SendBird, a platform that makes it easy for developers to integrate chat and messaging features into their apps, is extending its service to include voice and video capabilities.

The timing could hardly be better, as video communication apps such as Zoom and Houseparty are experiencing a surge in popularity due to social distancing measures put in place to address COVID-19.

Founded in 2013, San Mateo-based SendBird develops the software infrastructure that allows any app to offer services such as messaging and group chats. For context, companies in industries from ride-sharing to online games rely on services that enable two or more people to chat in real time. The companies could develop this infrastructure themselves, but doing so is resource-intensive and requires specific expertise — which is why they typically pay to access their infrastructure via an API instead.

SendBird has raised $120 million since its inception from investors like Tiger Global Management and wealth management firm Iconiq Capital, whose big-name backers include Mark Zuckerberg.

Until now, SendBird had mostly focused on chat services, though it did have a VoIP offering that allowed developers to integrate recorded audio features into their apps. Now any app maker can offer real-time voice- and video-calling via SendBird.

According to the company, developers can integrate the new voice and video APIs in as little as 15 minutes, and it has some big-name clients on board for the beta launch, including Virgin Mobile.

Video surge

As confirmed COVID-19 cases approach half a million globally, with more than 22,000 deaths, social distancing is widely accepted as the most effective way to curtail its spread.  But this also leads to social isolation, with many turning to the internet for connection. This week, Facebook reported a 70% surge in people participating in Messenger group video calls, while the time spent on those group video calls doubled.

The COVID-19 outbreak is also having a major impact on commerce, as companies such as Amazon and other online delivery services experience unprecedented demand from housebound users. Whether this contributes to a longer-term shift in consumer behavior remains to be seen, but as more people become accustomed to communicating through voice, video, and messaging inside apps, demand for services such as online dating, gaming, and customer service could rise.

SendBird already claims some notable customers in the on-demand services realm, including Asian Uber rival Go-Jek and Delivery Hero, while other big-name customers include the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Paytm.

“With every ecommerce transaction, every grocery delivery, every attempt to connect with a potential match on a dating service, human interactions are increasingly taking place in-app,” said SendBird CEO and founder John Kim.