APIs will glue together the Internet of things

The so-called Internet of things can be up close and personal, and APIs are the key to making it happen


A while back, I wrote about how I learned to stop worrying and love my creepy smartphone and how data is converging to tell us more about our users, specifically what they're going to do based on their past behavior. The other week, I wrote about how Jawbone's Up bands detected the recent earthquake in Northern California, and how you're able to write apps using Up band data via an open RESTful API. In fact, the other major producers like Fitbit also have an API, and the number and types of devices exposing their information are rapidly increasing.

What does all this mean? APIs are actually the glue and interesting part where the Internet of things starts to become useful and more than a buzzword. It isn't really about what one device can do, but what multiple devices can do together. Ultimately, it's all about the data the APIs expose.

[ Also on InfoWorld: What the 'Internet of things' really means. | The 3 ways the Internet of things will unfold | Keep up with the latest developer news with InfoWorld's Developer World newsletter. ]

Sure, I like the Jawbone Up analytics app on my phone, but my cycling app Strava also pushes data to it. It'd be rather annoying if it didn't (I find Up's lectures to get more steps in on the days where I did eight hours of cycling annoying enough as it is).

App integration is one thing, but if you can access the data, you are able to develop interesting things along with it. For instance, what about a company that books a lot of travel? What if you could link employee Jawbone UP and TripIT data? The Up knows when I sleep and TripIT knows where, so together they know which hotels I sleep best at (and stop booking me at the ones where loud trucks drive past my window).

Moreover, users can update their weight in several of these apps, and many of the same users are checking into Foursquare. I find meal-tracking a pain, but one could directly link their weight to where they ate.

Add sensor APIs, presence APIs, and building automation APIs and you have the ultimate conference tool. If you know where people are in the building and what lights to turn on, you can optimize meeting room configurations and update eveyone's calendar automatically. Moreover, if you have TripIT data, you can tell when the meeting is actually over, then not only turn out the lights but order a ride to the airport.

Most of the apps you use every day already have open APIs. To me, that's amazing. Usually this industry is about trapping the user on a platform and locking down their data, so they can never leave. Instead, many companies seem to have the vision to make it more about the service and less about the "lock to our platform" game.

Our challenge is that each of these devices, apps, and "things" has a unique API. Strava has a different API from MapMyRide (you have to do dumb things with gpsbabel merely to copy a route into Strava). Apple does everything different, and quite frequently, its APIs are not different as in better, but different as in "I hope you live in interesting times." Then there's Up vs. Fitbit, Foursquare vs. Google Plus vs. Facebook, and so on.

Unless you want to write a bridge for every flavor of every service or device, you're forced to either standardize within an organization or user base, or you're forced to find some kind of intermediary service (like IFTTT) that certainly introduces at least some level of latency and reduced functionality. What is needed (once again) is some level of standardization, but this will be a big process and involve getting viciously competing companies to cooperate.

There are two ways this might happen. Some awful standards board like the DMTF gets together and creates something horrible like CIM (yes, CIM is horrible) or worse, trying to extend CIM by creating a model for every domain. The other way is a killer app emerges to link a lot of these things, and all the vendors decide they don't want to be left out, so they conform to that view of the world. For an example, look at how cloud vendors' products started supporting/emulating Amazon Web Services APIs.

I'm waiting for my complete Google Now Benevolent Autocracy, but that depends on you guys taking these APIs and tying it all together into the Skynet that will run my life to my benefit. The APIs are there, the data is already there, but the standards are not. Until then, I have a bunch of people to tell me where to go.

This article, "APIs will glue together the Internet of things," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest news in application development and read more of Andrew Oliver's Strategic Developer blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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