Image Blog Essential Guide API Mobile Application
August 6, 2019

Mobile APIs: Essential Guide to Using APIs in Mobile Application Development

API Lifecycle Management
Digital Transformation

Mobile APIs are important. But do you know how to use APIs for mobile application development? 

Read along or jump ahead to the section that interests you most:

What Is an API For Mobile Apps?

An API — application program interface — is used in mobile apps just like it is in web apps. It allows developers to access another application or platform. 

 

APIs are the foundational element of a mobile app strategy. Using mobile APIs is necessary to truly get an enterprise’s massive amounts of data into a usable framework on a mobile device. While APIs are widely employed, there is still so much that they can offer that most enterprises have yet to take advantage of.

Do Mobile Apps Use APIs?

Nearly every mobile app uses APIs. This includes every type of mobile app from social media apps to banking apps and beyond. And mobile APIs are an important part of your mobile app strategy. 

Most people will say that the front-end of a mobile app is where the excitement is. It is true that design and look-and-feel can have a big impact on adoption and usage. But the test of an app's value is what it delivers to the user — and what that user can do with it. The value is really in the data — and being able to access and manage that data is the determining factor in what makes or breaks the success of an app. 

APIs act as a primary resource and enabler for extending an enterprise’s reach beyond its current limitations. APIs offer easy integration and rapid delivery method. So, an enterprise can bundle assets along with those of partners and deliver them where users use them — on mobile applications. As a result, API management has become more of a core operation of IT departments who want to provide their data to more people and encourage more interaction.

As user demand and capabilities become more sophisticated, mobile apps now often rely on integrated data from multiple sources. An easy way to connect that data from server, database, LDAP, or other repository into the presentation layer is critical. Always-on availability is, naturally, of highest priority. But so is the ability to secure that data, mash it up with other data sources, and make it available to developers so they can create more channels.

Mobile APIs: Examples and Use Cases

Here's how APIs fit into mobile application development. 

API Platform

Consumer Apps

For some apps — especially consumer ones — mobile APIs provide the tool that enables user interaction with data from multiple applications. For example, Uber makes use of a sophisticated database of drivers, GPS data, messaging, and a host of other capabilities. All of these come from different sources.

Manufacturing Apps

In a traditional context (desktop, on-premises), an API will help you bring together functionality from a lot of different apps. Consider the example of a manufacturing company that relies on a network of distributors for the majority of their sales. To maximize margins and reduce support costs, the company publishes a RESTful API that enables developers in the distributor companies to embed order placement instructions in their apps.

Enterprise Apps

Many enterprise apps are more singularly focused. But they still require that authentication and security be locked down to protect corporate intellectual property. In all instances, the API (or multiple APIs) strengthen the application fundamentals: by allowing it to be flexible (whereby developers can use, and add to, its functionality), secure, yet all the while, totally usable.

The beauty of the API is its simplicity. You are never actually porting to different platforms because the API is concerned mostly with data, not platform nor device.

That means you:

  • Find the data.
  • Build something usable around it.
  • Grow it with additional functionality (or allow others to build on top of it).
  • Monetize it.

API for mobile application development is unto itself and it’s why CEOs are starting to show up at enterprise app and architecture conferences.

Do You Need a Mobile API Strategy For the Enterprise?

You need to have a solid mobile API strategy in the enterprise. 

Some organizations initiate their enterprise mobile strategy with a quick burst of panic. That’s totally understandable. You may be sitting on terabytes of data that are fed from hundreds of different applications. And the use cases for your applications are varied and constantly changing.

The idea of targeting apps that deliver specific functionality can be overwhelming on first glance. But if you look at your current IT infrastructure and assets, chances are you may already be set up for success.

Some organizations get into trouble because they think in grand terms. Initiating a mobile API strategy doesn’t mean that you’re porting your entire platform to mobile. Break it down and you realize that you need to concern yourself with four essential elements.

Backend Services and Applications

What do you want to surface in the mobile application?

Typically, you'll have a combination of backend applications, data repositories, content management, and social streams. This is really what provides functionality for your mobile app. And this is exactly what needs to be made available as APIs.

In your mobile API strategy, you'll need to externalize these services and applications as easily consumable and accessible APIs.

Developer Community

How will you publish and share APIs with developers who publish mobile applications?

