Do you know which technology has changed our lives in the last decade? Though we have many other influential technologies, Mobile technology has changed the Technology paradigm like never. Its influence can be understood by the fact that there are more than 2 billion smartphones now and this count has been changing like a wildfire. This huge number of mobile devices, along with emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoT) are dramatically revolutionizing the entire mobile industry.
Every smartphone needs an application so that it’s end-user can utilize its capabilities, thus Mobile application development has become a hot cake, and it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, where hundreds of Tech organizations are developing a different kind of applications and striving hard to deliver a better mobile experience to the end-users.
What is an Application Programming Interface (API)?
Every Mobile app relies on a back-end panel or a web panel or needs access to 3rd party web services or API. An application-programming interface (API) is a set of programming instructions and defined standards for accessing any Web-based software application. Any software company can release its API to the developer or public in order to enhance their services or products to developers who can utilize this API & design products that is based on using the data offered by them or powered by its data.
So whenever we use any application on our mobiles, it sends and receives data to and from a remote server via the Internet. At the server’s end, the application retrieves the data, interprets it and processes the required actions and sends it back to your phone. The application in our mobile phones then interprets the incoming data and display that to us in a human-readable format. This is what an API (Application Programming Interface) is all about. It is a kind of software intermediary, that allows a mechanism for multiple applications to talk to each other. Whenever we make any ticket booking, ordering food online, or you use an app like Google Map, instant messaging, or Facebook, that must be using an API to process your requests.
Let us understand this via a real-life example. We use an online travel portal to book a flight or hotel room. Such applications offer us a variety of options to make a choice. You can choose a specific city to travel, a specific date for check-in and check-out. The moment we make a booking, we are indeed using the online portal to access their database. This all is facilitated by an API which gives us direct access to the portal’s database, hence we can make a request to book a specific flight or hotel room then the API sends that request to the Application server and then once the booking is confirmed and database is updated, the API displays a confirmation message or give us a report or ticket which can be printed later. It also helps us make the payment via the payment gateway. This is how API’s provide additional capabilities to an application and the end-user as well.
While developing a mobile application, we must develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) first, which contains only core compatibilities to solve the problems defined in the system requirements. Once the MVP is developed & released, we can enhance it by adding functionalities such as social login, geolocation, security features etc. It is not mandatory to develop all such feature modules from scratch, our developers can use ready-made API’s offered by several application vendors. Such ready-made API’s are known as Third Party API.
Another example of 3rd Party API:– Amazon.com released its API to the public so developers could with ease access Amazon’s product catalog under various categories and the products detailed information. Using the Amazon API, any third-party website or mobile application can post Amazon products with the current updated prices which directly links to the amazon portal when the user clicks “buy now.” Amazon also offers an amazon affiliate program using which the user can earn a commission if any sale of a product happens if the user is diverted from your website or mobile application.
What is a 3rd Party API?
A 3rd Party API is an Application Programming Interface, built by an Application Vendor. These are a set of regulations and requirements through which we can partially access the 1st party programs and system. In technical terms, we can say that a 3rd Party Application Programming interface is a communication method between various software components, along with a set of tools and protocols, which allows the mobile applications to borrow some additional capability and functionality from other applications and services.
3rd Party API use cases
We have the following use cases to integrate 3rd party API with the mobile application, which helps the app to perform the following actions. We can say that by using 3rd party API, we can integrate additional features to our application and get access to the mobile data and device features without shelling funds of building such features scratch.
Use extra services features
We can integrate Paypal API to offer payment options to our customers. We can integrate Spotify to offer a facility to listen to songs while using the application. In this way we can integrate extra services to our mobile application.
Receive other services information
Under this use case, we can integrate Travel portal API into our application, where users can access the Travel and Hotel booking system within the application, which can provide the real-time travel and availability data to our end-users.
Access to mobile application device function
This use case is used to allow an application to access the device functions of smartphones. For example, we can integrate Instagram or Snapchat APIs, which can use the phone’s camera to click pictures. We can integrate Google Maps, which can define the user’s location by using the phone’s geolocation API.
Pros of using 3rd party APIs
Flexibility and Customization
As we have described before, 3rd Party APIs and Software Development Kits are programmed with a full load of features, which allow them to achieve additional functionality for their users. However, 3rd Party API’s give the developers an option to choose only relevant features and exclude others that are not needed. We can easily configure the required features and integrate them in accordance with the objective of the application.
Cost and Effort saving
Third-party APIs are used to save the time required to build, and implement the features provided by the API. Though it takes some efforts to integrate 3rd Party API’s into an existing application module, if we talk in the terms of time, then using an API is a more effective method. Usage of 3rd party APIs can reduce and balance the overall project cost, which in turn helps an organization to launch the application to the market.
Better User experience
Using 3rd Party API can help us improve the end-user experience and this can benefit at multiple levels. If we use 3rd Party API, then we can focus on the core functionalities of the application, and leave the interface worries to the API, which can enhance the application interfaces and user experience to another level, that too without putting any efforts in the development of those experience enhancement.
We can integrate additional features like payment gateways, maps, social media authentication, travel and booking and image processing features in few seconds. It allows developers to always keep their attention towards the business domain only.
