A Brief Guide to APIs
When Apple released its iconic (and trademarked) slogan for the new iPhone, no one knew that there would truly be an app for everything. But underneath the guise of a lighthearted ad campaign, developers everywhere knew the slogan “there’s an app for that” would one day come true. More than a decade later, the number of uniquely purposed apps available is truly astounding. The complexity of applications and their relationship with us and one another has driven the need for applications to communicate with one another. In an effort to join the powers of two applications with equally powerful capabilities, the idea of an API was born.
What is an API?
API, short for Application Programming Interface, refers to a set of rules that allow applications to communicate with each other. For the layman, this doesn’t say much. But like much of technology, you’re probably already well-versed with API uses without even knowing its name. When you ask a website to pull aggregated information from at least one other location, the individual application has to search for that information and compile the information. The API then pulls the information back to the original website which you can then sift through at your convenience in real time using filters. This may be flight information, e-commerce products, and many more use cases.
At its core, an API is like a messenger between two places, one place where the request has been made (a website) and the other place where an abundance of data is kept (third-party websites or databases). But APIs come in all shapes and sizes and with different capabilities. Due to the increasing connectivity and tech advances that enmesh us deeper into a digital application-centered world, the need for APIs grows.
Because an API can act as a messenger between valuable data and you, APIs grant us many uses. The applications of APIs are endless and though it may seem like API technology is well-developed, we still have lots of room for development. You might have come across APIs in your search for an affordable flight or when you log in to another website and it asks if you'd like to log in with your Google or Facebook account.
There are several different types of APIs. Private APIs are used for internal communication and collaboration within a business on an Enterprise level. Public APIs are open to everybody, though they may cost some money to access in some cases. This kind of API is the casual user’s first experience with APIs. Partner APIs are used by developers to assist in creating partnering collaboration between businesses. Composite APIs are considered complex because they are a combination of several different APIs to find insights and data.
What are the benefits of APIs?
Anytime two apps can communicate and leverage their individual strengths it can cause an exponential effect. Applications have given us so much convenience, speed, and insight. But on their own, they have limitations. When we allow them to communicate through the power of APIs, the power of an individual app is multiplied. Using APIs can save casual users time and energy. Zooming out and looking at larger corporations that use APIs, it’s easy to see how they might amplify revenue, innovation, collaboration, and convenience. By accessing data, analytics, or software functions from outside the original source, companies are empowered without additional investments of work or money.
Some companies use APIs to improve user experiences but they can also be used to streamline operations internally. Developers within your organization can piggyback on existing applications such as Google Maps or Facebook. Because of this, they can be very profitable uses of company energy. By integrating with existing applications, organizations benefit from quickened innovation, better collaboration, and better use of data. This lightens the load for developers to open themselves up to other revenue-generating initiatives while streamlining how an organization operates.
You may still be wondering if you’ve ever used APIs before. More than likely, you have used APIs before even if you are not a developer within a company. You may have used APIs while logging in to websites, checking the weather, opting for a specific payment method upon checkout, using Google Maps, or interacting with bots. Have you ever listened to the daily weather report on your smart home device? Have you ever been shopping online and chosen to pay for your order using PayPal? Have you ever read an automated post on Twitter by a bot that aggregates information? Have you ever used a travel deal aggregator to find the best deal? If so, you have witnessed the efficiency and capability of an API even if you didn’t realize it. As we become more application-centric as consumers and members of growing organizations, the API market will continue to expand and innovate. We can surely bank on incredible progress on the backs of APIs and their developers.
Alex is a contributing writer for Acer. Alex is a Texas-based writer and B2B email marketing strategist specializing in helping technology brands connect to their customers. He has lived all over Asia and has consulted with business clients in numerous industries to grow their brands.