If you’re still not entirely convinced about how critical the API economy has become, then you better look closely at what happened in San Francisco this week.
On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off Apple’s annual developers conference with a two-hour keynote. His talk featured a number of updates that will become available later this year: the new iOS 8 mobile operating system and Mac OS X Yosemite.
But what really lit a fire under the crowd was the unusual amount of time that Apple executives spent talking up new features it is creating for developers. That might sound odd, considering that the week-long conference is for developers, not consumers. Even so, the emphasis on talking about new toolkits and APIs was much greater this year than in years past, even for Apple.
Of course, Apple is a company that knows and understands the value of developers, perhaps better than any company. It’s these developers who have made the iPhone and the iPad such tremendous successes. The company said it now has 9 million developers registered in its official developers program, a figure that’s almost double what it was a year ago.
Those developers have created 1.2 million apps in the Apple App Store. Users have downloaded 75 billion apps. Those are just mind-blowing numbers.
But here’s the thing. Rather than just coasting on that success, Apple on Monday unveiled whole new ways for those developers to leverage the more than 800 million iOS devices the company has sold. Cook said the company was releasing the “mother of all” developer updates, and he wasn’t kidding.
The new software development kit (SDK) for iOS 8 will contain 4,000 new APIs. 4,000! Again, this was a company that already had big buy-in from developers. Now it’s opening the gates even further to let them write apps and software that can access the features and services in Apple’s platform even more deeply.
“With more than 800 million iOS devices sold worldwide, the opportunity for developers is huge,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “This is the biggest iOS release since the launch of the App Store. The iOS 8 SDK delivers more than 4,000 new APIs including amazing new frameworks, greater extensibility and a revolutionary new programming language.”
Yes, Apple even went to the trouble of creating a whole new programming language called Swift to make it faster and easier for developers to write apps for Apple products. But there’s more. Way more. With the new releases, Apple will let developers use the Touch ID fingerprint sensor it introduced last year on the iPhone 5S. The company announced HomeKit, a system that allows people making smart home products and apps to let the iPhone control everything. (“Siri, close my garage door.”) And a new HealthKit can make your iOS devices the dashboard for all your medical information, your fitness monitoring gadgets like Fitbit, and health-related apps.
Access to Apple’s Photo applications. Camera. The new iCloud Drive. Notification. The list goes on, and on, and on. The reason for this is simple, even if the plumbing is complex. Apple knows that going forward, the company’s ability to help users get the most out of the products, to make their ecosystem even more powerful and appealing, will depend on the work these developers do. At the conference, the developers heard the message loud and clear. By the end of the presentation, they were on their feet, cheering Apple executives.
In short, no company can fully take advantage of all of its assets on its own. Not even Apple, the world’s most valuable technology company. Apple’s decision to lean even more heavily on this ecosystem is a lesson for everyone else in how essential the API economy has become.
Photo credit: Mike Deerkoski