Timely Software updates
Like any other software or application, even API vendors do update their products from time to time. The additional features and updates released by the API vendors applied automatically if the automatic check for updates is checked. Another important aspect is, that API vendors do perform all sort of testing and validations before releasing the updates, hence it remains safe to use 3rd Party API.
Cons of 3rd Party APIs
Despite the above-mentioned benefits, the use of third-party APIs does introduce some disadvantages and risks for organizations as well.
3rd Party APIs could face performance challenges since user request usually initiates a remote call, any sort of network delay could be a setback for the application and customer experience.
This could be a complex situation for an organization, if they use uses multiple API vendors then they must fuse multiple SDKs. This may affect the enterprise application system and impact its performance. It will be a challenge to perform large scale comparisons and tests, before finalizing the technical model.
Information security is the most critical aspect of any enterprise application these days. It is essential to encrypt critical information to ensure safe usage of APIs by other vendors. Customer-specific information should never be transmitted via unencrypted medium; hence it is advised that enterprises should avoid using unsecured APIs and implement adequate secondary authentication for their critical operations.
It is a fact that No service can guarantee 100% availability and SLAs. To ensure service availability, enterprises should multiple API vendors for each feature as a backup. If one API vendor faces an outage, then the business can immediately failover to the backup provider.
3rd Party APIs offer additional features and convenience to organizations, but it also results in overused aesthetics. Usage of 3rd party API is very much advisable, but organizations should keep innovating features to make their product viable in the ever-demanding markets.
How to choose the 3rd Party API for mobile application development?
Choosing the correct 3rd Party API is not an easy task. In fact, this decision may impact the functionality as well as the scalability of our application in the future, it may impact the database architecture and codebase and even the services offered by the online web or mobile app as well. In case of any fault with a 3rd party API, even the primary services of our application may be impacted, and it may ruin the end user’s experience.
There are lot of service providers which provide similar kind of APIs, with almost similar kind of pricing and features. So, how can you be certain of making the right choice?
We have listed here few parameters and set of aspects we need to keep in mind while choosing the right 3rd party API.
The reputation of API and Service Provider
Using an API of an unknown organization could result in a disaster for our organizations. One should do some serious research about the targeted API vendor to avoid any last-minute surprises. We must find the frequency outages and failed changes caused to the API. A thorough review should be conducted about the selling of the company and its after-sales service record should be assessed.
We must ask the following questions:
- Can we get the API related information anywhere apart from the Vendor’s page?
- What are the reviews of the API services on independent customer service portals?
- Is this API used by renowned organizations?
This is indeed a tough question to answer. Pricing is something that has a cascading impact on all aspects of the mobile application development process. This is the factor where a minute decision glitch can cost us everything. Usually, organizations consider the API with the lowest price, however, if we keep the factor of considering the higher volume usage in mind, then such APIs could cost us dearly in long run. Initially, we can start with the pricing plan which suits us, and then we can negotiate with the API vendor the moment our application starts scaling. If adding the user or making some additional changes are becoming expensive, then we always have an option to choose an API vendor.
We must ask the following questions:
- What is the price model? Is it per month basis or per request basis?
- If it is per request, then what is the request limit per month?
- Does this pricing plan fit in your expected usage?
- What is the cost of additional requests?
- Can we monitor the request usage via any tool or service?
- Does the Vendor have any 24*7 support system to assist the end-user?
- Is there a free plan available? If yes, then please opt for that first, as it will give u an opportunity to get a real-life experience of the API and its functionality.
Data Privacy Concerns
We must ask the following questions:
- For how long, they may keep data on their servers?
- Will the API vendor share our data with third parties?
- Does their SDK’s have any sort of dependencies?
- Is our communication between us and the API vendor is secured enough? Just review the communication and authentication protocol.
It is an important aspect while choosing a 3rd Party API. Right from the integration, adding features, and upgrades, everything should be documented in the source material, as this will assist developers in the future. Developers can assess the source code to understand how it works and evaluate the code quality before integrating it into the mobile app.
But the biggest drawback with 3rd Party API is, it does not offer access to its source code, here we need to find a method to understand the functionality of the API before implemented it with an existing application. Proper documentation can give us an idea about the kind of implementation we may experience should give you an idea of how your implementation looks.
- We must ask the following questions: Do we have updated documentation?
- How are successes and errors rendered?
- What data format it supports (JSON, XML, etc.)?
- Which authentication method is supports basic auth, API token, etc.)?
- How many calls required to complete as my task?
- What inputs and outputs attributes are required?
Some documentation comes along with real-time querying tools, which helps us running tests to ensure code and documentation. Also, we need to keep this in mind that there is a significant difference between the production APIs and the documentation.
A library plays an important part as it offers common functionality like HTTP transport, error handling, authentication, JSON parsing, media download/upload, and batching to the APIs.
A Software Development Kit is a kind of toolkit that you can use to make it easier to access a device or system resources. We can have an SDK to utilize an API to save our time, however, we have to be very cautious with that.
We might need to ask the following questions :
- Does the vendor provide the only API for limited languages?
