Now, I am not an Applephile nor an Android addict. I use a Macbook Air and have the Android Google phone. I believe in using whatever tools suit your needs and budget, and that it doesn’t matter much anymore because all major services are available for both iOS and Android, which has resulted in a pretty much seamless mobile experience, independent of which operating system you are using when.
A lot of people spend a lot of money on market research trying to decide for which operating system to build first. And then there still seems to be this enormous trend of developers and businesses rushing to build the iOS app first.
I think this is all a disservice. First, it’s an extremely U.S.-centric idea, where iPhone is the most popular device and holds a certain prestige, but, even there, Android holds more than 80 percent of the OS marketshare. You don’t want to just limit your customers to that small percentage of people who have iPhones, you want to attract as much of your customer base as possible.
Plus, the paperwork to get into the Apple store is often harder than programming itself, so you don’t want to be stuck waiting when you could be moving on multiple projects at the same time.
Also, when you build iPhone first, you have to reinvent the wheel and create a ton of duplicate code when you want to then build a website or an Android, Windows, or, if you’re really going old school, Blackberry app.
I advocate that instead of spending time and resources on building native apps and websites right from the start, you build a Web API first.
What’s a Web API?
In short, the application programming interface usually called API is the way in which your product or service can talk to other products or services online. It’s what makes most of those things ‘smart’ because our smartphones are actually pretty dumb. The API is what connects your smart devices to the Internet. It’s what connects your Nest thermometer to your iPhone and what makes you Apple Watch more than just a hipster fashion statement.
The practice until now has been to design a website or application and then to build an API to connect it to others. The more business-savvy way to do it is by changing the mindset to focus first on describing your interface, so that everything that goes through your system, does so through an API. This enables scalable development on top of the API, and then just tweaking code a bit as needed for whatever websites and apps you need to build on top of it.
How else can APIs help business?
- The API can become an added revenue source. You may have information someone else would like to have. Say you own a restaurant and want to connect your reservations via TheFork or perhaps you want to connect your daily menu to Yelp. You can charge these tools to access this information or you can indirectly make a profit by increasing your chances of more reservations because you are well-presented online.
- API increases brand awareness. Do you have interesting information that other companies would like to use? Think of how you could allow people to access and display that information via an API. You can make it so your logo is integrated into information on other websites. Take TripAdvisor, for example. The have millions of photos, reviews and rating data that hotels and restaurants want to boast. By using their API, thousands of these businesses put these official TripAdvisor ratings on their homepages, meaning hundreds of thousands of more brand impressions every day for the world’s top travel site.
- An API lets others do the work for you. If you had all the time and money in the world, you’d have a wishlist out the door of all the apps, features, and partnerships you’d like to produce. Sadly, resources aren’t unlimited so you can only build your priority developments. If you open up your API to partners or to the whole public, other companies may instigate highly profitable partnerships that double your fanbase, all loaded with fantastic co-marketing opportunities. Through Fitbit fitness tracker’s open-API, 20 apps were created in the first two years, saving Fitbit $1 million in research and design. It also makes it fast to create partnerships.
- APIs let you grow more quickly and safely. If you go the API-first route, you get to do what Amazon calls “eat your own dog food.” If everything is built on top of your API core, everything you do involves interacting with it regularly. That means you are hyper aware of user experience and the security of your product. Perhaps most importantly, it allows you to reach a broader audience by providing more services faster.
- An API base spurs innovation and creativity. Building API-first means you can get the whole company involved in where you grow, creating a company-wide digital strategy. Does marketing need a fast new website for a specific campaign? Since your base is built, you can just quickly build out that specific feature on top. Find that you suddenly have a need for a Windows Phone app? You have the spine, you only need to add a couple pages.
Just be careful! Mashable warns about taking the API first too far. ‘Every mobile OS has its own style and the OS’s creator has probably published detailed Human Interface Guidelines that have codified their unique aesthetic. iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 have very different aesthetics.’ Your core is taken care of with API-first development and design. This leaves you the time, effort and resources to focus on the user experience and usability testing. So do it!