In short: An API is a set of rules and protocols that let different software apps to communicate with each other. An SDK is a toolbox that contains pre-built components that developers use to add functionalities to their app for specific platforms. Their relationship is crucial to understanding the development of location-aware apps. An SDKs pre-built functionalities allow developers to have access to features like geospatial data, geocoding, and reverse geocoding. APIs supply functionalities and data from a service or platform. It allows developers to access ready-made features like geofencing, analytics, and trip tracking without having to build these capabilities themselves.
An age-old topic in the tech world but not anywhere else. However, to those unfamiliar with what an API or an SDK is, what they do, how they work, and the synergies between them, this article is for you.
We’ll be deep-diving into the core concepts of each respective topic and distinguishing how they function differently, and why they’re significant in the world of mobile technology. This is truly a beginner's level to the world of mobile location development. See it as Level 1 for those who play video games. Or Level 0 for those familiar with Kung Fu Panda.
What is an API?
An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of rules and protocols that allow different software applications to communicate with each other. It defines the methods and data formats that can be used to exchange information and perform various operations between different software systems.
In layman's terms, an API acts as a messenger, enabling different applications to interact and share data with each other. It specifies how requests for certain functions or data should be made and how the responses will be structured.
APIs are found in various contexts, such as web development, mobile app development, operating systems, databases, and more. They provide a standardized and efficient way for developers to access the functionality or data of an existing system without needing to understand the intricacies of its internal implementation.
Common Terms and Applications of APIs
We'll be introducing some common terms and known applications of APIs in the context of mobile location technology. That'll help keep things concise and informative within our scope!
Web APIs can be utilized to access location-based services available over the internet, such as popular mapping services (Google Maps), which provide web APIs that let mobile applications retrieve map data. That data can be used to search for locations, calculate routes, and perform geocoding operations on the app.
Developers integrate Web APIs from services like Google Maps to provide their users with features like real-time navigation, location search, geolocation-based recommendations, and more on their mobile phones.
Libraries (not the ones you have to be quiet in) and frameworks often include APIs that provide access to location-based functionalities of an underlying operating system or platform for mobile developers. A library is literally just a collection of code that is on offer to help ease with application development, while the framework is the skeleton that holds libraries (not a real skeleton). So, APIs can be found within a library of code, and a framework exists as a blueprint for developers to implement particular software from a library.
Operating systems like iOS and Android offer libraries with location APIs that developers use to retrieve a device’s current location, movement tracking, and updates on changes in the device’s location. From those operating system libraries, developers can make location-aware apps such as weather apps, fitness trackers, or location-based social networking apps.
Operating System APIs
And speak of the devil, iOS and Android provide APIs specifically for accessing location info. Developers can retrieve GPS coordinates, access the device sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes for orientation, and receive notifications when the mobile device enters or leaves a geographic region (geofencing). With this, developers can provide location-specific content that is also personalized, such as location-based push notifications.
Alright, database APIs aren’t directly related to mobile location technology, but are still relevant. They help manage and store location data within mobile applications. Mobile apps that rely on user-inputted content, like reviews, check-ins, or location-based social media posts, may use database APIs to store and retrieve the location-related user data. That allows apps to display location-specific content and boost the user experience within the app based on the user's location.
What is an SDK?
An SDK is a software development kit, a toolkit, or also known as a devkit. It’s basically a toolbox that contains pre-built components that developers can use to add functionalities to their app for specific platforms. It's an app-building time saver. An SDK is a set of lines of code that can be added to a mobile app, which otherwise would have to be manually inputted and created by the developer themselves.
Depending on what type it is, an SDK contains an array of basic ingredients:
- Code samples
- Programming tools
With all that included, SDKs are designed to let developers create apps on specific platforms, like iOS and Android SDK for Apple and Android devices.
Common Terms and Applications of SDKs
When it comes to location SDKs (Software Development Kits), there are several commonly known variants and terms associated with them. Here are some key terms related to location SDKs that are essential to be familiar with:
A specialized SDK designed to provide developers with the tools and resources for integrating location-based services and functionalities into their mobile apps. It includes tools such as geocoding, reverse geocoding, and mapping. Developers use this kind of SDK to build applications that use location data, like navigation apps or location-based marketing apps. Google Maps SDK is one of the commonly known location SDKs in the mobile developer world that developers use, but there are a few more out there - including us here at Roam.ai! (A classic shameless plug).
