You’ve built a killer mobile app similar to Google Maps and a content sharing platform. But something’s wrong: your app is painfully slow when communicating with third-party applications and your ability to retain and attract users is suffering as a result. According to your mobile analytics, nearly 30 percent of users exit the app when they reach this digital “bridge.” To save time, your company used an existing application program interface (API) designed for the desktop instead of building a new one specifically for mobile. Therein lies the problem. The existing API is neither optimized for mobile devices nor is it on par with a mobile user’s performance expectations. Your app–your dream–is in big trouble without a mobile app API.
An API facilitates communications between your mobile app and third-party interfaces/devices, thus improving speed, creating a better user experience (UX) and boosting user retention. In many cases, businesses can see up to a 200% increase in traffic on their app over their website simply because mobile devices travel with users. This frequency makes a well-crafted mobile API essential if you plan on developing an app that will interact with other applications/software programs, websites, operating systems, and programs for device hardware while providing a smooth user experience.
Just as there are differences when developing desktop software and mobile software, you’ll encounter a contrast when comparing desktop vs. mobile APIs. In the mobile world, speed is tremendously important, and APIs play a critical role in this fast-paced environment. Connection speeds are counted in seconds for desktop interfaces and milliseconds for the mobile devices. So, if you use an existing desktop API, your mobile application could be painfully slow and produce a negative ROI for your business. This is just one way the wrong API can impact your app’s user interface (UI) and overall user experience (UX).
What is an API? Why is it Important?
An application program interface is comprised of a few components, including:
- Tools (for developing the app)
App developers use the API as a guide when creating the graphical user interface (GUI). The API provides the elements required to create a functional app that “plays well with others.” APIs are a major time-saver for developers, who would otherwise be forced to use an arduous trial and error process to develop the dynamics needed to force an app to interface with other software, sites or devices. Since many developers are highly specialized, individuals may lack the specific knowledge required to ensure optimal compatibility and speed between multiple platforms without an API.
Outside of your own app development project, developers are more likely to create apps that interact with your application when you provide a well-crafted API. This means an application program interface is especially critical for projects relying on interaction from other apps, such as Paypal payment integration and single sign-on through Facebook.
How is a Mobile API Different Than a Traditional API?
The manner in which your desktop computer behaves with your mobile OS is different than how a mobile app interacts with a website database or smartwatch. Though it’s possible to build a mobile app that works with a desktop API, doing so can cause inefficiencies.
Key differences between an API for mobile apps and a traditional API include:
- User expectations of responsiveness and connectivity timescale:
Mobile operations are expected to occur on a shorter timescale, so it’s vital that your API allows for this high degree of responsiveness.
- Mobile applications need different or more limited data sets:
Quite often a desktop API dumps “the kitchen sink” in terms of data, delivering every possible field and permutation. In the majority of mobile environments, this creates a lot of undue overhead as only a subset of the data is actually needed.
- Operating system architecture:
This impacts everything from power consumption to database configuration. APIs frequently interact with the device operating system, so the API for a Windows PC will be different than the API for an iOS mobile app.
- Interactions with device hardware:
Some hardware available on a mobile device is not available on a desktop computer, so this accounts for some variance in API architecture.
- Mobile user habits vs. user habits on the web or on a laptop/desktop computer: Your API will impact UX, so it’s essential that developers have a firm understanding of how UX changes when they switch from predominantly stationary devices to mobile ones.
- Mobile APIs may need to accommodate multiple simultaneous interactions:
This includes interactions with a website and IoT devices or communications with device hardware and multiple third-party mobile apps. As such, mobile app APIs are often more complex.
It’s usually best to start with a clean sheet of paper on a mobile API. This gives your developers full control over the speed and how the app communicates with necessary databases.
How Does Mobile API Development Improve User Retention, Adoption and UX?
Mobile users are accustomed to responsive devices powered by rapid 4G service, where connections and data transfers are measured in milliseconds. The standard is getting increasingly faster as we’re on the cusp of 5G, which, as of mid-2017, was already rolled out in several test markets.
This expectation makes the typical desktop API seem downright antiquated by comparison. Traditional APIs have an average connection speed of one to four seconds—a time scale that equates to hours in the mobile world. So if you build an app to accommodate your existing API, you would break a cardinal rule by developing new technology to work around outdated technology. It’s akin to designing a new stereo system that exclusively plays CDs and lacks the ability to stream music and play MP3s.
Once society develops a new standard, the old ones are viewed as inconvenient at best and unacceptable at worst. Think back to the days of cassette tapes when rewinding, fast-forwarding and “flipping sides” were normal. Once CD technology entered the mainstream, those actions were phased out almost immediately.
If you develop an app and use a traditional API, it’s going to be almost impossible to gain favor from users. Speed is one of the most important features in an app. Consider these factoids:
- Just one second of additional loading time could result in a 7% drop-off in conversions for a mobile website. Speed expectations are even faster for mobile apps, so the adverse impact could be greater on mobile platforms.
- For an e-commerce portal earning $100,000 per day, that one-second delay could translate into a $2.5 million loss annually. If you’re Amazon, this equates to an estimated loss of $1.6 billion per year.
- That one-second delay creates a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction—especially bad for apps with many competitors.
- Four in ten Americans say they’ll give up if a mobile shop takes more than three seconds to load. Since 5G will soon make blistering speeds the norm, this timeframe could be reduced even further within a year or two.
In fact, modern society is fairly impatient in general, with a majority saying they won’t do business at an establishment where they had to wait for any length of time. This means you’ll be harming UX profoundly if you develop an app around an API that cannot deliver hyper-fast connection speeds. The net effect is quite clear.
Negative Consequences of a Slow API
- Higher app uninstall rate
- More one-time users
- Fewer loyal, returning users
- Weaker sales or conversions
- Lower satisfaction rate
- More negative reviews and ratings
In short, it’s best to create a mobile app that works alongside a highly-responsive mobile API in order to deliver an experience in line with user expectations today and in the foreseeable future. After all, APIs for mobile apps serve as vital bridges between your mobile app, other devices and systems, and your end users.
The experienced development team at 7T is here to assist with both developing your API and designing your mobile app interface. By addressing both at once, we maximum the degree of cohesion. Based in Dallas, our developers work with clients in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Chicago and across the nation. If you’re ready to build an app and an accompanying API, or simply have more questions, contact us today.