platforms thanks to the fact that the web is universal. 

In this way Ionic, like Flutter, is a cross platform framework. 

Native vs Hybrid

So because Flutter apps compile to native machine code, we can say they’re native. 

Because Ionic apps are essentially web apps that run in a native “container”, they are hybrid apps. 

Next, let's evaluate them on performance and possible use cases. 

Flutter vs Ionic - performance and features

So we’ve seen that Ionic apps are essentially webviews with your entire app rendered as web pages. Let’s see how they stack up in terms of features and performance. 

Flutter apps have better performance

This introduces some of the problems of web pages too - like issues in touch detection, weird scrolling problems, and potentially limited performance. 

Although the web has come on a lot in recent years, it still can’t compare with native level performance. 

Flutter on the other hand is actually using your mobile device to render a specific kind of native UI. 

Through Skia, Flutter has complete control over every pixel, opening up far more options than can be achieved through a browser. 

For basic applications that do not require complex or performant UIs, you might not notice much difference. 

But where Flutter really excels is with apps that involve complex animations and graphics. The compilation to native code and leveraging of Skia allows for very smooth frame rates and slick UIs even in very graphically demanding use cases. 

Ionic is probably not suitable for some of the apps you could build with Flutter. The reliance on web tech can lead to slower frame rates and lags with demanding animations and high volumes of dynamic content. 

Access to native features

Although Ionic is fundamentally built with web technologies, it can access native features of the device. 

This is thanks, these days, to Capacitor. 

Capacitor is a runtime, which is basically an environment that provides the necessary infrastructure - like memory handling and API interactions - to manage the execution of a program. 

Capacitor provides the webview “container” for the Ionic UI to run in, but also the crucial infrastructure for interacting with the device itself. If Ionic is for creating the UI, Capacitor is what makes it actually work and run as a mobile app. 

Read more about how Capacitor works

Capacitor allows developers to call native code from the Ionic app, providing a wide range of plugins to interact with the native APIs. This allows Ionic to interact with the camera, GPS, and sensors for example. 

In Flutter, the same is achieved through platform channels. 

These are essentially communication mechanisms that allow Dart code to interact with native code for iOS and Android - allowing for access to native functionality in a direct way. 

In this sense, both Flutter and Ionic have a similar ability to tap into the native features of the device. 

Successful Flutter Apps

There are tens of thousands of Flutter apps on the market, including many very high profile brands and success stories. 

A few standout examples include:

These are all top brands, with mature tech capacities and sophisticated requirements. 

The apps are used by millions, and probably cost millions to develop too!

Successful Ionic Apps

Ionic has appealed to many businesses over the years in all industries and niches. 

Here are a few successful apps built with Ionic:

Ionic has many other well known users too - like the British NHS, Southwest Airlines, Diesel, and more

Clearly, both Ionic and Flutter are capable platforms that are used by real, successful, high-scale businesses.

Which should you use? 

So should you choose Flutter or Ionic?

Whether you choose Flutter or Ionic is dependent on a few factors. As we’ve seen, they are very different technologies. We will suggest a few scenarios that might swing you one way or another though. 

When to choose Ionic

As some general advice, Ionic might be better for you in these cases:

  • Web expertise: you’re a web focused company, with a lot of web development expertise, and don’t want to reskill or hire Flutter developers 
  • Web focused: you care more about the web, and the apps are an afterthought (Ionic apps can be deployed as PWAs)
  • Rapid prototyping: if you want to build a quick prototype or MVP to validate an idea, Ionic could enable this well 
  • Web infrastructure: if you need apps that tightly integrate with existing web infrastructure, Ionic fits well with web APIs, standards, and services

Ionic is a technology intimately connected to the web, and so all the reasons you might choose it reflect that. 

It is much easier, and typically cheaper, to develop for the web - and a lot more businesses have existing competence in web technologies. 

If that’s you, you’re on a tighter budget, and you don’t need a fancy UI, then Ionic may be right for you. 

