From Idea to App: API Services Allow Development Of Custom Apps

As the fourth quarter of 2011 rolled out, not only have several companies unveiled new products coming to market just in time for the holiday shopping season, so too have announcements and revelations to develop and release Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) for people to build custom apps to help increase the bottom line for companies large and small alike. APIs allow people to access data or utilize existing web functionality across different domains. Common examples include:

  1. tying into a shipping service’s API to determine shipping costs at checkout
  2. embedding videos or photos hosted on another website such as YouTube or Flickr
  3. sharing content on social media networks without being completely redirected to another website.

Other roles APIs play include1:

  • greatly simplify the life of developers by making it easy to access the functionality of the platform. Instead of developing everything from scratch, they could tap the APIs and access the functionality easily
  • speeds up the platform access
  • makes the platform highly extensible leading to a rich feature set
  • helps co-opt with other service providers
  • helps in integration and interoperability
  • helps in better management of platform security
  • offers an easy option to handle analytics
  • even helps in ensuring compliance

By introducing and supporting their own APIs, companies can often attract more developers to integrate their existing services and/or data into custom websites and applications. Some API rollouts and improvements making recent headlines include:

  • AT&T’s Platform as a Service (PaaS), announced in a November 15 Press Release2

According to AT&T, PaaS allows any business professional to build, develop and deploy cloud-based business apps without the need for complex coding expertise, while also providing a robust platform for true developers. VP Steve Caniano described, “AT&T Platform as a Service is like rocket fuel for developing cloud apps.”

  • Box.net’s Box Innovation Network, or /bin, announced at a Press Meeting and covered here on CloudBeat on November 173

Box.net provides cloud storage services for the enterprise, similar to DropBox’s offerings to individuals. Box hopes the developer network will tackle a few key elements, including improved security options for administrators, expanded capabilities in the file-sharing itself, as well as vertical-specific customizations for Box. According to Chris Yeh of Box.net, “We have quite a bit of momentum on [the developer] side of the business. API keys are growing at about four times [what] they were last year.”

  • Sibblingz announced version 3.0 of its Spaceport platform in a November 17 Press Release.4

In the wake of Adobe’s announcement to discontinue mobile Flash, Spaceport 3.0 integrates Adobe’s popular desktop-based creation tools with high-performance rendering engines on iOS and Android with an HTML5 JavaScript-based Flash-like API. According to VP of Research Interpret LLC Michael Cai, “Solutions like Spaceport come at a key time in the evolution of mobile gaming, as developers look to reach new markets across a variety of mobile OS environments and need a solution that works with their current authoring tools.”

Meanwhile, the much highly anticipated Google+ Photo & Video APIs continue to undergo development, with unofficial releases already made public. Through this new API, developers will have read-access to users’ content — an important stepping stone in breaking through the social media market. However, this initial API does not allow third-party apps to upload new photos and videos.

At Star, our development and social media teams work with the most common and widely accepted APIs and Open-Source SolutionsDespite the vast number of API’s being released and updated, developers still encounter several challenges working with the available documentation and examples provided for said interfaces. API’s often lack detailed or up-to-date documentation, making it difficult for developers to debug errors and integrate solutions. Additionally, there is currently no standard for testing, documenting, and releasing APIs updates. Efforts to standardize and open APIs to make software and web developers’ jobs easier are underway, and several large companies have pledged to work toward a common set of criteria.

As such, API tech leader Mashery unveiled Mashery API Explorer, a new, free way for developers to discover and test APIs from dozens of companies. It is the first API discovery tool that automatically and securely populates API keys for developers across multiple API platforms. Mashery API Explorer gets developers up-and-running on APIs faster with live API call testing, comprehensive method and parameter descriptions, and auto-populated keys.5

At Star, our development and social media teams work with the most common and widely accepted APIs for:

  • Social Media, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tweetmeme, Disqus
  • Payment Processing, including PayPal, Authorize.net
  • Map and Geospatial Services, including Google, Yahoo, SimpleGeo
  • Search Services, including Google, Bing, Yahoo
  • Audio/Video/Media Services, including Flickr, YouTube feeds, Flowplayer
  • Storage/Cloud Services, including Rackspace Cloud, Amazon AWS, Box.net
  • Shipping Services, including FedEx, Pilot, YRC, UPS
  • Enterprise Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, including Google App Engine, Salesforce Soap, Basecamp

Content Management Systems and User Interface Platforms including:

  • JQuery
  • Drupal
  • WordPress
  • SilverStripe
  • Joomla
  • ASP.NET

As more companies, institutions, and organizations become more transparent by opening up and sharing their data, it is certain that more APIs will become available. Thus developers will continue to stress the importance of adopting a standard protocol for documenting, developing, and releasing APIs. Once a standard has been adopted, businesses will see a much improved bottom line as developers will be able to deliver custom apps in a much more efficient manner.

Until then, experienced developers will continue to encourage the use of those APIs that have been tested and proven to be reliable and stable. For more information about the business, technological, and legal ramifications of creating an API, visit: PaaS is the Future of Cloud Services: APIs are the Key.