I dabble in APIs.
Choosing the right chat API requires a ton of research. Comparing dozens and dozens of features and convoluted pricing plans for several chat providers takes precious time you could use instead to develop and ship a chat feature. To make things easier for developers, CTOs, and product managers, I wrote this quick guide so you can compare the most well-known chat APIs.
Note: I need to mention that there could be an inaccuracy here and there because new features are getting released all the time, and it's hard to keep track of all of it. Nonetheless, I try to keep the article updated and think it can help you round down a few API contenders.
The solutions out there can seem almost identical at first glance, but when you dive deeper into the features and how the APIs work in practice, you will find a lot of nuance between the providers. That's why we tried to categorize chat APIs by looking at the developer experience that can significantly impact how fast you ship the chat feature.
The so-called "nuts & bolts" chat APIs provide a somewhat raw codebase with not many out-of-the-box features. Then there are the "building block" APIs that make it easier to build a chat solution by assembling pre-built components. Under the last category are the chat APIs that offer more of a plug-and-play developer experience and have most messaging features and the UI already pre-built.
Each category has its advantages, in general, but not as a rule; the more out-of-the-boxiness the chat API provides, the less customizability you get. However, pre-built features make it easy to ship a chat solution in days, while the "nuts and bolts" and" building block" APIs can take up to a few months to ship.
Most chat API providers have their pricing based on the number of monthly active users (MAUs). Some also account for additional parameters like storage, number of messages, function executions, and concurrent users. And on top of that, some charge for add-ons as well as premium support. All in all, it's a lot of work to get an estimate on the actual cost and compare it with other providers. Nonetheless, we wanted to make the pricing somewhat transparent, so we plotted the prices in dollars per MAU for the featured APIs. It's not perfect, but it will give you a sense of how the pricing will scale as your user base grows.
As you can see, there's not much difference in costs up to 10 000 MAUs, after which some providers bump up the prices sky-high. While most companies will consider just the starting cost, it's important to have a good grip on what you could end up paying when you'll have more than 10K active users. Just imagine your bill jumping from 900$ per month to 5000$ per month. We decided to leave out PubNub because their pricing depends on many parameters, and it's not easy to compare to others.
Another thing you should carefully evaluate is the costs per additional concurrent user which are generally priced at 1$ per user, in contrast to MAU prices that usually range from 0.03 to 0.05$ per user. Your app could have a small number of MAUs but be especially heavy on concurrent users, which could skyrocket the cost of the API, so keep an eye on that.
Here is a summary of what we presented in the features section. Of course, each provider has its strengths and weaknesses; some provide more customizability and things like video and voice capabilities, while other focus on shipping chat features fast.
A market leader focused on providing enterprise solutions based on building blocks that come with hefty pricing. It's a versatile API that supports chat, video, and voice messaging and has a helpdesk product. If your use case requires most of these features/products, Sendbird could be a good fit for your app. Bear in mind that these products have separate pricing.
Developer-friendly API that's focused on chat messaging and with no support for video and voice. You can build and ship custom chat features quickly using the pre-built UI and out-of-the-box notifications of any type. If you are part of a product team that likes to move fast - go with TalkJS.
It provides a great messaging UX and an unlimited number of participants for live streams. Still, it doesn't offer an entirely pre-built UI, so you'll need to assemble the user interface from their frontend components. However, if your use case is hung up on advanced moderation features like AI moderation, Stream Chat is a good pick.
Nuts and bolts type of chat API requires more custom development because it's a spinoff product based on their low-level real-time communication platform. Meaning you'll have to build some features and the chat UI from scratch. The stronger side of PubNub is that large live streams have no limits on the number of participants.
It offers a wide range of flexible pricing plans and supports chat, video, voice messaging, and moderation tools. Cometchat also provides pre-built chat plugins on their GO pricing plan. If having these features in tandem makes sense for your use case, Cometchat could be a good choice.
Create your free account to unlock your custom reading experience.