Chat API pricing: What to know about the top options
In past articles, we’ve explored the ins and outs of APIs for product managers to help you make the best call when it comes to choosing tooling for your business app.
But one thing we haven’t covered yet?
The details on chat APIs specifically — and most importantly how chat API pricing stacks up for the top options on the market.
So in this guide, we’re going to dive deep into the details of different chat API pricing models and what they offer.
What is a chat API?
An application programming interface, or API, is a group of rules and instructions called “protocols” in the development world.
You’ll sometimes see APIs referred to as "middleware” because of their core functionality. APIs are the go-betweens that enable different pieces of software to work together quickly and securely.
Today, APIs are pivotal to modern businesses. They enable companies to share data internally, eliminating siloing and saving storage space. They also make it easy to purchase and integrate new functionality from other organizations, empowering your development team to focus on your core offerings.
Chat APIs specifically make it simple to integrate conversational features in your software. The real-time conversational capability enabled by chat APIs can assist in user engagement, business expansion, and tons of other benefits we’ll get into right now.
Why it’s best to build with a chat API
When the topic of building chat within your website or app comes up, how to build chat and at what cost are debated. While developers can build chat from scratch or purchase entirely as SaaS, building on top of commercial APIs offers the best of both worlds for developers - they still get to build cool stuff while the backend infrastructure is proven and tested. There are many benefits of building with a chat API.
Enable you to laser-focus on your offering
Of course, your development team's time is precious.
If in-app chat is not in their expertise or part of your core offering, building a chat API from scratch may not be a wise use of development time.
Creating an API consumes valuable development time that could be better spent improving or building features that are essential to your offering.
A ready-made chat API that you only have to customize quickens the pace of development because not every component needs to be made from scratch.
Readily meet user expectations
We’re all familiar with messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, etc.
These big players have set a high bar for what users want and need from in-app chat today — read receipts, rich media, multi-person conversations, translation, and more.
Making that a reality requires a lot of bandwidth if you’re creating it all on your own without the help of a cutting-edge chat API.
Get new features to market before your competition
When you’re up against lots of other businesses in the same space, success may be a matter of who hits the market first.
With everyone realizing the value of in-app chat and adding it to their tools left and right, quickly getting your chat feature on the market may be pivotal to winning the customers you need.
Development teams can easily spend months creating and perfecting chat functionality that holds up to today’s standards. But with a chat API they can get a complete chat experience, and therefore an improved version of your offering, out on the market in just a few days of concentrated effort.
Eliminate experience-ruining edge cases
With in-app chat, chances are that about 80% of the time your features will behave precisely how you want them to.
But then there’s that pesky 20% of outliers.
How does your app handle unplanned circumstances, such as nefarious spammers? Does it already have moderation in place — or do you have to now quickly build it out for those edge cases? If you put moderation in place, what might that break? And what are the rules for moderating in-app messages?
As you can see, when DIY-ing in-app chat from scratch, it’s critical to spend a lot of time upfront considering all the edge cases that could break the experience and scare users away. Even when you do, what happens if you miss a few?
Chat API vendors spend most of their time dreaming up new features and thinking about all the edge cases they need to take care of. When you invest in a ready-made API, that planning is a big part of what you’re buying.
Forget about scary scaling and maintenance costs
With the pace of technological advancement today, there’s always something new to add to your in-app chat interaction. New requests and features mean more updates — and more bugs to deal with. These are things you can’t just ignore, as a buggy experience has a way of pushing away customers.
And what if your wildest dream comes true, and you’re suddenly inundated with a ton of new users?
Well, scaling chat is often a difficult operation.
To handle your user base's distinct and changing demands, you must determine peak load periods and create an architecture that can scale up and down to meet these needs. While you’re figuring all of this out, it’s pretty impossible not to overspend on server and infrastructure resources.
When you buy a chat API, you pay for peace of mind and savings when it comes to these maintenance concerns. The vendor takes on all the responsibility of adding and testing new features and correctly provisioning for scaling.
Caveat: It might be better to build your own chat if…
We’ll be the first to admit that there are some circumstances when building out your own chat is the right move.
If chat is the core product or service your business offers, then of course building the just-right experience from scratch makes sense.