- What type of API is provided by the vendor?
- Is there an SDK available for mobile app development?
- Does the API vendor provide SDK or API in our language that we are using for app development?
- Does the Vendor follow the latest API version?
- Does it offer all the necessary features we need?
- Does it provide useful feedback for errors?
- Does API have any sort of conflicts or dependencies in place?
- We need to find out the actual size of the library. We cannot afford a big sized library just because of 3rd party SDK.
- Please ensure the Libraries are written and documented by the API vendor. In case it is outsourced to some other organization, then please ensure it is mature enough and well maintained.
- Please look for any open issues, and their closure deadlines as well.
Consistency is the key, be it a Documentation or the Library, please ensure everything is consistent. We may encounter the poor code quality is there is a lack of consistency, which might jeopardize our application completely.
We may ask the following questions on Consistency :
- If we are about to use a REST API, then we have to make sure that it follows the principles. If the desired output format is JSON, then we have to make sure that all the outputs should be in JSON.
- We must check the cases of attributes and ensure that all the endpoints should follow the same.
- We need to ensure we use a consistent convention to name the endpoints and their parameters and attributes.
Technical support is certainly a critical aspect while choosing a 3rd party API. Adequate technical support helps the end-users and developers when they need their questions answered. It could be an implementation question, an outage update, integration, and error supports.
We need to keep the following tips in mind :
- Does API Vendor’s pricing model include chat/phone/email support?
- Do we have 24*7*365 availability of the technical support?
- Also, does the support available as per our time zone?
- What if there is no phone support? How effective is their email response• Are they capable enough to answer the technical queries, and how relevant their responses?
- Do we have any dedicated community forum available for API and how active they are?
- Does the API Vendor offer a Service Status/Outage report page?
- What is the status of API outage and what is their turn-around time to resolve the issues with API?
API Maintenance and Future Migration
We always keep a fact in mind, that every 3rd party API we are using now, will be replaced with another one in the future eventually. It all depends on the functionality and features required in the future. To address such concerns and ease the replacement and migration in the future, we must design our integration and migration plan in mind.
- The following tips should be followed
- We must encapsulate all the API vendor’s related code in abstraction layers
- We must remove any API Vendor’s related naming convention from database tables and columns names.
- We must add multi-vendor support to ensure progressive migration and fallback support.
Stability and Performance
An ideal API should be well optimized and offers a stable performance of operations. The specifications and availability of all APIs in API market should be measured via regular audits and other control mechanisms. Since the API market implements a robust and rigorous auditing process, hence the APIs listed in the market are more stable, reliable, and secure than those available on the internet.
Relevance to Core Business
While choosing the 3rd Party API, one must understand the requirements of the Core Business of an organization. We need to include only those features which are relevant to the core business, though we can use some additional features to get some level of enhancement to the end-users. However, it is worth pondering that adding too much functionality can make application too much complicated and overawe the end-users.
Some common 3rd Party API generally required for any website or mobile application development is as below:-
- SMS API for OTP verification: – Twillio, Msg 91, etc
- Email provider for notifications and bulk email:- Mailchimp, SendGrid etc
- Social login authentication API:- Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple Store, Linkedin etc
- Payment Gateways:- PayPal, CC Avenue, Stripe, Cashfree, PayU, Paytm etc
- Shipping Gateways:- UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL, EasyPost, Uship, etc
- Geolocation API:- Google Maps API
Depending upon the category of your mobile application or website and the business flow our best mobile app development team can suggest you the list of API those needs to be integrated as now a days 3rd party API are available from each and every popular company, so their services can be adopted and applications can be built on the data provided by their API. Some API are FREE while some 3rd Party API are paid and can be available for a one-time fee or recurring per month.
It is an open secret that when we work with a third-party API, we not only avail their merits and strengths, but we also inherit their demerits and bad practices as well. Choosing an API is imperative for the success of our mobile application, organization, and experience of our company, and customers’ experience.
To sum it up all, these are the tips to use while deciding to choose the right 3rd Party APIs for mobile application development. Integrating 3rd party APIs have been a tricky decision always, this article may help you to a certain extent as this feeds off our own struggles and experiences. It provides information about the trade-offs we might have to make. It helps us understand the difference between investing energy and time in developing and maintaining a service yourself or integrating a third-party service to avail the benefits from the knowledge of a third-party API vendor. As the selection of the 3rd Party API providers can be cumbersome especially if you are not technically sound, it always makes sense to let the professionals or the team of developers evaluate your business needs and suggest the best API analyzing your business case. So if you are looking for hiring a mobile app development company, who will not only code but also completely analyze your business case and make the API recommendations based on detailed analysis on the above parameters and past experience and suggest you the best 3rd party API to be integrated into your website or mobile application during development. Please feel free to contact us for further suggestions and recommendations on 3rd party API to be integrated into your application.
Rahul Mathur is the founder and managing director of ARKA Softwares, a company renowned for its outstanding mobile app development and web development solutions as well as specialized in Android and iOS app development. Delivering high-end modern solutions to all over the globe, Rahul takes pleasure in sharing his experiences and views on the latest technological trends.