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Don't build an app, build a mobile API platform

Apr 14, 2016

We are living in an Experience Economy, built on sharing and connections. All businesses are passing through the commodification of almost every type of good or service, in an attempt to create unique experiences for their prospects and customers, as the last means of differentiation.

In these make-or-break times, it seems wasteful that developers spend much of their time conquering the nuances of backend systems to unlock key data, rather than designing sustainable, functional user interfaces. 

Mobile APIs are the key to freeing up developers’ time to focus on experience. An API is a tool that is already optimised for sharing; its natural state is to connect. If developers are allowed to access and use it, they will bring their own data and functionality into the platform, which, in turn, strengthens our apps. Let’s take a look at the rise of APIs, their function, and how they stand to benefit our mobile ecosystem.

 

APIs enable everything 

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Mobile introduces widely varying types and sources of data, different formats and payload sizes, and different transaction volumes and usage profiles. One of the most critical aspects of mobile development is the end of connection persistence.

Every new service, every new offering that is created should be driven by APIs. The fact is that mobile APIs remove the headaches of navigating the arcane layers of the traditional stack, simplifying mundane and time-intensive tasks for mobile developers. APIs allow developers to focus on core app functionality and user experience, whilst cutting out the back-end work.

Developers get immediate access to data. This allows app developers to easily understand how user functionality can be improved, and deliver these innovations. A common set of APIs made available to developers results in less wheel reinvention and duplicate functionality across their app portfolio.  

Moreover, maintenance becomes easier. Proven functionality comes in handy when we reuse an API. As a result, we could witness lower delivery risk and shorter production cycles. A common API layer that new devices can plug into is always ready to meet future demand on functionality.

Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and other market leaders give developers an easy way to create new APIs as need arises, in addition to providing developers with a set of mobile-optimised APIs for high demand corporate data sources.   

 

Ease of integration

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APIs empower developers to overcome integration bottlenecks, enabling them to deliver on schedule with minimum hassle. In the experience economy, smart companies win over their competitors by facilitating the innovation process, through simplified access to data. 

If we have a taxi booking app in our possession, we can include features that are locally in demand. We can even introduce a larger database that would support more people from the local region. Taxi cab apps can be customised to match our requirements in a cost-effective manner.

Exposing APIs to employees and partners opens up the opportunity to innovate, improve business processes, and solve problems on a much larger scale, by creating a much broader ecosystem of contributors.

 

Simple, yet scalable 

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The beauty of the API is its simplicity. You are never actually porting to different platforms, because the API is concerned mostly with data, not platform nor device. You find the data, build something usable around it, grow it with additional functionality or allow others to build on top of it. Then, you monetise it. That’s an entire business unto itself, which leverages making our app into a mobile API platform. 

For some apps, especially consumer-orientated ones, APIs provide the tool that enables user interaction with data from multiple applications. For example, Uber makes use of a sophisticated database of drivers, GPS data, messaging, and a host of other capabilities, all of which come from different sources. In all instances, the API or multiple APIs strengthen the application fundamentals, by allowing it to be flexible, secure, yet at the same time, accessible and easy to use.

Essentially, the API becomes the most valuable mobile app tool, because it enables us to access and share our own data, and benefit from the data of other apps across a huge range of devices and platforms.The latest testimonial for the concept of building a mobile API platform is Facebook’s announcements at the annual developer conference, F8 2016, at Fort Mason in San Francisco.  

Facebook is developing the Messenger ecosystem to integrate chat apps and bots, which will go a long way towards leveraging traffic on the biggest apps where users spend majority of their time. In doing so, they will become platforms that other apps integrate to. The F8 keynote had layed out a 10-year plan for its ecosystem, products and various technologies, like VR, AR, AI, drones and connectivity. Facebook’s announcement of their Messenger botengine is a strong signal for the things to come in mobile API platforms. 

 

User experience and behaviour

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Bots are essentially a way to simulate conversations, either for entertainment or to get things done. Unlike apps, bots don’t need to be downloaded; they live on servers, not a user’s device. This means using bots should provide a smoother experience for the user, as switching between bots doesn’t involve tapping on another app. However, as customers transition to private messaging, it’s essential for marketers to remember that above all else, messaging interactions are opt-in experiences, much like email lists. And with permission also comes a higher set of expectations.

The front end of the mobile app will have a big impact on adoption and usage. But an app’s value rests in what it delivers to the user, and what that user can do with it. The value is really in the data; being able to access and manage that data determines the success of an app.

Apps deliver to the users and customers; APIs allow us to really know who they are and how they behave. That’s a major business advantage; understanding users helps us to deliver a more desirable app. 

Beyond understanding how the user interacts, an API also ensures that our app functions well and that the right data is being served. In the event that it doesn’t, the API will alert us. It can also be developed so that it’s automatically responsive, with correction and/or alerts enabled in the app admin.

 

The mobile API ecosystem

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APIs have become the most important tool for exploiting our digital commerce presence, especially for mobile apps. To take full advantage, we need to treat our API like a product - it therefore has to have a product strategy. That strategy should be a focus on channel development – that is where the API will help you reach new users and partners, and promote brand awareness. By focusing on attention to detail and new opportunities, you can maximise the benefits delivered by your mobile app and API efforts. 

Uber is a great example of how this can be done. Their business model can best be described as a platform looking to deliver a product or service on-demand, with demand being aggregated online and serviced offline. This has given rise to a large number of On-Demand Platforms adapted for different verticals. They are being positioned as disruptive forces, tapping into the demand and supply trends we are seeing all over the world. Many entrenched industry value chains stand to be disrupted. 

The Uberisation of the world has just begun.

 

The painpoints

However, APIs aren’t without their flaws. In fact, an API is a major point of vulnerability, given its ability to offer easy access to external parties, with few organically available controls.

Furthermore, the online-offline nature and involvement of multiple stakeholders make these platforms incredibly difficult to design, master and scale. 

That said, it’s only a matter of time before brands wake up to the benefits of integrating APIs into their business models, to harness technology to its full potential and reap the rewards of the experience economy in which we now live.

 

References

 


 

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