What is IFTTT and what can it do for you?

iftttMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want the coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples of things it can do. One of IFTTT’s life fixes is, “IF it calls for rain, Then send me an email to let me know.”

Apps and services that work with IFTTT technology are called Channels in the IFTTT website. They range from social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, to your online email accounts like gmail, weather services, even YouTube, calendars and productivity helpers like Evernote. Not to mention WordPress (for blogging), Etsy (handmade marketplace), Fitbit and Jawbone fitness activity monitors, and Nest home automation thermostat all also support IFTTT.

IFTTT explained

How Does it Work?

Creating IF This Then That programs are called making “recipes”, and some other examples include, “If the temperature drops below zero, Then turn my Nest thermostat up 3 degrees,” “If there’s a flight deal (to a certain city), Then notify me on email,” and even, “If the pollen count is high, Then remind me to take allergy medicine,” and “If the current weather condition changes to rain, then change my Philips Hue light bulbs pastel blue.”  The possibilities are literally endless, and while you can create your own custom recipes, you can browse and use the recipes others have made on the IFTTT website too.  For a look at the full list of apps and services, or Channels that work with IFTTT, click here.

Recipes & Do Button

“Recipes” work automatically, but IFTTT also has another helper option called the “Do Button.”  Downloading and using this app allows you one-touch access to tasks you perform every day, and those actions are only performed when you hit “do”.

A cheeky way to use “Do” it is to set up a quick button that will make your phone ring when you press it.  Great for getting you out of boring meetings and awkward dates. You can also make and use a Do button to turn your Nest Learning Thermostat up or down instantly, or to turn all the connected lights in your house on at once.  But you may be asking, ‘why bother, when I can already control my devices via the app on my phone or tablet’?

As Tech Crunch describes use of the “Do” functions, “the idea here is that, yes, you can already do all of this — but in individual apps. Now you can do it in one place, and even simplify that further by adding a Do Button widget into an Android home screen or into an iPhone Notification Center.”

How Can IFTTT Technology Work for You?31D7838E-CEE5-4502-A82A-E21E5B7788C1

What if one single post to Facebook or Twitter could automate all across your various social media platforms?  What if, instead of worrying about whether you left the curling iron, or space heater on, you could automatically kill that switch as soon as you drive out of the area? What if you had a better and more specific heads-up on the weather so you could remember to pack raincoats and umbrellas? What if, as you pull onto your street on a dark night, the lights in the house could come on?  Well, in short, all of those things are possible using IFTTT, with the products and partners that support the software.

What Will IFTTT Do for Me?

  1. IFTTT saves time & effort – you now no longer need to spend extra time duplicating social media content, for example.  This is a huge time-saver for small businesses, who may want to access all their customers’ favourite platforms, without having to spend all day copy and pasting. You can also use it to automate yearly holiday posts and greetings across social media, meaning you don’t need to panic the day before Valentine’s Day, for example, if you haven’t already given clients notice of a special.  Set up all the different holiday-related posts at once, across all platforms and never worry about it again. It can also save you time and effort, by saving you a return trip back home to check that curling iron.
  2. It saves energy & money on bills – Leaving lights on all day, or appliances running, is an energy waster that does cost you cash each year.  With IFTTT, you can automate light bulbs, switches, or power bars, and from there, the appliances that you plug into them (using a set up like the WeMo home automation system).  Running appliances and lights only when you need them costs you less, and of course the longer your smart automation via IFTTT runs, the more you save. You can also use IFTTT to automate them to turn on or off when you enter or leave a geographic area, or even at sunrise or sunset in your local area (updated daily of course!)
  3. It makes you more productive – IFTTT will allow you to do things like back up your contacts automatically, so that if you ever do lose your phone, tablet, laptop or device, you can easily have a secondary backup.  (Especially handy if someone breaks in and steals both your phone and your computer!)  The Android app for IFTTT also has some unique talents. Activate this channel and your Android phone will text anyone who leaves you a voicemail—and you can have the text tell them you don’t like checking your voicemail, and they should email or text you instead. No more wasted time slogging through those lengthy voicemail messages, “Ummm, hi. It’s, ummm, me.  Ahhhhh, oh jeez, I forgot now why I was calling…”
  4. It can save you money in other ways too – with recipes like “Alert for Free iTunes Tunes” or New Free MP3s on Amazon, or emails when flights are on sale.  When things (nearly anything you may be interested in) get cheaper, you can have that news delivered directly to your inbox, Facebook messages, or via text.

What Products Work with IFTTT?

wemo kit.pngI’ve touched on some of the home products above, and how they work, but to reiterate, things like the Belkin WeMo system of light bulbs, and connected switches, including the energy-monitoring Insight switch all work with IFTTT. Just install them, get your IFTTT app and then download or make your recipes for automation. Using the WeMo motion detector, you can also set up a recipe that will text your neighbour to check on the house if the detectors are set off when you’re away.

Similarly Philips Hue colour-changing light bulbs can also be automated though IFTTT.  With Philips, you can have your bulbs change colour, depending on a situation.  Is it Valentines’ Day in your calendar?  Have you Hue bulbs turn pink and red for your sweetie.

The Nest Learning Thermostat also supports IFTTT and the “Do” button, allowing you to further automate an already great system.

Want updates on whether you’re hitting your fitness goals?  Use IFTTT with your Fitbit or Jawbone activity monitors to send you a reminder to take a walk if you haven’t hit your step goal near the end of your day. You can even automate printing of photos or documents using HP Envy printers.

The 411

Figuring out IFTTT is as easy as downloading the free app, and then surfing the site to see what apps, appliances, and services it works with that you may already have.  Check it out, and if you’re already using IFTTT to run your life, let me know what recipes are working for you!

This blog was originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog, which has since merged with Best Buy. Click here to read all the latest tech news on Best Buy’s Plug In blog.

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