A satellite-based navigation system that allows precise location determination. There is also Glonass, Galileo, Beidou, and a few other satnav systems depending on the region you are located. A GPS receiver calculates the geographic coordinates through triangulating signals of multiple satellites, which provides real-time and historical data. It’s a fundamental technology for navigation, tracking, and various location-based applications.
GIS, or Geographical Information System, is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, and present spatial and/or geographic data. The geospatial data collected describes the geographic features of a location. This lets users understand, interpret, and visualize data in a geographical context.
Navigation SDKs equip developers with tools to integrate turn-by-turn navigation and route planning into apps. This lets developers provide users with navigation that includes real-time directions, traffic updates, and optimized routes. You’ll commonly find this kind of SDK among transportation and logistics apps.
A Map SDK enables developers to integrate maps into their apps. It usually offers features such as markers, overlays, and interactive elements. It’s a foundational element for creating location-aware apps as it visually represents geographic data, allowing users to get access to geolocation, points of interest, and route visualization (without needing to step into their map. Get it? No?)
LBS (Location-based Services)
LBS refers to services that utilize location data to provide users with information, entertainment, or security relevant to their geographic location. Think of location-based advertising, geotagging in social media, and emergency services that can pinpoint the location of a caller.
This term refers to deriving meaningful insights from location data. Essentially describing the action of leveraging location data to analyze and interpret spatial information. Businesses and organizations can make informed decisions, uncover patterns, and gain a better understanding of geographical contexts. This helps with strategic planning and optimizing resource allocation.
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)
GDPR is a set of European Union regulations governing the collection and processing of personal data, and that includes location data. GDPR emphasizes user privacy and data protection rights, with strict guidelines on how organizations handle and safeguard personal information. Compliance with this regulation is crucial for companies dealing with location data to ensure ethical and legal data practices and maintain user trust.
SDK and API Synergies
Hopefully, you’re now familiar with what an SDK and API is, and the common terms related to them and how they are applied.
In this world of technical terms, a lot of acronyms, and some big words that frankly I still need to look up on Google, it’s important to know this: This isn't a "SDK vs API" conversation. The synergies between an SDK and APIs are crucial in the context of building location-aware apps. This is especially true when incorporating specific APIs such as the Geofence API and Trips API.
Here’s the rundown:
The SDK provides a comprehensive set of tools, libraries, and documentation that developers use to build apps. A location SDK has pre-built functionalities for handling geospatial data, geocoding, and reverse geocoding. APIs supply specific functionalities and data from a service or platform. The specific APIs like Geofence and Trips allow developers to access ready-made features like geofencing, analytics, proximity detection, and trip tracking without having to build these capabilities from scratch.
Efficient Data Communication
SDKs often interact and integrate with multiple APIs to efficiently communicate between the app and external service. For instance, a location SDK can use a Geofence API to define geographical boundaries.
Reduced Development Time
The coexistence of SDKs and APIs reduces the development time and complexity of features for developers. They’ll be able to use the SDK to handle common tasks and components related to location services while also using the APIs to access those unique features we’ve talked about. That gives a developer the time to focus on other aspects of their app.
Modularity and Customization
You’ll often find SDKs to be designed in a modular way, letting developers pick and choose the components they need. Like someone able to pick the tools they need from a toolbox to build whatever they’re building. APIs complement this by the fact that they can be integrated seamlessly with the modular SDK. A developer can pick and choose what API they want to use when building their location-aware app because the APIs and SDK aren’t restrictive.
Given there are various mobile platforms, well, iOS and Android, SDKs are available to be developed for both kinds of devices. It’s actually APIs that play a role in providing a standardized interface for accessing location features, so that developers can deliver the same experience regardless of the user's device.
That's your beginner's guide to API's and SDKs for 2024. Whether you’re a developer, product manager, or a founder, contact our team or sign up to our dashboard and discover how to build your app with our Location SDK and APIs today.