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Canva Launches Developer Platform, Eyes Generative AI Apps

Today at Canva’s first developer conference, the design company announced a new developer platform, along with a $50 million fund for devs.
Jun 14th, 2023 11:00am by
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Today at Canva’s first-ever developer conference in San Francisco, the company announced a new developer platform, along with a $50 million “Innovation Fund.” Canva, a design platform that competes with the likes of Adobe and Figma, claims it has 135 million monthly active users. So this is potential of great interest to devs — including independent developers, who will be able to charge money for the apps they build.

To find out more about Canva’s developer platform, and why developers might want to utilize it, I spoke to Canva’s head of ecosystem, Anwar Haneef.

The key to the new dev platform is the “Canva App,” which is described as “a JavaScript file that runs inside an iframe.” The file can then be displayed within Canva — which is both a web-based service and an application across various platforms — and access a number of APIs that interact with a user’s design. To build apps, developers can access the Canva Apps SDK (Software Development Kit), which is now available publicly.

What Kinds of Apps Will Be Built?

Canva’s user base is more wide-ranging than Figma’s — it’s generally seen as a business or marketing tool, whereas Figma is explicitly targeted at designers (although I discovered earlier this year that a lot of developers use Figma too). Haneef said that its users utilize Canva for various design purposes, such as marketing and sales materials, and social media content.

When I asked what kinds of apps Canva hopes will be built for this large user base, unsurprisingly Haneef highlighted generative AI apps first. He expects to see AI apps such as virtual avatars, image manipulation apps, and photo editing tools. Indeed, one of the apps to be showcased at the developer conference today is a generative audio app, which he said will generate custom music for a Canva user.

“There’s a whole gamut of media, visual, and auditory media type of applications that we expect,” said Haneef, “especially building off of this Cambrian explosion of AI happening lately.”

Canva Apps

Canva AI Apps

Another area of interest to Canva is workflow-focused apps, continued Haneef. Canva has many users from marketing and sales backgrounds, who use the platform to create designs and incorporate assets from digital asset management suites. So he envisions apps that seamlessly integrate productivity tools, like Monday or Asana, into Canva.

A Canva App Store for Developers

Canva apps will be a combination of both free and paid options, so there will be a marketplace for the apps. Haneef said that Canva wants to make the platform sustainable for everyone involved, whether they’re developers working on behalf of external companies or independent devs hoping to monetize their app.

Developers will be able to set up subscription services or one-time payment models for their apps, Haneef confirmed. In addition, the $50m “Canva Developers Innovation Fund” is available for developers to apply to.

Clearly, Canva is targeting JavaScript developers first and foremost. But Haneef also said that it wants to entice any other frontend developer to build on Canva. The APIs and tools provided by Canva are designed to be familiar and comfortable for web developers to pick up and use, he said. They will be offering pre-built components and libraries, which he said will allow developers to create apps “in a matter of days.”

Canva Apps Marketplace

Canva Apps Marketplace

While JavaScript is the main focus, Canva also has plans to launch something called “Connect APIs”, which will be REST APIs that can connect any external app with Canva. A waitlist for this will open today and the APIs will be ready later this year, stated the company in its press release.

Haneef added that the Connect APIs won’t have an SDK, so developers will be able to use them with any programming language of their choice.

The ‘Canva For Everything’ Hype Cycle

Given its broad user base and the fact it can be used to design pretty much anything digital, Canva is often talked about on social media as a threat to other creator platforms. Just this week, Jamie Marsland (who runs a WordPress dev shop) suggested that Canva is a threat to WordPress, because “Canva’s distribution potential is absolutely enormous.” He pointed out that Canva already has a one-page site builder.

Commenters on Marsland’s tweet pointed out that Canva is more of a competitor to Photoshop currently. But this new developer platform could add a lot of nifty functionality for Canva users. Perhaps a CMS company will create an app that does indeed make Canva into a full-fledged website builder.

Regardless, it’s clear that Canva itself has grand ambitions to broaden its usage. According to Haneef, Canva aims to be “the most pluggable platform in the world.” That sounds hyperbolic — and it is — but Canva’s large user base undoubtedly makes it an attractive proposition for developers. So if you’re a dev looking for opportunities to plug in and profit, then it’s worth checking out this new Canva developer platform.

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