Earlier this week, Tesla's "owner API" was down for an estimated 20 hours according to unofficial Tesla API providers and Tesla owners. During the outage, Tesla owners were unable to utilize Tesla's keyless driving feature or view vehicle status through the Tesla Motors app. The frustrations, unknowns, and conversations surrounding the outage highlight a couple of concerns associated with an API-driven market: vulnerability and uncertainty.
Cars have always broken down. But outside of major quality failures, generally car issues are isolated to a single vehicle at a time. As automobiles join the API economy, with companies like Tesla relying on APIs for massive data gathering and pushing out entry level driver features to its entire customer base through APIs, a single API outage can affect an entire product base all at once. Confusion and frustration highlighted through Tesla-centric forums fully displayed the widespread impact a single API outage can have across an entire customer base.
Further, uncertainty around ownership and responsibility was clearly demonstrated by unofficial Tesla API owners quickly weighing in on the outage. TesLab, an unofficial Tesla API provider, was one of the first to report the outage and helped facilitate a conversation about the issue and its impact. While unofficial Tesla developer communities like TesLab, Teslarati, and others might have the best intentions to facilitate the growth and success of API-driven auto innovation by promoting the software innovation of companies like Tesla, their role in the issue can cause confusion. The average Tesla owner might look to such unofficial providers for answers, corrections, and potentially blame. However, unofficial providers might not have the ability to help the owners.
This week's outage was more of an inconvenience than a danger. However, as carmakers become more reliant on APIs to push out functionality to their driver base, more mission critical features will become more reliant on API uptime. We have heard the stories of car hacks and the potential dangers. The Tesla API outage is a reminder of such possibilities.