How APIs Improve End-User Experiences Tyler Charboneau November 10, 2020 Today’s applications and services are starkly different from their siloed predecessors. Developers maintain ecosystems of microservices — or interconnected programs that deliver unique functionality — and users have come to expect seamless integration between them. APIs make this background communication possible. They’re also why interwoven features appear to “just work” without excessive effort. Below, we’ll explore common ways in which APIs can delight users while boosting engagement with a myriad of services. The Evolution of User Experiences There are two sides to the user experience (UX) coin. The longstanding idea of UX is the notion that interface elements should work predictably and reliably upon interaction — while guiding the user through a digital odyssey. Actions should thus trigger intended results for pointer, touch, and voice-driven interfaces. UX goals are quite diverse and vary depending on who you ask: Determine how customers might interact with applications or services Removing friction and frustration when using a product or service Creatively and analytically determine what software is going to be Elicit emotions that drive engagement Pleasing the user and putting customers first via interface design Therefore, end-user experiences are human at their core. They take into account common wants, needs, and behaviors that determine user satisfaction. APIs arm developers, marketers, website wizards, and more with tools for developing new user experiences. An interesting problem with APIs concerns awareness; ask most everyday users what an API is or does, and they’ll be hard-pressed to provide an answer. Sometimes, It’s equally challenging to offer clear explanations. Sure, APIs might help two pieces of software converse, but why does that matter? End-users may be surprised to learn how integral APIs are to their daily workflows. Those digital bridges enable powerful front-end interactions. Developers are thus working hard to make user-facing integrations approachable and meaningful. Accordingly, APIs add functional depth beyond what typical user interface (UI) elements offer. These goals underscore the importance of the API end-user experience — the overall perception of how smoothly and predictably connected features are working in response to requests. So, what rewards do we reap? Increased Productivity Efficiency and productivity were common pain points before services became connected. Users were forced to jump repeatedly between apps to tackle projects because companies were content playing on their sides of the sandbox. Not all app developers did this maliciously, nor to stave off competition — cloud-based technology was simply still maturing (and still is). Companies have now noticed how capable APIs are and how programmability separates their platforms from the pack. Securely dismantling the walled garden is a major win for end-users. Consider Microsoft Outlook, one of the world’s most popular email clients. Emails are much richer than they used to be; users regularly exchange large documents, images, and GIFs. Microsoft chose to add Dropbox (a cloud storage and file-management platform) support within their mobile apps in response. Users must simply sign into their Dropbox account. Thereafter, they can automatically pick from an API-generated list of recent files to attach within their emails. How would this process have looked previously? Leave the Outlook app and your email draft Sign into Dropbox, either through your browser or their app Download a file (if not stored locally) or generate a shareable link Copy link Paste the link into your email, or upload the document from your computer That’s pretty convoluted, right? You can imagine how this productivity advantage massively scales for those sending tens or hundreds of daily emails. Similar principles apply for users sharing content within social forums. The process is much faster and becomes second nature. Also, remember that running more apps concurrently requires more memory — increasing the risk of crashes, refreshes, and the possibility that your original message may be lost. We want to consolidate. Maybe you’ve purchased something online using Apple Pay or PayPal, instead of whipping out that credit card and punching in the numbers. Odds are good that you’ve logged into a service with your Google or Facebook credentials — as opposed to creating a new account. These little API-driven, time-saving wins equate to a positive experience. Let’s also not forget our enterprise users, who regularly pair Jira with Slack, or DevOps monitoring tools with external dashboards, to organize their operations. APIs supercharge productivity across the entire user spectrum. Gentler Learning Curves An underrated aspect of API integration is familiarity. Because API-based features allow you to remain within your current app, you don’t have to acquaint yourself with an unfamiliar interface. This aids productivity, but it also reduces frustration. You don’t want trial-and-error to transcend the actual task at hand. Learning an application’s design language isn’t always easy. Furthermore, the former method of jumping between apps (built using Electron, Qt, or React, for example) can induce user error as elements and actions change. Accordingly, seamless integrations can help introduce users to new technologies without diving straight in. There are no settings to worry about or commitments. Users may find solutions that better solve existing challenges. Automation in a native format is hugely beneficial. Access to new Services and Business Models A user’s journey is one we often consider once a user has discovered a service, but what if you’re still seeking a suitable service to handle your needs? There’s a trickle-down effect that occurs within API development — developers create new applications and services faster with external APIs, target core users more efficiently with improved integrations, and deploy more quickly. More and more services hit the market with each passing day. This may seem daunting, yet it also increases the chance that a user-friendly service might be tailored to you. We observe this within websites and apps. Envision the financial sector. We’ve spoken before about financial institutions and their roles in creating useful APIs for developers. These open APIs allow developers to code functional new apps for money management, investments, loans, and more. Third-world communities have traditionally faced challenges with financial inclusion. APIs can help usher in a class of powerful new financial tools — replacing complicated, basic alternatives that deliver little value. Even household names like PayPal promote freer cash flow between users with their payments API. These technologies thus democratize financial inclusion while making things easier for end-users. But value extends beyond money too — APIs save trips for those without mobility, stimulate commerce, and empower users. In the case of London’s Theatre District, Mashery’s third-party APIs have helped customers find seats and save money while attending cultural events. These services allow different parties to connect more swiftly and budget more effectively. Performance Well-optimized APIs are fast. They can route requests and responses through servers in mere seconds or milliseconds — boosting perceived responsiveness. Users love when deliberate actions are carried out rapidly, as delays can cause friction. You may have heard the term “bounce rate” thrown around while discussing websites. This is the rate at which a visitor leaves a webpage within a certain period of time. Psychology works the same for API-powered features. Humans don’t like to wait. APIs connect services at lightspeed, increasing the probability that users will stick around. Reducing load times and network errors are crucial when trying to win users over. Performant APIs can make all the difference. Final Thoughts As cohesive standards and best practices continue to evolve, developers will push scores of excellent new APIs into the public realm. Concurrent technological advancements will help make API-centric functions increasingly seamless. The API user experience is critical — especially since so many applications are adopting APIs to enrich themselves. The technology behind our websites and apps may seem foreign to many. However, it’s heartening to see how human these APIs have become—and will continue becoming — as integrations make life easier for billions each day.