Why API-Centric Software Will Dominate the Future
There are thousands of apps around. For multiple platforms (iOS or Android) or in multiple browser. You probably use them on many devices: Your phone, tablet or laptop. But all those applications have very limited functionality on their own. Only by communicating to their user, connecting them between each other and swapping all kinds of information they become powerful.
And that’s where APIs come in. API stands for Application Programming Interface and describes the information and rules software programs interact with each other.
The traditional way of development focusing on web frameworks (e.g. Microsoft .NET, Ruby on Rails, PHP) can require costly integration into other software when not set up properly. Adaption to special needs can easily amount to a project in middle five figures.
An API centric piece of software executes most or all functionality through API calls. So why is this important?
With API-Centric Design the core function of a software (for example the Twitter Stream of new Tweets) is build separately from the way a user accesses it (in our example Twitter can be accessed through a browser, an iOS app from an iPhone, iPad, Android devices, aso.). There is only one core product running in the background and then many different customized front-end ways of accessing the core product running in the back-end. All the communication between those parts happens over? You guessed it: APIs!
No more changing and tweaking the core product because on a windows phone was a display error. You just handle that over the windows phone front-end client.
Bah…. that was a lot of techie talk. So what?! Well that brings us to our next big thing:
The Internet of Things
There are estimates that until 2020 there will be more than 50billion connected devices. That’s a lot! And it will shift who and what communicates over the internet. Today people communicate with people or people communicate with machines and systems. But in the age of the internet of things systems mostly communicate directly with systems. And they don’t care about pretty graphical interfaces on some gadget with touch screen. For those systems to work you need solid APIs connecting many back-ends fast and in a reliable way. And what would be more suitable for this task than software created through API Centered Design?
Oracle recently released an API Management Tool. So did IBM and Intel. These big corporations undertake those steps to be well prepared for what is about to come: The internet of things. It’s gonna be a paradigm shift.
But Where is the Money?
APIs aren’t new. And there are a lots of them. In the Programmable Web Database are more than 14’000 APIs registered. But with the emergence of mobile and the internet of things, they’re in the spotlight again. API centered software enables micro services that fit a specific need an solve a well detailed problem. Other programs can build upon existing APIs using their functionality to expand and build their own. This layer structure can help to automate tedious tasks by integrating and arranging the right APIs. There are many offerings already that allow fast creation of API-based back-ends (e.g. Treeline or Stamplay). APIs therefore build a solid foundation others can build upon. Google does that for a while already and offers a ton of APIs for others to use (e.g. Google Maps). But if you and especially your users call them regularly you have to pay for them. And they’re not cheap:
This example brings us to our first business model with APIs: If you’re providing some service that is of value to others, you can charge for every time a user or program is calling your API and uses its functionality. Even if it’s just a couple cents per call, if your API gets used thousand times a day, that’s steady income.
Another business case is to offer your API for free and animate other developers to build upon your existing API. Through referrals from that software you then generate additional sales. Uber does this with success: By offering their API for free they animate developers to build upon their core product. If someone signs up for Uber through another program that uses the Uber API, they pay the developer who build the new product a commission of $5-10.
There will be many more business models emerging around API. Especially connected to the Internet of Things. The paradigm shift opens up new business opportunity ready to exploit.
What business models including APIs do you see? I’m very interested in reading about them, so please leave a comment!