Unpuzzling APIs and piecing together IoT

21st February 2017

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I love a good puzzle (who doesn’t?). But don’t you hate it when you’ve got two puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit, regardless of how much you try to force them together? You’ve got to search for the only piece in the box that merges the two perfectly and leaves you with a seamless image.

The worldwide growth in technology has lead to the creation of hundreds of these puzzle pieces, all of which connect different elements of our lives – shopping, health, money. But the link doesn’t need to be just that we use this technology. Pieces that may seem far apart and disjointed can be linked, joined and synchronised.

It’s the tech that brings Google Maps to your Uber or your plane ticket to your e-wallet, and can even link your kettle to your wifi, if that’s your cup of tea.

So much work is going into creating innovative new ways to make everything frictionless – easier, faster and better connected.

If someone mentioned the “IoT” or “APIs” to me a year ago, without a doubt I’d have blinked blankly back at them.

They sound dull. Like most three letter acronyms. But they’re providing a step-change towards how we look at the things around us – and (more importantly) how they look at us.

By definition, an API is Application Programming Interface. But this isn’t a daunting concept when you look at it like what it is: a well designed puzzle piece. A bridge between a problem and a solution.

Code makes a link of communication between two things, dealing with permissions you’ve authorised already. You can ask your Google Home device what your bank balance is, like we did recently, or Pokemon Go can repurpose Google maps.

Understanding APIs means better understanding how websites, devices and applications talk to each other about us and deal with our information.

But there’s no need to feel like our ears are burning.

In so many ways, APIs make our lives easier without us even knowing it.

Meanwhile, the IoT is shorthand for the Internet of Things, and describes all the electronic devices linked to the internet communicating with each other.

Cars, smartphones, monitoring sensors – they predict there’ll be 24 billion devices installed globally by 2020. That’s four for every person living on earth.

The fridge notifying you by text that it’s bought more milk because you’re running out or controlling your heating from your mobile like in the adverts – it’s the next step towards the cult 80’s interpretations of the 21st Century. I for one, can’t wait for hoverboards and self tying Nikes.

hoverboard gif

So how do these things work together?

Well APIs make the IoT possible. They ensure it’s a reliable, safe and efficient way of operating day-to-day life. Without that management, it’s just, essentially, a ‘big thing’. Lots of devices and no connection, no notifications and no cohesion. A big thing, yes. A scary thing, no.

Seamless experiences, from the crucial to the trivial, can make our lives one problem simpler. And as the days go by, more and more of the invisible is happening.

These frictionless experiences are everywhere.

Take Amazon Go – it’s a new vision of how shopping could exist without lines or cashiers. You just pick up and walk out. It’s essentially the antithesis to Argos.

There are even ideas like your car automatically contacting the nearest emergency centre in case of a collision helping lead the way in this API revolution.

And what about a car that taxes itself when it runs out? When it comes to the mundane, automation beats manual almost every single time.

So hidden behind code are complex chats between our devices and our providers, making sure our lives tick along in blissful ignorance. We continue like normal despite all of the discrete tech collaborations helping us keep on top of things.

How can we learn more about something that aims to be completely invisible?

Do we need to? Is there an educational issue here or are most people happy to just stride into the tech-defined future?

The powerful technology in our pockets is driving these connections forward.

Many people are already gearing up with FitBits and smartwatches to track steps and heartbeats, through the mobile phone as a gateway. Connectivity is integral to its convenience. No plugging in, no uploading. Instant, wireless information. And in terms of healthcare, that’s one area where more data has the potential to save lives, by preventing, monitoring and analysing disease through smart pills and wearable patches.

APIs aim to be invisible, but they’re essentially hiding in plain sight. They’re absolutely everywhere, and, if the predictions are right, they’re set to continue growing for years.

So how are Starling using APIs?

Here at Starling, we’ve got a dedicated team working tirelessly to create an API Platform that will enable our Starling accounts to offer so much more than a usual account.

Integrated third parties will seamlessly link in, providing the best and fastest financial products on the market. This will also mean moving money from a savings account to a P2P lending platform will be almost as easy as a flick on the screen.

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