Here’s What This Popular Coding Acronym Means

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Welcome to What the Tech?!, Refinery29's weekly column explaining the basics behind a buzzword or concept you've heard tossed around in conversation (but maybe don't actually understand).

It's the beginning of summer, which means one big thing in the tech world: We're smack in the middle of developer conference season. Microsoft kicked things off with its conference in April; Google just wrapped up its I/O developer last week; and Apple's event is happening in June. At these conferences, we get a sneak peek at what's next for our phones — which is fun — but for developers, it's an incredibly important event.

These conferences give developers the tools and resources they need to update their apps for the next versions of iOS, Android, and Windows. That way, when the new OS version launches (usually in the fall), developers' apps are ready to take advantage of the latest features. Developers are able to do this through the introduction of new APIs.

Application programming interface (API) is basically a how-to guide for building software applications. Some APIs are guidelines of general best practices, while some are very specific, detailing how to implement a single feature into an app.

Let's take Touch ID, for example. Originally, Apple introduced it on the iPhone and you could only use it to unlock your phone or make purchases in iTunes. Then, Apple opened up the API and made it available to developers. Now, you can use Touch ID in a variety of third party apps, such as banking applications, where you want to keep what's inside extra secure.

At developer conferences, companies introduce a lot of new APIs. For example, at this year's Google I/O, Google introduced new APIs for Android Pay (its mobile payment platform), Android Auto (so apps can integrate with new in-car infotainment systems), and an Awareness API (which lets apps access sensor data from your phone to better assist you in whatever task you're trying to do).

As Apple's developer conference approaches, you'll likely hear more talk about APIs.

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