Take a look at your smartphone. Before we dive into video conferencing APIs, let’s acknowledge that whatever name brand adorns your phone, it didn’t make every single component that went in it. Your phone’s supply chain comprises many third-party original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in charge of making different parts and pieces, such as the casing, touchscreen, and other electronics inside. As you probably already know or guessed, that’s just as true for top-of-the-line phones and well-known tech companies as it is for the low-cost and less-sophisticated ones. The same goes for your other electrical appliances and gadgets.
The logic behind it is clear. Just think of the know-how and resources that go into each component. Even those considered low-tech would still require a dedicated R&D operation and a separate assembly line. So, rather than each company making its own hardware, with apparent effects on development and manufacture times, niche players specializing in one or more particular parts and technologies make them for everyone else. Often, these bits and pieces are purely white-label, unseen by the end-user. Sometimes – as in the case of ‘Intel Inside’ – they serve as a stamp of approval and become something to boast.
What are APIs?
The software world has its OEM equivalent too. APIs – Application Programming Interfaces – are unique pieces of code that neatly fit into other software and, with that, introduce a new subset of options and features. Simply put, an API is an efficient way to integrate technologies into a product without all the development involved. Someone else has already spent years building and perfecting it. Now, others can take advantage of it and stick to their roadmap.
Under the hood, APIs work differently than their physical counterparts. An easy way to describe it is like a phone line between two applications – the host’s and the provider’s – allowing them to communicate. Once there’s a pertinent request from the host (or its end-user, to be exact), the API calls on the third-party app (i.e., its server). This request generates a response sent back to the host’s user. The entire process is instant and completely invisible, as far as the user can tell. All they see is a much-needed feature.
What Are Video Conferencing APIs?
A video conferencing API gives you the option to add real-time video to any app natively. How exactly it’s used could vary. If you have a social network, you might be looking to make video calls available for your users. If it’s a learning management system you’re building, you could use it to set up a live virtual classroom option. If healthcare is your focus, perhaps you’d like to give medical staff a way to meet with patients intimately and discreetly – albeit remotely.
The video chat feature is primary and fundamental to it but is not the only one making up the video conferencing experience. You’ve probably had enough video calls on a few different platforms in the past year to know that textual chat and screen share are now pretty ubiquitous. However, shared whiteboards, breakout rooms, analytics, room controls, and on-screen interactions like surveys and quizzes are steadily becoming the new standard users expect.
Why Add Video Conferencing?
The need for conference calls and virtual platforms has shot up during the pandemic, and Zoom quickly became the go-to solution for many. Nonetheless, the market is ripe for more video solutions tailored for specific uses. To boot, users are hungry for products fully equipped with real-time video, eliminating the need to jump between apps when and where they need to make a video call.
To be clear, the popularity of video conferencing is no longer tied up to Covid-19. It’s here to stay, even when we finally get back to meeting in person like we used to, and social interactions are a daily thing again. Too many employees have discovered the perks of work from home. Too many businesses now know how many people they can contact without compromising their service. Too much time and hassle were saved meeting with people virtually.
In the end, video conferencing is an effective means to communicate with others. It’s indifferent to geography, obliterates time constraints, and knows no limitations of reach and scope. The pandemic just made it blatantly obvious. And now that the secret’s out, it’s plain to see there’s a lot more we can do with it.
Why Use Video Conferencing APIs?
Just like the mechanical and electrical parts in your phone, building a virtual conferencing capability from scratch is bound to be costly. And more often not, custom designs go over budget – a lot over budget. Why? Because even with a clear vision of where you’re heading, it’s practically impossible to anticipate the humps and bumps you’ll encounter on the way.
These unknowns will affect your timeline too. And while time is always an important factor, one could argue that it’s even more so when you’re up against multiple competitors, all trying to go-to-market faster and be the first to capitalize on the golden opportunities currently out there for remote collaboration and video conferencing.
Lastly, your development shouldn’t stop once you hit production. If it does, it will eventually go stale and lose ground to the competition. In other words, if you decide to build your custom software, make sure you have the resources to maintain a steady product roadmap at least 12 months ahead with continuous refinements, enhancements. And bug-fixes, of course.
What to Look for in Your API of Choice
Video conferencing solutions aren’t all designed the same, and neither are video conferencing APIs. Hence, deciding to avoid any unknown adventures by not building it yourself is one thing, but choosing the right one for you is another. To help, here are the five essential considerations (price aside) before settling on your one and only video conferencing API.
1. Ease of Use:
By now, we hope we’ve made it clear that APIs’ sole purpose is to avoid any rabbit holes, pointless adventures, and uninvited surprises. Consequently, if getting it up and running isn’t going to be easy, there’s no point using it. So, before anything else, you’ll want to see that it will integrate into your system architecture seamlessly and that existing and new data sets are easily transferrable. Once that’s confirmed, make sure those in charge of the integration – usually your developers and product team – will have everything they need. Neatly organized API docs are the bare minimum. Ideally, your API will come with detailed guides, demos, and automatically generated codes to simply copy and paste.
Or, in two words, quality and security. By quality, we mean no frozen screens, break–ups, and such-like connectivity issues. They just make it that much harder to communicate. At the same time, real–time communication requires rich video and audio data to flow simultaneously between multiple users and maintaining that involved some solid engineering. Since you only get one chance to go-to-market, you better be sure that when you do, it’s with a technology that’s tried and tested against a wide range of requirements, and preferably in real-life circumstances. As for security, you want to be looking for end-to-end encryption at the very least so that unwanted guests can’t crash on private meetings. Depending on the industry and users your solution will serve, it could be a good idea to insist on enhanced security features.
While our instincts may guide us to customize and think up more features to add, it’s just as essential to give some thought to features we can do without. Overkill and insufficiency both are detrimental to user experience. Hence, make sure you can modify, add or subtract according to your needs. Even if it doesn’t seem crucial at this point, you never know what the future holds.
Talking about the future, we assume you’re planning to grow over time. Having to switch platforms when you do isn’t recommended. Instead, secure a solution that can support a growing user base and uphold larger capacities than what’s on your spec sheet at the moment. If possible, choose a solution allowing infinite scale so that you don’t have to worry about it ever again. It’s good to set your goals high anyway.
Although we encourage you to opt for a solution that’s easy to change, you should still pick the one most suited for your users out of the box, including any imminent and subsequent needs you already know of. If you’re building a solution for educational purposes, check that you can assign room controls. If it’s meant to be customer-facing, such as for support or sales, you’ll want the least amount of friction, i.e., no installation or sign-up. For a business meeting, digital whiteboards are an absolute must. They’re great for brainstorming and getting your point across. All that isn’t to say that you should stick to essential requirements only. Think long and hard about what would make your user’s experience extra special, and set your solution apart from the competition. On-screen Interactions lead to more engagement; accessibility ensures that no user is left out; everyone will appreciate any time saved doing repetitive tasks like adding captions and translations.
While the relative weight these factors carry might change based on your specific solution, technology, and the industry you’re building it for, they should all hold for any use case. Either way, keep your users and product a top-of-mind priority, and everything else should follow. Whatever you’re building, you’re on the right track if you’re considering a video conferencing API. We might be biased, but we have reason to believe that real-time communication to 2021 will be what smartphones were to 2008 – game-changers.