Backend Development & API Integration
Empirical Works are not just pure front-end app developers. We’re a full-service team that takes care of your entire mobile app development experience, from start to finish, including backend development and API integration as required.
Empirical Works has experience integrating into existing enterprise IT infrastructures and platforms such as SAP, Salesforce, Sharepoint and Oracle, as well as external APIs such as Facebook, Youtube and Google Maps, and are qualified to do the same with your mobile app project, whatever your business and technical requirements are.
APIs, or Application Programing Interfaces, are essentially tools that help developers write code that interfaces, or interacts, with other software. It’s nothing new – APIs have been around for years. It’s how we can move information on our computers from one program to another; like copying text from a PDF and pasting it into Word. Or on the Web, it’s how you can search for a hotel on TripAdvisor and automatically get shown other hotels in the area via Google maps. APIs govern how these programs talk to each other, allowing users to seamlessly jump from one to another without needing to understand the complex code which allows it to happen.
In short, APIs use the Internet to allow websites, web applications, mobile applications, and other devices to communicate with each other and share information. APIs provide the connectivity needed to use programs on all devices, such as computers, smartphones and tablets.
The Internet has become such an integral part of our everyday lives that everything from our personal conversations to business transactions are being conducted online. Social networks, websites and applications can be accessed from a plethora of different devices, 24/7. The benefit that APIs offer is that they provide consistency when switching between applications and devices, making technologies you know and love available across multiple applications.
There are hundreds of different kinds of APIs, with categories ranging from travel, finance, sport, music, weather, mapping and more. The most popular APIs are those that tap into existing networks, allowing users to use the same mapping and social media programs they’re already familiar with. For example:
Google Maps API: Geolocation and mapping are hugely popular services for consumers. Google Maps APIs allow developers to easily embed interactive maps and Street View in addition to accessing a range of services like directions, geocoding and more.
YouTube APIs: YouTube APIs allow the integration of YouTube player services within an app, giving developers the ability to completely customise the playback experience, creating an interactive and entertaining app that users will enjoy.
Twitter APIs: Twitter APIs allow developers to access core Twitter data and analytics, while also offering features like ‘sign in with Twitter’. The benefit for developers is that by allowing users to share content to Twitter directly from your app, you’re more likely to raise awareness of the app and increase its organic growth.
Facebook API: Facebook’s API gives applications the ability to tap into users’ contacts and profile information, as well as giving users the opportunity to post updates to their profile (privacy settings permitting).
Of course, you don’t need to focus on one API when developing an app. You can use a mash up of several APIs, marrying different concepts to create a brand new user experience. For example, MapMyRun is an app that combines Fitbit and MapMyFitness APIs, creating a fitness tracking app using the built-in GPS on mobile phones. Best Buys, a comparison shopping community, combines APIs from eBay, Amazon, shopping.com and many more to provide a range of shopping deals, discounts and coupons all in the one place.
By the end of 2012, there were an estimated 7,000 APIs in the world– twice as many as the year before. Today there are over 13,000, the total number having almost doubled again in the last three years. One reason for this massive growth in APIs is due to the rapid increase of social networks, meaning there are now more applications across multiple platforms creating endless possibilities for users to connect. And seamless connectivity between these applications is not just a ‘nice to have’. It’s expected. Who would want to spend the time switching to a different app to share something they have found, when they’re used to being able to share things instantly from wherever they are?
Mobile technology also has played a huge role in the growth of APIs. AIMIA’s 2014 Australian mobile phone lifestyle index showed 89% of Australians use mobile phones and 81% use apps, so it’s not surprising that APIs for mobile apps are on the rise. Messaging is one of the biggest areas for mobile app APIs, with hundreds of SMS APIs now available as users turn away from traditional SMS communications to app messaging like WhatsApp and Viber.
Payments APIs are another key proponent for API growth in mobile applications. The ability to pay-on-the go from mobile apps or through mobile shopping sites is becoming increasingly popular. APIs from companies like PayPal, Amazon, MasterCard or PayAnywhere add a whole new layer of functionality to mobile apps, allowing consumers to pay on the go and businesses to collect payments 24/7.
Mobile phone users don’t look for APIs when they’re downloading an app. They simply want an app that works, has cool features, is fun to use and makes their lives easier. Those who are using an app will barely notice that Google Maps has been integrated and won’t bat an eye when their Facebook contacts are suddenly available – their digital lives are already seamlessly integrated across so many channels that this is now the norm. So not including APIs isn’t really an option.
Creating an app that provides an awesome user experience is the key to a successful app. And now that there are such a large number of APIs available in just about every category imaginable, from payments to mapping to social networks, developers are only limited by their imaginations when it comes to finding the perfect API mash ups.
But it’s not just about the user, APIs can also be a huge time saver for developers. By tapping into existing mapping APIs, for example, developers don’t need to worry about creating their own maps. By tapping into utilities such as the Dropbox API, they can provide an app with instant large-file storage without having to create a new storage system themselves. APIs allow developers to make the most of existing technologies and focus their efforts on developing something new.
One thing to be mindful of when developing an app is that just because an API is available now, it doesn’t mean it always will be. One of example of this is when Twitter limited third-party applications’ use of its APIs in an attempt to drive users to Twitter’s own site. There’s nothing to stop a company shutting down APIs – or they could simply go out of business – which could leave you high and dry if your application depends on those APIs to function.
Security and compliance are also issues to consider when choosing your APIs. It’s important to build in complex security in mobile apps to avoid a major security breach. One example is the recent Snapchat hack; Snapchat had an accessible API which allowed users to find their friends and see their profile simply by providing a phone number. However, due to being inadequately secured, the system was hacked and the app – which prided itself on its anonymity – divulged personal details of thousands of users. Security and compliance are serious issues so it’s imperative to ensure every measure is taken to protect your app users’ privacy.
When developing an app, it’s not a question of whether or not you’ll be using an API, it’s a question of which APIs will best help you create an exciting user experience. If you need geo-location features, include APIs from Google Maps or Foursquare. If you’re developing an app that relies on social networking, then it only makes sense to include the Facebook API. By tapping into existing API technologies and using smart combinations of APIs, in addition to creating your own unique offering, you’ll be well on your way to making a popular and successful new app.