APIs in a COVID-19 World

Application program interfaces (APIs) are growing exponentially in the COVID-19 world. In a rare collaboration, Apple and Google are now working together to deliver their exposure notification API to developers that are working on apps for public health. This API is expected to be released in mid-May and tested over the next several weeks. The initiative uses Bluetooth to track exposures to confirmed COVID-19 cases, and smartphones can show who infected people may have been in contact with based on information stored on their phones. Specific information related to patients’ identities or locations is not shared with Google or Apple.

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Radar is another company that is currently working with retailers to help them connect their apps to location services via APIs. With COVID-19, there is a need for curbside pickup for many restaurants and retailers. Having insight into customers’ locations is needed to deliver products on time as well as meet other demands around changing customer expectations.

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APIs are cruical today to offering innovative products and services. They enable businesses to access a new database or technology. For example, Radar has 3 key APIs. There is an API to identify the distance between the store and the shopper to find the estimated time of arrival. Then they use a second API to connect to search, which allows the consumer to open the store’s website and see all relevant locations nearby so the trips can be combined. Finally, Radar has a third API that does geocoding that takes the longitude and latitude measurements and converts it into an address. Sometimes it is helpful to think of these mobile app solutions in terms of a different series of screens that help customers find the most relevant pages and help stores display content to improve the customer experience.  

While people are used to computer screens, the magic relates to the interface that is hidden to the user that has become much more open and standardized over the years. API provides the standard interface through which software programs can communicate, share messages, and manage shared memory. Unlike a web form where there might be multiple transactions for processing user registration, an API will often include all the information needed to complete a transaction. For example, if you are thinking about searching all your records for how many orders a particular customer has placed, you could go through your business’s records and slowly scan the “customer name” data field and print each record. But, if the records are uploaded to a central database, now you can write a program that accesses that database and just finds all the instances of the customer’s name (without scanning), which takes less time and is more accurate. 

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While some think of APIs as error-free, this is not true. APIs are not like a USB port where you have access to everything in another program. Some have compared APIs to getting help from a person in a help desk in a foreign country. API provides data that programmers have made available to outside users, and you have to know the language to ask the right questions to do anything with the data. When programmers make data available, the expose endpoints or parts of the language they used to build the program so other programmers can get that data through URLs or other special programs that build URLs.

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Monitoring API performance is important in this COVID-19 world to make sure that APIs performance are functional, accessible, and do not suffer from things like downtime or excessive loading times. Also, when IoS has a new update, there a changes that an API has to get ahead of to ensure future customer experiences stay consistent.

APIs are useful for pulling specific information from another program, and developers can help with building programs to display that data in an application. Consultants can help in building existing APIs and also creating custom connections. However, having some basic understanding of how APIs work will be key to great integrations in the post-pandemic world.

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