October 25th, 2012

The iPad Mini is for Cars

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Category Apps, Mobile Access
 

Mini Cooper on an iPad MiniOn Tuesday, Apple launched the iPad mini. Apple events in the fall of 2012 may no longer command the social anticipation they did just a few years ago but they remain flash points for technology reporting. This release brought on more than its share of speculation that the mini is simply an overdue acknowledgement that Amazon got something right with Kindle and that Apple has quietly slipped into following mode. Some pundits have seized on the angle that Apple’s new tablet appeared to contradict Steve Jobs’ famous trashing of the 7″ form factor. But in all of the hullabaloo, one observation seems to be missing: that a tablet of this size is tailor-made for inclusion into the dashboard of your car.

Nothing dates a car like its electronics. And nothing is more tragic that the user experience of pretty much every single in-car navigation and music system. The luxury car segment can do Corinthian leather and wood grain appointments like no industry on earth. They can build a magnificent driving machine that powers through rain and snow like it was a sunny day in LA. But ask them to do a screen-based app and you get something that looks like it was designed on a TRS-80.

I didn’t renew the trial SiriusXM in my 4Runner because I couldn’t stand its programming compared with what I could stream from my iPhone using Bluetooth. Every time I rent a car, I use my phone-based Navigon app over any provided GPS because my app is just better. I’m hooked on Waze, despite how few people use it up here in Vancouver (you should sign up — the more people who use it, the better the traffic data is). The apps on my phone are always up-to-date and I replace the hardware every couple of years for the latest model (which is good enough for me; after all, it’s only a phone).

All cars need is a standard, lockable frame where you can plug in the device of your choice, plus a standardized connector. Then let free market competition and innovation prevail over apps. Tomorrow’s gear heads aren’t going to be like the hot rodders of my Dad’s generation or the tuner kids of a decade ago. They are going to be geeks with apps using APIs.

That’s what the iPad mini is for.

(It’s interesting to note that the wifi-only mini does not have GPS but the cellular version does…)

October 24th, 2012

Improving the API Developer Experience

Developer ExperienceSometimes design concepts are obvious. We know they are implicitly understood and don’t require drawn-out explanations. But sometimes these implicitly-understood concepts aren’t executed in real life because they haven’t been explicitly defined. I’ve come to the realization that designing APIs with the developer in mind is one of those ideas that often has an audience nodding their heads but which only a few take to heart and apply to their API architectures.

We in the API design world have a great opportunity to learn from our brethren in the product design world. The user-centered design approach for products has paid great dividends for those who can understand and apply the idea to their interfaces. The goal is almost stupid in simplicity – design products that your users will enjoy. But, as always, the challenge is in translating a simple concept into real strategies, methodologies and practices that do not lose that fundamental goal while staying applicable to unique marketplaces.

In our world of API design, most of us understand that machine-to-machine integration still involves a human – the developer who develops the client code. That developer – the one who makes or breaks us by deciding to use an API – is our user. While product designers talk about improving user experience, we talk about improving the developer experience.

But how does this actually happen? What do we specifically need to do in order to create APIs that are enjoyable to use? Indeed, what does enjoyable even mean in this context? This developer/API publisher relationship is a unique one and the product-based, user-centered design and human/computer interaction models cannot just be airlifted in. They need to be massaged and transformed so they are applicable to the Web API world, without losing the potential value inherent in a user-focused design.

I hope to explore these ideas over the coming months and come up with recommendations for how we can build API solutions that deliver on the promise of improved developer experience (or DX). I’ll dive deeper into the world of user-centered design and discuss methods for translating these concepts from the world of product design into our API design domain.

October 22nd, 2012

Layer 7 Sends Lightning Bolts on the AT&T Hackathon Circuit

Layer 7 at AT&T HackathonsLayer 7 recently partnered with the folks at AT&T, to be a frequent sponsor on their hackathon circuit. AT&T hackathons provide a launching pad for developers to come solve big problems, learn about APIs, get inspired, win prizes and possibly launch new products. Take a look at the Layer 7 site for information on upcoming hackathons and join us if you can! In the meantime, here’s an overview of some recent AT&T events we participated in.