Then there are organizations with extraordinarily high requirements for security, niche businesses with particular chat needs, and really large enterprises. Any of these may require super customized chat functionality. So in these kinds of cases, spending internal engineering resources to build specialized chat features and APIs may be essential.
But for the majority of cases, there are ready-made chat APIs like the ones we’re going to help you weigh up next.
Chat API pricing
Once teams decide to buy and then build with a chat API, they then consider how much time and money it will cost to implement. Experienced buyers understand that internal resources and time are also costs to the business in addition to the API service they are purchasing. In this blog, we will simply explain different pricing models of the top vendors to get you started. Of course, you need to ask the vendor the number of developers and time required to implement your unique use case and factor that into the overall cost.
Commercial chat API pricing models
Most commercial chat API vendors like Stream, CometChat, RocketChat charge based on monthly active users. Some may also charge for exceeding a threshold of active users all chatting simultaneously. This is because it takes a lot of infrastructure to support real-time visualization and accurate sequence of simultaneous chats. Pubnub offers pricing based on monthly active users or total transactions per user. Some vendors like Twilio also charge for the storage of files, media, etc. shared among users in the chat. In some cases, advanced features are extra charges. Next we’ll break down the pricing for Sendbird Chat.
That means that Sendbird is a "ready-to-build" platform that provides all the speed and capability of modern software, which you can easily customize to suit your in-app chat needs — even as they change and grow.
With Sendbird you get the benefit of over 100 engineers focusing solely on enhancing chat infrastructure, services, and building blocks. With our team taking care of the fundamentals, you get to focus on the core capabilities and special touches that make your business stand out.
In addition to our chat API, Sendbird offers a complete set of features to help your customer engagement soar. This includes voice and video calling, live streaming, a customer support solution you can build into your app, and even ChatGPT-powered chatbots that are unlike anyone else on this list.
But check out our blog to learn more about these solutions because, for now we’re going to focus on what makes our chat API exceptional by talking about the chat messaging features users can enjoy at each Sendbird pricing tier.
Sendbird’s chat pricing model is based on monthly active users of chat and the number of active users chatting simultaneously.
As a distinctly developer-friendly chat API provider, we’ve made our Developer plan free to use.
With this plan, developers can experiment with all the different ways to apply our chat API by building out apps that have up to 100 monthly active users (MAUs) in the chat functionality. This tier includes up to 10 users chatting at the same time (a.k.a. peak concurrent connections).
At this tier, developers can enjoy access to all of Sendbird’s Pro features — more on those soon — and support from our robust community, no credit card needed.
The Starter tier is for companies early in their chat journey with up to 100,000 MAUs on their chat app. It includes up to 5% of MAU peak concurrent connections. Pricing starts at $399/month for up to 5K MAU.
Along with access to our support team via a ticketing system during working hours, customers in this tier enjoy the basics of moderation, including:
The Starter pricing tier also includes almost all of our modern messaging essentials, such as:
UIKit for developers
Private 1-to-1 chats
Open channels with dynamic partitioning
Unread message count
File and multimedia sharing
The Pro Sendbird pricing tier offers the best features for businesses that need an in-app chat experience that will scale with them as they grow.
This plan features up to 100,000 chat MAUs and up to 5% of MAU peak concurrent connections. Pricing starts at $599/month for up to 5K MAU because of all the additional features offered.
All of the Starter features are included, plus translation features and even more moderation capabilities including:
With the Enterprise Sendbird pricing plan, users get the full power of every feature on our platform.
Custom pricing comes with millions of MAUs and numerous peak concurrent connections.
All of the Pro features are included as well as priority support, more security, additional data and analytics features, and extra infrastructure options including dedicated servers. Many features can also be customized at the Enterprise tier, and can be leveled up even further depending on your payment plan.
No matter which Sendbird pricing plan you choose, each comes with unlimited messages per month, unlimited message storage, the ability to host multiple apps under one organization, and support.
All users also get access to all of our integrations:
Push notifications tester
And our durable security is also available at every tier, which includes:
It’s easy and free to give Sendbird a spin to see if our developer-focused and user-friendly chat API is the best solution for adding native chat to your business app.