When to choose Flutter

Flutter also has a lot of key advantages, and is more suitable for:

  • High performance requirements: if you need a high level of performance, like in demanding and sophisticated apps, Flutter’s compilation to native code and overall architecture is preferable 
  • Advanced UI customization: if your apps require complex and highly custom interfaces, Flutter’s powerful rendering engine and range of widgets are ideal, allowing for more scope and control than what could be achieved through Ionic 
  • Graphics focus: for apps that depend on advanced animations, graphic elements, and transitions, this is Flutter’s bread and butter 
  • Scalability: for large and complex applications - Flutter has a wide ecosystem for powerful state management and other tools that can manage large-scale apps better than the plugin-reliant approach of Ionic 
  • Mobile focused: thought Flutter can be used to develop web apps from the same codebase, it is still very much app-first

Essentially - if you care a lot about performance and scalability, and especially if you want to build graphically intensive apps, then Flutter is the clear choice. 

Flutter vs other platforms 

We compared Flutter with several other app development options as part of this series. 

You can take a read of them to learn about how Flutter stacks up against other options too.

For now though, let’s wrap up our comparison with Ionic.

Flutter vs Ionic - the bottom line

In this article, we’ve covered the core differences between Flutter and Ionic. We have not gone deep into the technical weeds, because that could take up an entire book. 

Rather, we’ve focused on the practical considerations that matter to businesses, and explaining them on a high level. 

We’ve seen that the real reasons you’d choose Ionic is that you want to stick to web based technologies. This is understandable, it is much easier (and cheaper) to source web talent - most businesses already have it, in fact. 

With Ionic, you can build decent apps, and integrate them with your existing web stack. If performance and snazzy graphics aren’t important to you, this can work well indeed. 

On the other hand - Flutter is the better choice for highly custom UIs, native level performance, and graphically intensive applications. 

You can read an interesting comparison by Ionic themselves here for a second opinion

MobiLoud > Ionic and Flutter

Our platform, MobiLoud, is superior to Flutter and Ionic for a certain type of business. Let’s explain. 

MobiLoud isn’t a programming language or framework - we are a complete service. 

We take your existing website or web app, and convert it into high-end iOS and Android apps.

MobiLoud apps, like Ionics, are technically hybrid. They display content from your website, via webviews, allowing you to give a consistent experience to app and web users. 

But unlike Ionic apps, MobiLoud apps are not all made from web technologies. We also add all the native elements required for you to both give your users a great UX, and to leverage the apps for full business benefits. 

Think native navigation, push notifications, and dozens more powerful features

Compared to both Ionic and Flutter, MobiLoud has an excellent risk to reward ratio. 

Both Flutter and Ionic will have you spend at least tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars and many months of effort to build decent apps. You’ll also saddle yourself with significant ongoing expenses for updates and maintenance. 

This makes it a risky bet. 

With MobiLoud, the logic changes, and ROI becomes much more likely. 

That’s because MobiLoud costs 90% less, and the apps are ready to launch in just weeks. 

The Jack & Jones app - built with MobiLoud

Our team handles the entire process for you, and we also handle all ongoing updates and maintenance for the lifetime of the apps. 

MobiLoud apps update automatically with any changes you make on your site. They also allow you to reuse everything from your site, without needing to rebuild anything. 

This, along with our full service, means that the apps will practically run themselves while you get all the benefits with virtually none of the costs. 

MobiLoud is a proven model that works great for thousands of businesses, from small startups to multibillion dollar multinationals. It works particularly well for ecommerce stores, elearning platforms, and content sites. 

You can even preview what your app could look like, right now

Basically - Flutter and Ionic can be good for building apps from scratch, and if you are starting off with an app. But if you’re already established on the web and have a great website - it's a much better idea to convert it with MobiLoud. 

To learn more, get in touch with one of our app experts. They’ll answer all your questions, and help you decide if MobiLoud is right for you. 

Book a demo call today.

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