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Why APIs Matter in IoT

What’s an API?

We hear the term API in tech articles, see it at trade shows, and IoT creators have set up numerous forums on how to leverage APIs for the best integration and deployment of their projects. But hang on, like many of us, you want to know what an API is and what it’s got to do with IoT projects.

To get the easy one out of the way – API is an acronym for “Application Programming Interface.” There are many kinds of API in the world today, but for all intents and purposes here, we’ll be talking about REST and Push – two widely used APIs in developing projects and deployed IoT solutions.

The article you are about to get into will go over these two API types with some key examples regarding IoT and then how you can develop your projects further with proper API planning.

REST APIs in IoT

Here’s another acronym, REST stands for Representational State Transfer. A good way to think of REST APIs is as bridges. There is river with roads and cities on both sides of the river. For the cars to go to the other side of the river, you need a bridge. Once the bridge is in place, you may need to control the amount of traffic by letting a certain amount or type of cars cross every hour. Also, since it can be expensive to build a bridge, you may also consider charging tolls. A REST API ‘bridge’ acts in a similar manner, it needs to control the data traffic in order for you server not to get overloaded and you also may want to monetize the traffic your API facilitates.

Planning how an IoT project will use an API to interact with external systems is an essential step of the development process.
Planning how an IoT project will use an API to interact with external systems is an essential step of the development process.

IoT REST APIs in Action

Now that we have a good idea of how REST APIs work, let’s see how some IoT projects have used them in the real world.

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a popular app on smartphones which aggregates REST APIs from myriad sources in order to allow users to maximize automation and other tasks. For example, when the GPS on your phone registers that you are home, it sends a request to turn on your phone’s WiFi and connect to your home network. Another could be controlling a smart light bulb using Alexa, just imagine all the automated requests from program to program involved in that process. From the previous examples to AI data analytics like face recognition software and predictive systems maintenance all use REST APIs to ensure smooth and secure operations for extremely repetitive tasks.

All in all, REST APIs are digital middlemen who handle requests and responses. You control how they allow others to request/use your IoT resources and services.

Push APIs in IoT

Push APIs are a slightly different story. They don’t rely on a request-response pattern. So instead of a bridge, think of a newsletter. You’ve come across an interesting newsletter on the IoT industry and decide to subscribe. After subscribing, you get newsletters as they are published (until you decide to unsubscribe). Push APIs do the same thing – they publish and deliver data frequently (way more frequently than a newsletter). Push APIs deliver simple messages coming from devices. The messages are then published to the API consumers (other programs/software), who have subscribed to them.

Understanding how different APIs work will improve user experience.
Understanding how different APIs work will improve user experience.

 

IoT Push APIs in Action

IoT has made Push APIs more and more important over the years and with 5G on the way, things should begin to get very interesting. Continuing the idea of subscriptions into a more current setting, chat apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, LINE, and others also use Push APIs to deliver data. A more typical example of Push APIs being used currently in IoT is how buses and trains use and deliver location data. These vehicles have IoT devices that send location data at particular frequencies of time. The locations are then published/pushed to the applications that show the vehicle locations on maps.

Push APIs are similar to REST APIs in that they are a way for different softwares/devices to ‘communicate’, however the large difference is in how that communication happens.

The API Ecosystem in IoT

As we see systems get more diverse and more complicated as technologies advance, we can see that both types of API have a place within the IoT ecosystem and development process. For example, consider which kind of APIs you may need to develop or implement for a Smart Home solution. Perhaps it involves both REST and Push functionality and also needs to be versatile enough to run from the cloud or a home server.

Developing or simply finding API resources alone can be challenging and could set your timeline back by months. We at TechDesign have years of experience in assisting developers find the best solutions with APIs that will fit the project at hand – this, for example, can take a lot of the leg work out of integrating existing products into larger systems. The best time to get started is always now, so you can put proper APIs in your IoT project tomorrow.

TechDesign is here to accelerate the IoT product development of hardware innovators like you. With 450+ suppliers and 700+ solutions, our professional project managers are able to help you find the most suitable solutions at any development stage. Hesitate no more, visit the TechDesign site today and submit a request!

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