I don’t travel by air that often, but I fly enough that I’ve managed to build up quite the collection of airline apps on my phone. Every time I find myself trying to remember my Delta or United password to download my boarding pass, I can’t help wondering why someone doesn’t make a single app incorporating the mobile features of every airline. If Apigee has a say in the matter, some day someone will.
Apigee manages, monitors and optimizes mobile application programming interfaces (APIs), which act as the glue connecting technologies, services and data sources across networks. So far Apigee has focused on the mobile industry, attempting to whip into shape the different network APIs used by hundreds of different carriers and present them to developers as a simple common interface.
Now Apigee plans to go after other industries such as healthcare and the airlines. Those industries have a lot of useful information, from frequent flier miles to health records, that developers would love to access if only it weren’t so fragmented. On Thursday Apigee announced what it’s calling the API Exchange, which essentially takes the model it’s devised for telecom and applies it to any other industry.
Healthcare companies and airlines actually have a lot in common in mobile carriers, said David Andrzejek, who heads up the Exchange for Apigee. Their industries are highly regulated and dominated by multiple, very large, vertically integrated companies using proprietary technology that is unfathomable to all but the most committed developer. “The barriers are normally just too high for any developer to build anything against,” Andrzejek said.
For the mobile carriers, the problem has always been that developers couldn’t just tap into a single API to use their location, presence or payment services – developers have to tap into the separate APIs of hundreds of carriers around the world. Consequently no developer wanted to deal with carriers, further marginalizing them. The mobile industry spent years trying to develop a common set of APIs that would present a unified front to the developer world. They failed spectacularly.
When Apigee took over the GSM Association’s OneAPI program, it pretty much gave up on the dream of standardizing under a single set of carrier APIs (which makes the program’s name a bit outdated). Instead, Apigee took to connecting all of the carriers’ different APIs to a single platform and then translating them into a single meta-interface that any developer could hook into. At Mobile World Congress this year, Apigee and the GSMA presented the initial fruits of that labor: an identity-management API any app developer could use to authenticate users via their phone numbers.
It’s still early days for the OneAPI project, but Apigee feels it’s learned enough dealing with the fickle mobile carriers to take on other big complex industries. Just like the carriers, airlines and insurance companies haven’t standardized under any common APIs, and for competitive reasons they’re unlikely to do so.