The future world that awaits us with APIs and the Internet of Things
Connected homes and vehicles, wearables and smart cities are four fields in which APIs are driving forward the Internet of Things sector. These application programming interfaces boost business creation.
Wearables for tracking physical data, smart homes via home automation, connected vehicles, smart cities in fields like public services and security… Everything related to the future world is based on IoT (Internet of Things) and infrastructures created by companies or governments based on APIs.
A review of various reports on business growth forecasts and volume of connected objects for the next few years reveals astonishing figures. It is most certainly fertile ground for growth, the birth of new innovative companies and high revenue generation in several fields:
● BI Intelligence: the consultancy firm forecasts a total of 34,000 million connected devices by 2020, of which 24,000 million will be IoT devices. These figures are far and above the 10,000 million recorded at the end of 2015. Its report predicts high investment in IoT by companies to bring down costs, increase productivity and branch out to new markets.
● Cisco: the report by the telecommunications consultancy firm anticipates a multi-million investment in Internet of Things solutions, which would give a total volume of €12.7 billion by 2022, in fields such as enhancing the supply chain and logistics (€2.4 billion), increasing employee productivity (€2.2 billion) and cost reduction strategies (€2.2 billion).
● IC Insights: it talks about five fundamental IoT sectors, i.e. connected homes and vehicles, smart cities, wearables and Internet.
No one can doubt that these days the Internet of Things goes hand in hand with APIs. Without application programming interfaces a viable world of connected objects just would not be possible. Energy consumption and connectivity require that the data be managed outside the device for the model to be sustainable. The Internet of Things and APIs are two software development fields that feed off each other. Indeed, IoT only took off properly when APIs stormed onto the scene.
Connected homes and vehicles
Connected homes are more a trend than a reality at the moment. For this to take off properly it probably needs an even bigger change in mentality in the average consumer. Having said that, economic outlooks forecast an increase in the number of connected devices in the home: 67% growth over the next five years, according to a Business Insider Intelligence report.
The growth of the business is not only slowed down by consumer cultural aspects. It is also held back by the huge atomization of products: there are connected plugs, switches and lamps by many different manufacturers, each of which comes with its own remote control application. It is the same story with electrical appliances, security systems and leisure technology… The challenge is to merge everything into a single product to make the solutions easier to use. There is also discord between the connectivity systems that the devices use (some via WiFi; others, Bluetooth; and these are not the only ones).
One possible solution are APIs. These interfaces connect the efforts of the device manufacturers on the one hand, and the application developers on the other. The users are the main ones to benefit from this. If, in addition, these APIs are open, the developers' work allows breakthroughs in creating an API ecosystem for connected homes or developing global applications for these types of devices.
Something similar occurs in the connected vehicles market. For it to take off once and for all, it depends on whether developers can create applications that work across vehicle makes and models. Some examples show that this is possible, thanks to APIs by companies like OnStar and Automatic.
The first company has spent three years working on APIs that allow third parties to develop apps that are then integrated into their platform. They have signed an agreement to incorporate their solutions into some General Motors vehicles to connect to emergency services, roadside assistance, navigation systems and on-board diagnostics.
Automatic connects users to its vehicle via an adaptator and a mobile application. It provides information about mechanics and fuel consumption and data on emergencies and free parking. They also have a number of third party applications thanks to their API for developers. There are other companies that specialize in designing specific APIs to connect vehicles manufactured after 1996, for example, Carvoyant.
In both cases, products linked to connected homes and connected vehicles, many of the solutions are based on process automation via IFTTT ( If This Then That), a web service that allows devices from vary different origins to be connected.
Consultancy firm IDC predicts that in 2016 the sector will complete the sale of 111 million wearables around the world, a great deal lower than the 214 million expected by 2019. In their opinion, the annual growth rate over the next five years will be 28%.
Regardless of figures, one thing is clear: the second and third generation of wearables will record bettter performance and much more efficient data management than at the moment, mainly thanks to developers.
There are currently more than thirty APIs for wearables on the market. Some of them are linked to leading sports brands like Adidas, Under Armour and Garmin and technology brands like Google, Microsoft and Samsung.
Adidas has an application programming interface for its Adidas MiCoach service, a training platform for users to create exercise plans and check their personal progress. The API is a REST API which offers all kinds of resources to encourage third party developers to create applications with the customers' profile information, which is private and kept secure via a OAuth v2 security protocol. Under Armour has various REST APIs to create services for its different applications: Under Armour Women and MapMyFitness, MapMyRun, MapMyRide, MapMyWalk and MapMyHike after buying out the company MapMyFitness.
In the case of Samsung (Samsung Simband) and Microsoft (Microsoft Health), the use of APIs is focused on health data collection and management. Samsung Simband API is written in C and C++ and enables real-time access to user profile data on the devices. Microsoft Health Cloud API is a RESTful API that gives third parties real-time acess to user data in JSON format to ehance Microsoft Health applications.
A few years ago, talk of smart cities was more a premonition than a reality. Everyone could visualize future advances in data management and services in a major city, but projects were few and far between and not very viable. Now, with the array of opportunities opened up by APIs, when we speak of Smart Cities we refer to an actual business sector: more than 1,600 million devices connected in 2016 and around 3,300 million by 2018, according to Gartner, in fields like health, public services, transport, building…
Some important smart city projects, aside from private company proposals, include major cities like Barcelona and New York which have created platforms and environments for developers in their ambition to become true Smart Cities.
Barcelona city's project was City OS, a real-time Big Data platform to improve citizen life. By installing all kinds of sensors around the city, the government can collect and analyze data to anticipate problems in, for example, managing public services such as traffic or transport: simulations are created and also predictive models for various situations.
Another example, even more sophisticated, is New York. This city now has eight different APIs (Geoclient API, Open311 Inquiry, Events Calendar, DoE School Choice, City Hall Data Feeds) and three more in beta, HPD Data Feeds, Comptrollers Checkbook and DOT Data Feeds. Like other cities, New York also has an open data portal with more than 1,300 datasets. All of this information is logically available for developers through an open API provided by Socrata (SODA). This interface allows access to data on governments and public administrations, non-profit organizations and NGOs around the world. Transparency and business are possible thanks to APIs.
More information on APIs here.
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