With the advent of the fourth technological revolution, the widespread accessibility of devices such as smartphones and tablets has ensured that we all remain connected to the net daily. We all have a wealth of information and resources at our fingertips constantly, as each of our devices comes with an assortment of programs and services pre-installed that are designed to make our lives easier. While many of us use these services on a regular basis, few of us ever stop to think about how or why our phones and tablets are able to perform the functions they can. Generally, most of us write off these services as built into the operating system of our device, and then never think about the whys and hows again.
Few of us know what application product interfaces (APIs) are, even though we use them for a variety of purposes every single day. Peeling back the layers of our tech and attaining a deeper understanding of the mechanics of our devices reveals a vast network of agreements between services, a deliberate and purposeful integration of services to bring us, the consumers, a seamless experience. APIs are working on our behalf every second of every day to streamline our service, essentially enabling the fast-paced, digitally oriented culture we’ve metamorphosed into over the last decade.
From downloading a weather widget on your phone to the Paypal option on an e-commerce website, APIs have been a part of your life ever since you first logged on.
Whether you’re an aspiring app developer, a market-wise computer enthusiast, or just someone curious about how their technology works, knowing about APIs is a must for anyone who has an interest in how our digitally-intertwined culture came to be.
APIs: Handshakes Between Applications
Take a quick look at your smartphone’s home screen. How many applications do you have downloaded, and how many came pre-installed with the phone? And how many of them work together, using aspects of other applications (such as a Google account login option on a third-party app or a Paypal payment widget on an e-commerce site) to get you from point A to point B effortlessly?
The closer you look at your tech, the more you might begin to realize that there is an unseen network between the applications on your phone, one where the developers have agreed to share certain functions and data with other applications in the service of streamlining your user experience. These agreements are called APIs, and they allow one application to communicate with others without needing the constant supervision of the manufacturer, usually under certain terms.
APIs can be public, meaning anyone can integrate third-party software with a given program, or private, meaning that it’s a closed agreement between two parties (usually intended to meet a specific, often corporate, need). Public APIs are especially useful for people looking to develop their own applications, as it allows them to integrate their brand new software into an already established framework with a thriving customer base.
A Fluid Customer Experience
Without APIs, none of the systems on your phone or computer would be able to communicate with one another, requiring you to use each service individually. While this is theoretically possible, it would be a slower and much less efficient means of conducting business, and would make some functions that your services perform (such as tracking packages through a USPS tracking number) downright impossible.
APIs are responsible for bringing disparate technologies together, allowing them to work collaboratively to bring you the most efficient service possible; without them, it’s doubtful that our culture would be able to function the way it currently does.
An API For Every Need
When given a chance, you may want to browse the network of available public APIs. You might be surprised at how many services out there are publically available for new tech to integrate with; even those that have paid access can provide a valuable service for those looking to develop their own applications. Regardless, knowing about APIs helps crack the code of our interconnected culture, enabling people of all backgrounds and professions better understand our digitally-interconnected world.