An API portal gives you a place to publish and share these APIs with a community of developers. You want to foster a large community of developers and partners outside of your organization to build applications. So, you can focus on the core functional capabilities which can be monetized through these APIs.

Security

How will you protect your data and applications?

You’ll need a platform that addresses authentication, authorization, and all other API security matters. But you’ll want to do it in a way that provides greatest access and acceptability for your apps. That can be done with accepted standards like OAuth and OpenID.

API Lifecycle

As you start rolling out multiple APIs, you will need an API management platform that manages:

  • Different versions of your APIs.
  • The entire process of designing, developing, deploying, versioning and retiring APIs.
  • The API lifecycle from end-to-end, adding efficiency across all the stages of development and deployment.
  • Ensures that business requirements are needs are effectively satisfied by developers.

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How to Manage Mobile APIs

Here's how you can manage APIs in your mobile strategy. 

1. Secure Your Data

Every application developer will tell you that security is their highest priority. But even experienced developers may not take into consideration that it's not just the data that needs to wrapped in a security layer. User information is transmitted on the front end. Data is transported both from the user and from the server. And all those transactions mean more exposure and greater risk of data being compromised.

There are three main areas of concern for data integrity that a mobile app developer needs to account for:

Authentication and Authorization

Remember, users don't think about security when they use a mobile app (at least not as much as they probably should). They want to click, interact, and then they're out. If access is too hard, they won't use it.

Using an OAuth-based server provides the most flexible and least difficult environment. It gives the API the freedom it needs to find and transact with data (or commerce, in which case, a PCI-compliant API is required). You'll be able to integrate easily with existing ID management tools and add their access control into your app.

Messaging

Apps are meant for back-and-forth interaction. That translates into a lot of data flying back and forth. SSL, TSL and message-based encryption is critical for all that data in-flight to go where it's supposed to go — and stay secure in transit.

Encrypting and decrypting using XML-based standards keeps mobile app data secure but easily usable.

Threats

It is absolutely essential that you provide a firewall around your data to protect against SQL, JavaScript, or XPath and XQuery attacks. You'll need to ensure a validation schema so that content cannot be distorted.

Akana offers strong API and application security solutions that address all of these — authentication and authorization, messaging, and threats. 

Exposing Your Data

The easiest way to grow your channels and reach is to let your API do the heavy lifting. The API is a tool that is already optimized for sharing and its natural state is to connect. If you allow developers to access and use it, they will bring their own data and functionality into the equation, which, in turn, strengthens your own app.

Essentially, the API becomes your most valuable mobile app tool. It enables you to be able to access and share your own data, and benefit from the data of other apps. So, you can take all of that to a huge range of devices and platforms.

The most effective way to do this is by using RESTful services. These should be the foundation for your API lifecycle. 

Akana makes it easy to publish and share APIs in a developer portal

Analyzing Your Data

Apps deliver to your users and customers. APIs allow you to really know who they are and how they behave.

That's a major business advantage. Understanding users helps you deliver a more desirable app.

APIs manage quality-of-service for your APIs, quotas, and service levels for each app. Beyond understanding how the user interacts, it also ensures that your app is doing what it's supposed to be doing.

Is the right data being served? If not, API analysis will alert you and can be developed so it is automatically responsive (with correction and/or alerts to the app admin).

Akana offers in-depth API analytics tools to help you understand users and improve your mobile apps. 

Monetizing Your Data

APIs have become the most important tool to exploit your digital commerce presence, especially for mobile apps. To take advantage of doing that, you will need to treat your API like a product. And it has to have a product strategy for your digital transformation.

That strategy should be a focus on channel development. This is where the API will help you reach new users and partners — and will help you promote your brand awareness.

Akana allows you to create API licensing opportunities and build your API monetization strategy. Doing this gives other businesses an almost immediate opportunity to partner with you. You'll be able to manage the entire process of creating API bundles based on levels of entitlement that you set. This gives you the ability to control the visibility of your APIs, provision access to data, and manage rate limiting policies. The licensing arrangements then become totally your domain, and you then can become, essentially, a franchisor.

There's nothing revolutionary here. But attention to the details and awareness of opportunities means greater chance that you'll get maximum benefit from your mobile app and API efforts.

Leverage APIs For Mobile Application Development With Akana

Akana makes it easy for you to leverage APIs for mobile application development.

With Akana, you get:

See for yourself why the Akana API platform is the best choice to drive your mobile API strategy forward. Get started today with a 30-day trial. 

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