If I build a product with particle hardware, do I have to use the cloud?

I’m looking to build a product with the photon chips.

Once I’ve built it, do all my chips in the field have to use the cloud (and incurred cost?)

Or can I just have those chips never join my cloud, while they carry on working (but obviously I can’t do over the air firmware upgrades to them)

Or in a best case, can I swap in different chips to my free 100, meaning I can do upgrades, albeit, a bit painfully?

Or is particle.io only designed for enterprise type deployments, where you’d always want cloud features?

Nope, you can run Particle devices entirely offline or purely WiFi/cellular connected without ever connecting to the Particle cloud.
But the inevitable question would be then: Why Particle devices at all? Their big selling point is the ease of use the cloud offers - especially when running a considerable number of devices.

Welcome to the Particle Community.

If you are building a product then you need to be thinking beyond 100 devices right?

The 100 limit applies to each product so you could in theory have have 10 products and 1000 devices for free.

The real question to answer is what does the cloud and remote monitoring and control add over a stand-alone MCU. what the Particle product do is make it considerably easier and quicker to get a product to market and reliable OTA is a huge bonus once you have a fleet of devices.

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What would you suggest as an alternative dev board/chip manufacturer? Something from the Arduino line? Rasberry pi would be overkill obviously, what do you recommend?

That depends on your needs.

I’m looking to poll a website, or receive socket data, and then push that data to an analog or pWN signal to a piece of hardware (light, analog meter, etc)

An ESP32 or one of the WiFi enabled Feather devices by Adafruit would spring to mind.

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Thanks for the tips! Should I find those chips for cheaper than buying the 10x strips of particle chips? Is particle trying to undercut others? Also, the tech / dev environment seems very good, so there seems to be use of being part of the eco system? (Although both you’re suggestions look good too)

What chips are you refering to and comparing to which Particle device (Argon, Photon, P1 or P0)?