James Higginbotham

APIs are the thing that gets us to the thing

I have been a huge fan of the TV series, “Halt and Catch Fire”. The series focuses on a group of characters that ride the wave of hardware and software through the 80s and 90s. One character on the show had a saying:

"Computers aren't the thing. They’re the thing that gets you to the thing."
 -- Joe MacMillan (Halt and Catch Fire)

Today’s equivalent could be expressed this way:

"APIs aren't the thing. They’re the thing that gets you to the thing."

Let’s explore this idea further and consider what it may mean for the future of APIs.

We have always assumed that applications are the thing

Applications are most relevant when they meet humans to create and enhance the job-to-be-done. APIs are what make this possible. Applications are only relevant to the job they solve. Today, we see this manifesting as a web or mobile application.

Contrary to what some claim, application themselves are not the most important thing. The single most important thing is the solution you deliver that solves a problem for a person within a specific context.

The real “thing” is delivering solutions through capabilities

What are your most important products in your organisation? They probably aren’t applications. The most important products in your organisation are the business and technical capabilities your applications deliver that enable people to solve a problem that they previously couldn’t without considerable effort.

These capabilities are then combined into solutions that best meets the needs of your customers. These needs may vary based on where they are, what they are currently doing, the kind of input device they are using or have at hand.

With the introduction of platforms such as Slack for team messaging, bots, and voice interfaces, things are dramatically changing. We are starting to see the focus shift from building applications to delivering capabilities via APIs and connecting them to any number of other applications and devices to solve problems.

Applications are less “the thing” than they used to be. Instead, APIs are now “the thing” that powers “the ultimate thing” – getting things done.

The future of apps

Over the long term, I believe that applications will become more situational. In the future, many of the applications we will use may only exist for a limited time, perhaps only for a few months, weeks, days, or even a few hours. Then we will dispose of them and replace them with something else that is more appropriate to our current set of needs.

Given the right tooling, development teams would no longer bear the burden of developing situational applications by-hand. Instead, some development teams will focus their time and effort on services and solutions critical to the business, while others deliver these situtational apps at a rapid pace.

Unfortunately, today applications cannot be discarded today without losing data. The data is tightly coupled to the interface. APIs can result in a more loosely coupled application, with data separated from the interface. But this only happens if we are intentional with our API designs – delivering capabilities that ensure we can solve problems in any context.

APIs will always be a thing

If APIs are the centre of computing, applications should become a personalised application that combines capabilities to solve contextual problems. The API owns the data and capabilities instead of siloed applications. Businesses become more modular, able to unbundle and rebundle their capabilities to innovate and engage customers in new and exciting ways.

We will get there and in less time than you think. Is your API strategy prepared to lead the way?

Speaking of API Strategies… Tyk Creator and CEO, Martin Buhr, recently spoke at Nordic APIs about why he thinks boring is best for yours. Watch the video presentation to find out more.