The Innovation Potential of Mobile APIs

Glenn Gruber | October 26, 2015 | In the News

The Propelics team was recently asked to participate in “5 Experts, 1 Question”—an Appcelerator roundtable blog series. The first installment was The Most Expensive Mistakes Made When Going Mobile–5 Experts Weigh In.

The question posed was: Where is the most innovation potential of mobile APIs?

Our team members offered several perspectives but since the folks at Appcelerator were only looking for a single response, we thought we’d share the others with you on our blog.

Adam Bookman, Founder:
From a practical perspective, most businesses are not ready for mobile API innovation. In broad strokes, it is fair to say that many companies are barely ready for mobile APIs.  While corporations have spent time, effort, and dollars on their SOA strategies, most were built with the web in mind.  Mobile requires a different type of API. Ones that are highly performant and efficient. This requires a change in thinking about APIs which will lead to a change in approach.

Most folks we work with are onboard with the need to become mobile-ready, however the pace with which they can enact change varies.  MBaaS vendors provide a nice way for companies to quickly enable mobile-ready APIs. To a certain extent, innovation is coming from the MBaaS vendors who enable their clients to act quickly and provide standardized, secure, flexible APIs to both enterprise and mobile-specific data and events. If leveraged correctly, Mobile APIs can provide more users quicker access to enterprise data.  Combine this with the ability to integrate (and even mash-up) with mobile-specific services like analytics, notifications, context, location, etc. and the potential for game-changing mobile apps is enormous.  Let the ideas flow and the mobile innovation begin!

Deep Bhatia, Mobility Strategist:
Innovation happens when business problems arise that are not easily solved by existing solutions. Enterprises are still struggling to find lean APIs to interface with legacy systems (which traditionally pass large amount of data with each call). An innovative solution for the effective use of Mobile APIs persists to this day.

The potential lies in creating “just what you need” APIs, which can be challenging for legacy systems and are therefore good candidates for innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Tyler Jensen, Integration Architect:
Two thoughts. First, the importance of mobile APIs has spurred interest in MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service). However, I remain skeptical of its potential value as the software world’s 4GL solution to a world of rapidly changing and integrated enterprise and multi-enterprise data and services.

Like so many 4GL-ish efforts, I expect most MBaaS offerings to enjoy a brief and excited period of early adoption followed by a rapid plateau with enterprises rapidly realizing their needs extend beyond the capacity and performance of the canned and often clumsy available MBaaS platforms.

Secondly, the greatest opportunity for mobile API usage and innovation lies in connecting mobile with the “Internet of Things” (IoT). In the near future the most amazing apps will recognize and interact with all the “things” within its reach, whether they are in the same geographical or virtual neighborhood. To connect these things to our phones and tablets we will need equally amazing APIs that facilitate data production and consumption between the two realms. Look for “Fast Data” solutions to be a big connecting factor behind the API lines in this new and exciting world.

The greatest opportunity for API innovation in this space will be the creation of simple and intuitive APIs that help reduce the chaos and facilitate the intelligent consumption of the constant hurricane of data hurtling towards us.

Emily Emerson, Project Manager:
With POS functionality saturating the mobile environment and transforming customer engagement, this is indeed an exciting time for mobile. It’s no wonder Apple and Google extended their core SDK’s in recent releases, what with demand for more verbose POS capabilities increasing from both end users and vendors. Most Mobile POS providers offer an API with standard functionality such as transaction processing, transaction history retrieval, real-time customer analytics, loyalty & rewards, and inventory management.

But it’s important not to be short sighted or get distracted by all the bells and whistles of current offerings. What to look for in a provider is a single API that integrates with multiple processing systems and has the flexibility to extend that API to accommodate any custom functionality or behavior. With the mobile POS space evolving at such a rapid pace, the ability to “plug and play” securely with 3rd party libraries and with new POS systems and frameworks is vital.

Glenn Gruber, Sr. Mobility Strategist:
APIs are the lifeblood of mobile. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing anything innovative. For instance, how about building some context-sensitive apps?

The first rule of UI states an application should never ask a question the machine can reason out for itself. The power of APIs enables access to a raft of data. Add that to the many sensors already on the device and we have the ability to knit together a complete picture in real time that has the power not only to enhance business processes with mobile, but also to anticipate need and deliver information and services exactly when the user requires them.

But it’s not easy. Even with the help of an MBaaS (like the one from Appcelerator), issues with API performance and data-freshness remain that demand our attention. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Is your enterprise looking to leveraging mobile APIs to streamline its business processes? Please check out our Emerging Technologies Kickstart and get started on the road towards building contextually intelligent mobile apps and integrating new mobile technologies for exciting, productive user experiences.

Glenn Gruber

Glenn Gruber is a Sr. Mobile Strategist at Propelics. He leads enterprise mobile strategy engagements to help companies determine the best way to integrate mobile into their business -- both from a consumer-facing perspective, but also how to leverage mobile to empower employees to be more productive and improve service delivery through the intelligent use of mobile devices and contextual intelligence. Glenn has helped a wide range of enterprises on how to leverage mobile within their business including Bank of Montreal, Dubai Airports, Carnival Cruise Line and Merck. He is a leading voice in the travel sector as a contributing Node to Tnooz where he writes about how mobile and other emerging technologies are impacting the travel sector and a frequent speaker at industry events.

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