3 Technologies That Made the On-Demand Economy Possible

February 12, 2017

10:30 am

The on-demand economy presents a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: Did consumer need for instant gratification give rise to on-demand everything? Or did the emergence of companies like Lyft, Postmates, and Blue Apron make people hungry to have their every whim satisfied at a moment’s notice?

On-demand companies are transforming our world in major and minor ways. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory found that Lyft’s and Uber’s ride-sharing services could decrease the number of cars on the road by 75 percent. Fewer vehicles on the road means reduced traffic, lowered carbon emissions, and potentially fewer crashes.

Not every on-demand business is saving the planet or people, but the market trend has changed how we buy groceries, hire dog walkers, and book trips. Most people’s daily needs and desires can now be fulfilled with a few taps — and almost no human interaction.

The Services Behind the Service

People have become so accustomed to the convenience of on-demand services that they take the complex technology powering them for granted. These seamless experiences are powered by integrative application programming interfaces, or APIs; on-demand apps only work when these interfaces harmonize.

On-demand apps can’t function without real-time loops. For example, ride-sharing services update drivers, passengers, and dispatchers on each other’s progress from the moment a ride is hailed until it’s paid. In-app messages, SMS texts, and push notifications enable that synchronization, and each function relies on its own API.

Fortunately, developers don’t have to build alert infrastructures or worry about compatibility. The notification services handle the heavy lifting, including compliance and security standards. Developers would be wise to weave various APIs into their apps to ensure users have consistently reliable experiences.

APIs: The Great Enablers

The proliferation of APIs has allowed startups and developers in emerging markets to ride the on-demand wave. They might start with fewer resources than companies in the U.S. or Europe, but developers can use integrative APIs to build secure, feature-rich apps at a low cost. Three technologies have been pivotal in this transformation:

1. Payment Options

Commerce-based APIs such as Braintree and Stripe facilitate easy payments for developers and users. Their simple interfaces allow customers to provide credit or debit card information once and then check out with a single click. Developers can easily integrate these APIs into their apps, knowing payments are transferred across secure platforms.

Commerce APIs offer several different payment setups, including subscription and one-off options. The low barrier to entry levels the playing field for startups and established brands in emerging markets.

2. Mapping Interfaces

 Almost every on-demand service today uses maps. Mapping APIs such as Mapbox provide a suite of features for developers who want to enable real-time navigation and map functionality within their apps. Users love tracking the progress of orders in real time, and people fulfilling those orders need features that provide delivery locations and directions. Mapbox provides directions, traffic, and estimated arrival times while enabling developers to build interactive maps for end users.

3. Front-End Frameworks

Front-end frameworks such as React and Angular2 are flexible, easy to manipulate, and fully customizable. These platforms offer numerous user interface elements so developers can create responsive, reliable experiences. They’re also compatible with a range of devices and operating systems. As new devices flood these markets, apps must be able to accommodate the platforms consumers embrace.

At a time when consumers have gourmet meals and personal drivers at their fingertips, companies must be ready to deliver instantly and provide excellent customer experiences. APIs allow them to do that, further entwining tech in the on-demand era.

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Wendy Schott is chief marketing officer at PubNub, a groundbreaking data stream network delivering real-time APIs for developers. PubNub enables customers to build, scale, and manage real-time functionality for web and mobile applications and IoT devices. A self-described tech geek, Wendy has more than 20 years of experience building, marketing, and selling infrastructure and enterprise software.

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