Mobile App Hackathon, Denver, CO (August 17-18). Layer 7 brought payment APIs that gave developers tools for integrating payments into apps and we were onsite providing technical support for iOS, Android and HTML5. Layer 7 also provided Apple TVs as prizes for the team that achieved the best technical integration of our customer API. The winning app was Open Perks, designed to make redeeming digital coupons and loyalty rewards easier.

Social Good Mobile App Hackathon, New York, NY (September 25-26). Apps built over the course of this weekend aimed to solve major social issues – for example, by alerting people when blood donation banks need their certain blood type or by improving support systems for alcoholics. We were there to offer onsite technical assistance and help teams with user experience/user interface design as well as general prototyping best practices.

Hack Across the Pond Mobile App Hackathon, London, UK (October 5-7). This hackathon – produced in partnership with the MIT Sloan Business Club and the UK Trade & Investment Agency – aimed to bring together developers in Boston and London. Utilizing simulcast video streaming, developers worked together on projects at both sites. We were onsite in London, providing organizational and technical assistance.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s Truancy Task Force & NYC Digital Hackathon, New York, NY (Oct 12-13). Onsite at AT&T’s downtown NYC office, we were again honored to be included in a prestigious group of sponsors. We gave a presentation on How APIs are Changing the World and it was a pleasure to work with and provide technical support to members of New York’s thriving, innovative developer community.

October 15th, 2012

API Workshops in Europe

Paris API WorkshopI had a great time presenting on API design and management trends at our London API Workshop a few weeks back. James Governor from RedMonk delivered an exciting talk on APIs, the need for API Management and some stark truths, like the fact that Java is still at the top of the programming pile. All of the trend talk and analysis was followed by a great real-world example when MoneySupermarket.com’s Cornelius Burger described his organization’s journey implementing the MoneySupermarket API with a SecureSpan API Proxy. We had excellent feedback on the event, so I know I wasn’t the only one who learned a lot from our speakers.

I was particularly impressed by the range of industries and organizations that were represented in the audience. We had developers from large enterprise shops, specialized Internet-focused start-ups and even a few entrepreneurs just getting started. I think this range of interest is indicative of the value of Web APIs for all and bodes well for a continued investment in designing great APIs, rather than just chucking them out into the ether.

Next up on the tour is our Paris API Workshop taking place tomorrow (Tuesday, October 16).  As always, we have a great set of speakers lined up, with Martin Duval from bluenove talking about building developer outreach programs and Benoit Herard from Orange Labs discussing their API launch. France has a  great start-up culture and a reputation for enterprises like Orange driving innovation, so I’m expecting good conversation, some excellent API Management presentations and – if I’m lucky – some great wines.

October 12th, 2012

Dispatches from NY
Don’t be a Control Freak

Interop New YorkA week back, I had the privilege of joining some industry peers at New York’s Interop conference, to discuss trends in enterprise mobility. Each of the companies represented a sub-segment of the mobility space. We had a big data company, an MDM vendor, a client virtualization company and me representing the MBaaS wing. Each presenter made a case for why their sub-segment is essential to enabling the mobile enterprise.

Not surprisingly, they all emphasized their security and management credentials as being central to their value propositions. Each vendor took a different approach to protecting the welfare of the enterprise but in the end, we all promised we could defend organizations against risk, both technological and financial. What we neglected to mention, I realized afterwards, was that a little risk is sometimes good.

Don’t get me wrong, security is something I take seriously. We at Layer 7 guard some of the most sensitive government and commercial APIs against cyber attack and misuse. But there is a downside to an unbalanced emphasis on insecurity – and that is fear. Some fear ensures prudence. Too much fear can arrest the progress of whole industries.

In a few short years, smart mobile devices have completely transformed how we communicate, socialize, shop and get entertained. Almost overnight, an economy has grown up around mobile apps. This same app explosion is poised to change how enterprises function, by completely un-tethering employees, while providing a way for companies to reach their customers beyond the PC and TV. But to get there, enterprises will have to encourage app innovation and the only way to achieve that is by opening up.

Now, no one says that opening up needs to be a foolhardy effort. Opening up data and applications to mobile apps needs to be done in a guarded and prudent manner. But in all the talk around mobile security, it’s important not to stifle innovation around mobile development. Security has to go hand-in-hand with connectivity.