Uber Opens Its API. But Will People Build With It?

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In the five years since its creation, Uber has grown to an $18.2 billion company that threatens to subvert the traditional taxi industry in many cities around the world. Uber’s popularity stems largely from its ease of use—with a few taps of a mobile app, anyone can order a car-for-hire to his or her location.

Like many a tech company, Uber needs to grow by a healthy percentage every quarter in order to satisfy its investors and fend off competition. In order to fuel that growth, the company has now opened up its API to any developer who wants to integrate its services into an app.

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Those services include the ability to surface an Uber user’s details within an app; a display of available Uber products; price estimates; and other endpoints. Starbucks, OpenTable, United, TripAdvisor and other companies have already integrated the API into their mobile products; Uber hopes that more, perhaps smaller firms will also take the plunge.

The opening of the API is a smart and increasingly commonplace move for companies that have achieved significant market-share; the more third-party developers who use that API to integrate a company’s services into their own apps, the greater the company’s reach. In August 2013, for example, Amazon opened up its Mobile Associates API to developers, hoping the latter would use it to sell physical goods via apps. Around the same time, 43 percent of respondents to a survey from Layer 7 indicated that they already had an API program in place.

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But releasing an API doesn’t guarantee that developers will actually use it in their products. If Uber wants this latest initiative to succeed, it will need to convince everyone—consumers, businesses, and developers—that it’s here for the long term, and that any hours spent integrating its services into an app will ultimately prove worth it. (If Uber makes on-demand product delivery a permanent feature, that would also increase the use case for the API.)

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Image: Uber