Real-time chat is a powerful channel for your business to reach customers. In a customer service context, it allows you to handle inquiries immediately. For outbound sales, you can interact with potential customers as soon as they land on your website. As your business connects directly with customers through real-time chat, those connections can translate to sales, growth, and value.
Fortunately, it’s possible to integrate such a solution into your business. And instead of building a messaging solution from scratch, companies can leverage prebuilt solutions to integrate chat into existing apps and websites.
Below, we’ll look at five of the best chat application programming interfaces (APIs) and messaging software development kits (SDKs) of 2022—but first, let’s lay a foundation by reviewing core concepts.
What are chat and messaging APIs and SDKs?
Chat platform APIs and SDKs allow a company to integrate existing real-time chat solutions into its own websites and applications. You can think of APIs and SDKs as prebuilt solutions. Both remove the complexities of messaging software, enabling businesses to provide first-class chat capabilities without reinventing the wheel. This off-loads the burden of implementation to the provider.
The difference between APIs and SDKs
In the context of real-time messaging, what’s the difference between APIs and SDKs?
An API allows the user—such as a business paying for the API service—to make HTTP requests to interact with the underlying messaging platform. The business interacts with the chat platform through those HTTP requests, sending and retrieving data. This platform then facilitates all the chat capabilities.
Some of the most comprehensive message SDKs tend to be full-stack chat solutions that even include user interface/user experience (UI/UX) components out of the box. APIs typically only provide an HTTP interface. However, because APIs are so generic, businesses can customize solutions at a granular level without committing to a fully formed chat solution from an SDK.
Features and pricing
To adopt a prebuilt solution, consider what features you need. Most messaging solutions tend to have a common set of core features, such as:
- Group chats
- Voice and video calling
- Screen sharing
- Real-time notifications
- Chat moderation
- Multimedia or file sharing
- Mobile device support (in addition to web)
Some solutions are cloud-based, while others deploy on-premise. And while an advantage of cloud-based services is an existing platform without worrying about storage or bandwidth, this can make cloud-based platforms more expensive.
The pricing for these platforms varies, but typically, it factors in:
- Number of users on a plan
- Number of messages used
- Number of users and messages combined
Many solutions also have free plans, allowing businesses to experiment with the chat messaging SDKs and APIs before paying for them. Typically, these free plans have some constraints, such as the available features, the number of users supported, or limited-time use.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at the top five industry leaders in this space.
Top chat API and messaging SDK platforms
Twilio is the industry leader for webchat APIs and messaging SDKs, with a robust feature set and a customizable suite of options. Its entire product suite consists of APIs and SDKs that cover all the ways people communicate digitally: Programmatic SMS and MMS
- Voice and video
- Conversational Chat APIs
- Facebook Messenger
- Google's Business Messages
Developers can use Twilio to integrate their application software with almost any communications channel imaginable. And the Conversations API allows you to start with a channel like web or in-app chat, then expand to other channels to keep up with shifting consumer preferences. The best part: a new channel doesn't mean you have to rebuild your entire back end or code against a brand-new API.
In addition to APIs, Twilio has messaging SDKs for the following languages and platforms:
- SaaS integrations (such as Salesforce and Authy)
Twilio is a complete real-time messaging software platform, with API and SDK-based solutions allowing for full customization from a development team.
Sendbird primarily focuses on building a chat API suited for live events. Its comprehensive feature set includes:
- Multichannel chat
- Multimedia integration
- Offline communication
It also provides a UIKit for its chat SDK, allowing users to leverage prebuilt UI components when building chat messaging solutions.
PubNub focuses on mobile platforms, providing an in-app chat experience to engage customers in real time. Its standout features include:
- Automated business logic with straightforward configuration
- Built-in, on-demand profanity filtering
- Strong concurrency support
Compared to other real-time messaging software, PubNub’s competitive advantage is its straightforward configuration, even for nondevelopers. PubNub’s solution also scales well with large organizations.
MirrorFly markets itself as a complete messaging platform that provides real-time chat, video, and audio messaging capabilities. The features that differentiate MirrorFly from competitors include:
- Full chat experience customization out of the box
- Capabilities to run communication software in the cloud or on-premise
- A one-time payment rather than a monthly subscription per user—ideal for businesses expecting to support many users
Learn more about Twilio’s chat and messaging capabilities
The competitive landscape of real-time messaging software is broad and deep. Fortunately for businesses, all this competition means more choices for building programmatic chat and messaging solutions—that’s where Twilio comes in.
Looking for a solution that will scale across channels? Twilio’s Conversations API supports SMS, MMS, chat, and messaging, all within a single API. With multimedia support, you and your customers can share photos, videos, and other file types to make communication better. Plus, you can scale conversations from one-on-one interactions to up to 1,000 participants. And if you’re a healthcare provider or business, you can rest assured that your SMS and chat conversations are eligible for HIPAA compliance.
Learn more about the Conversations API, or if you’re ready to start building, check out the Conversations documentation. And, as always, it’s free to sign up to discover all the ways Twilio can help you connect with your customers more effectively.