7 min read

How APIs Help Product Development - Making Better Products

Nov 10, 2021 8:00:00 AM

As a product manager, you will understand the challenge of bringing together all the elements needed in product development. Managing different teams, each using their own software to develop designs, process data, and other tasks, requires an integrated approach in terms of oversight. And APIs can be your secret tool. 

The purpose of APIs is to provide a standard interface that allows the different teams to use their own tools and systems but still be able to share data and information – so everyone is working with the same set of facts. APIs also allow you to collaborate on design across multiple locations or even time zones through an API management platform.  

In terms of product development, particularly for teams working across different sites or from home, APIs can prove to be invaluable. Having the ability to collaborate smoothly, with little friction, will help provide a quick time to market for new products. Investing in APIs and their management platforms can directly lead to an increase in productivity and profits. 

We’ve covered APIs a lot on this blog. So we won’t go into the detail of what APIs are here, but if you want to find out more, then feel free to check our recent post on API integration. 

But how do they work for product development teams? And can you use APIs as products in their own right? Let’s dive in and find out. 

APIs in Product Development 

There are several ways APIs can be involved in the product development process. As a product manager, you might have heard your colleagues - usually from marketing or other departments - describe APIs as a magic tool.  

You may feel differently, as such a view underestimates the complexities involved in integrating or developing new APIs from scratch. However, there’s no denying it can play an integral role in product development in areas such as: 

  • Internal systems: As a product development team, you would likely be working with other departments within your business. Using APIs can help synergize operations by allowing information and other data to flow seamlessly between different teams - no matter what system they could be using. 
  • Within the product: Depending on the nature of your products, APIs can play a critical role in making them tick. Any app, software, or platform that requires interaction between the user and the product is likely to have a place for an API. This element is particularly vital if you want to expose the API to the customer. Good examples of these are Google Maps, any delivery app, or e-commerce stores. 
  • Trial and testing: When you are testing new products and prototypes, you will generate plenty of data and information. The challenge is to process the data in such a way that can be useful for your teams. APIs can play a crucial role in digesting and delivering the information you need to develop your products. 
  • Third-party integration: Like internal systems, but working with external companies to develop your product. Having an API ecosystem will support product development and improve product functionality once it’s ready - particularly app and software-based designs. 

The four areas above can work together to boost the production line when it comes to the development stage. With a slick system in place, supported by a network of APIs, your business will speed up the time to market and revenue. 

The additional bonus of APIs is having the ability to reuse them for different products. Once you develop a network of APIs, you can simply tweak existing ones to make them more relevant for each development process.  

However, APIs are not only useful for product development. They can also serve as products in their own right. 

Developing API Products 

As we touched on earlier, there are some APIs that serve as products themselves. Google Maps, Youtube, Twilio are all examples of products driven by APIs. They work by acting as an interface between the user and the back systems, processing the information inputted by customers for the product to work in real-time. 

The example of Google Maps is a demonstration of where an API can be utilized by several groups of customers and clients.  

  • Personal/individual users: The regular user can use the map to find where they are and directions to where they want to get to. They can use the map on web browsers or the Google Maps app. 
  • Businesses: Google Maps can be embedded within a business site, on a company’s contact us page. The API can be used to locate where the site visitor is and quickly send directions to the nearest store or office of the business. 

It is the functionality of Google Maps’ product that sets it apart, and this functionality is driven by APIs.  

The key is to always consider how APIs can be applied to improve products. They will not make a difference for some types, like cutlery or basic toys, but in areas like software, tech, and digital - APIs will always have the potential to make your products more responsive, personal, and better. 

API Led Product Development 

Much like the theme from our Utilizing API-First Design post, having APIs at the heart of product development can clearly make the process leaner and more efficient. It can help your team make better decisions based on more accurate and up-to-date data.  

Having an API ecosystem, supported by advanced API management software, can also lead product development teams to unexpected results. The increasing trend towards API-driven products gives your business a new revenue opportunity. 

However, the golden rule of product development still applies.  

Focus on the needs of the user, whether it’s your business or customer.  

And in today’s digital age, APIs will always have a key role. 

Peter Edlund

Written by Peter Edlund