The evolution of the API: A future beyond mobile and embedded systems

According to Kin Lane, APIs are moving from social media to the enterprise. Will public APIs be the key to computing in the internet of things?

It’s not easy being an IT specialist in a world where technology is rapidly changing and advancing. Not only do the IT specialists have to consider each important technological advancement individually, but they must also grapple with how all of these advancements intersect. The proliferation of mobile technology, along with the struggle to develop sound and useable APIs is a good example. This is where Kin Lane, the API Evangelist and luminary comes in, and according to Lane, it’s an interesting intersection indeed. To understand why APIs and new technologies like mobile and embedded devices are such a powerful tool in the big business toolbox, Kin takes us on a walk down memory lane, giving us some background on the evolution of the application programming interface (API).

The pioneers of the Web API

Application programming interfaces as we know them now have been in some fashion or another for over thirty years; but they were only successfully launched in their modern Web form by Salesforce. From there, commerce sites like Amazon and eBay took the lead in showing how web APIs can maximize profits and serve as the foundation of a whole business model. Next, the technology evolved and spilled over into social sites like Flickr and Delicious for images and bookmarking. On the enterprise side, Amazon was one of the first organizations to realize the B2B potential of Web-based APIs for delivering IaaS and other “as-a-service” offerings to businesses of all sizes.

Back on the “hobby” side, you have Facebook and Twitter changing the face of social and helping the API sphere grow exponentially. Mobile was the obvious next step, with sites like Foursquare, Pandora, and Instagram that cater to the mobile crowd integrating their applications with the Facebook to deliver even more consumer-friendly functionality. With BYOD becoming the order of the day, mobile APIs for enterprise applications are the current focus of fervent innovation.

The use case for mobile APIs

Lane points to Netflix as a great example of how APIs can revolutionize a business and even an entire industry in just a few years. The streaming video provider needed to move out of the data center and into the cloud to leverage an elastic, highly scalable infrastructure with availability in every major geographic region. The company achieved this by defining all its assets and resources as APIs. This allowed the company to move all the bits and pieces in a granular way out of the DC and into the cloud. Because APIs allow an organization to focus on core assets first and then retool as needed for various endpoints, Netflix was then in an ideal position to become the guru of device delivery. The organization now delivers content to more than 700 different devices – and not all of them are traditional ‘mobile’.

Embedded technology and the future of APIs

The ability to bring the functionality of APIs to a broad range of devices beyond the scope of mobile is already here. APIs are necessary to make any application “visible” to voice command programs like Siri. These programming interfaces are in the Fitbit wireless activity tracker you clip onto your jacket and will eventually become the standard for helping your doctor monitor your health remotely. Embedded, API based, Web-enabled technology is showing up in more and more everyday devices from your smart refrigerator to the console in your car. Eventually, the API won’t have to focus on being mobile all the time because it will already be embedded wherever you go.

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