How To Live Smarter with IFTTT

For a year now, I’ve been seeing the abbreviation “IFTTT” pop up all over the internet. I had no idea what this meant and assumed it was new slang that I wasn’t cool or young enough to know. I frequently found myself wondering, “what is IFTTT?” What I eventually learned is that IFTTT stands “if this then that” and it’s an automation app that can streamline life in this digital age.ifttt-phone-logo

It’s a really simple concept; IFTTT connects all of your other apps, social media accounts, and smart home products by using “applets.” An applet (formerly known as a “recipe”) is composed of two elements: an “if trigger” and a “then action.” Using IFTTT’s applets is both incredibly easy — there are hundreds you can save to your account immediately after signing up — and powerful, especially once you start creating your own. There is a whole world of creative possibilities that opens up once you start creating applets, but for this article, we’re going to focus on some of the best ones that already exist. I want to help show you how to live smarter with IfThisThenThat.

There are a lot of things IFTTT can do, and not many it can’t. For the most part, the platform is very flexible and the possibilities grow with every new account you connect. It can be very useful for someone who regularly blogs, streams music, collects gadgets, uses social media sites, lives in a smart home, or interacts with technology on a daily basis. If it takes more than one hand to count the apps and websites you’re signed up for, then IFTTT can definitely help you. My current favorite way to use the platform is by utilizing the Amazon Echo’s voice controls and integrating everything with my smart home products. Let me just give you a quick run-down of how IFTTT has made my own life smarter, and then we’ll jump into some of the must-have applets and best IFTTT recipes you need to check out.

See Also: Smart Home Starter Guide

What a Smarter Life Looks Like

When I come home from work, I no longer struggle in the dark to find the right key and unlock my front door. Instead, when I get close to home my Android phone’s GPS triggers IFTTT to turn on the WeMo smart outlet that controls an outdoor lamp. Then when I walk into my living room the Phillips Hue smart lights are already on and colored a welcoming pinkish-orange. Lately, before I even take my shoes off, I tell the Amazon Echo to play “the newest album by Childish Gambino,” which she correctly identifies. As I walk past the couch, I quietly say “Alexa, turn on the bedroom” so I can see to hang up my shirt and bowtie (because, well, bow ties are cool). After a little bit, I usually tell Alexa to trigger my house’s “game time” mode which tells IFTTT to activate a specific lighting scheme, powers the TV on, and turns off every smart device that’s not in the living room. Once I’ve got a Dualshock 4 in one hand and a drink in the other (unfortunately, my robotic assistant lacks the corporeal form to make cocktails so I must settle for her looking up the recipe), I’ll get comfortable on the couch.

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Occasionally, if I’m lucky, the Hue Go lamp behind my flatscreen will bathe the wall in a robin’s egg blue. If this happens it means IFTTT has changed the wall’s “bias lighting” color to signify that I have gained a new Twitter follower. Perhaps that sounds a bit vain or silly, but sometimes I want to thank my new e-friends with a personal tweet rather than an automated IFTTT message. I have some pretty useful weather-related lighting cues as well. If the light starts blinking then I know it’s begun snowing and I may want to grab a shovel, or if it turns a solid white then I know I’m definitely going to need that shovel early the following morning because the forecast is calling for heavy snow through the night. There are so many different triggers that can be mapped to even more actions that I have barely scratched the surface. For example, if my fiancée had an IFTTT account, I could set up a Three Ninjas style warning light to let me know when she’s almost back from her hour-long commute. Then I could arrange to receive a text when she’s ten minutes away so I can stop playing Overwatch and start cooking one of her favorite meals, effectively making me appear like the perfect future husband. See the things IFTTT can do? It has even led to my updating a decades-old saying with a less patronizing adage that will surely make me millions some day. Consider “smart life, happy wife” hereby coined by me and any tech companies wishing to purchase this for use as a slogan may direct all inquiries to [email protected] And don’t you worry, I’ve set up an IFTTT applet to turn every light in my house money green once the e-mail offers start rolling in. “Alexa, make me rich!”

ifttt-guideStart Living the Smart Life

Okay, so maybe that got a tad hyperbolic at the end. But some of that must sound appealing, right? If so, then you’re going to want to sign up and maybe even get an Amazon Echo or Google Home. IfThisThenThat is pretty cool and useful, yes, but controlling a house with your voice is just fricking awesome. Once you’re all good to go and ready, I’ve got you covered with some of the best applets to get you started. Just click the links to go directly to that applet’s page.

Organize Your Day

Stay Connected

  • Simplify Your Online Presence – Okay, now this is a big one. I imagine this is the most popular use for IFTTT and, in fact, I think this is partly why it was created. I probably use less social media accounts than most people my age, but even I find this incredibly helpful. Whether you have two accounts or twenty, I guarantee everyone could easily find a host of useful applets in this category. Suppose you are one of those people who is always changing their Facebook profile picture, now you can sync your other accounts to automatically update the picture. There are a lot of options if you like to post cool things for your followers to check out. One of my favorites shares the YouTube videos you like to Twitter. Granted, a lot of these “actions” can be achieved without the “triggers,” but IFTTT saves you time and makes thing easier. A lot of applets center around backing up content to other services — something that would be very time-consuming without IFTTT — such as saving Facebook photos you’re tagged in to Google Drive.
  • Spread the Love – Everything above helps sync your accounts and what follows is more about notification and response. For example, one applet that is particularly convenient for writers/bloggers who want to promote their publication or colleagues can be set up to automatically retweet everything from a specified account. This has a few uses, from people who have multiple accounts and want keep all their followers updated to someone who just wants to plug their friend’s funny tweets or anything in between. But what some of these types of applets can do is remove the social part of social media, making interactions more robotic. Sure, if you have a huge twitter following it is helpful to use an automated response to message new followers. This can turn people off, though. I personally never reader those auto-DMs we all get. There are other options with IFTTT. I don’t have the biggest following — maybe I’ll gain 1-2 new follower(s) if I’m particularly active that day — so I can usually afford to tweet a personal thank you. So instead of setting up an auto-response, I have a special notification system. The cool part is (as I mentioned in the example above) I don’t even have to be on my PC or phone to stay notified because my Hue Go lamp changes the color of Twitter’s logo when I gain a follower. It actually makes for a mildly exciting “event” anytime my wall lights up blue.

Get Comfortable with your Smart Home

  • Automate Your Smart Home – Obviously, you need to have smart home products to take advantage of the applets in this category. What I can tell you, though, is that you don’t need to be “rich” to own these products, like I once thought, and, in fact, many of these devices are designed to help you save money. And IFTTT helps you save time, so it’s a perfect combo. A lot of the most useful applets that can control your home involve using GPS, so I will save those for a later category. There are some pretty creative applets that take advantage of a connected home in this category; for example, there is one that uses the Ecobee3 smart thermostat’s sensors (which are intended to regulate temperature) as a pseudo-security system. You can have your smart lights activate in reaction to natural light; when the sun goes down, your lights come on. You can also use the aforementioned thermostat-outdoor temperature automation. Lastly, this isn’t technically automation but it is a pretty cool feature of IFTTT; any applet action can be trigged by an official IFTTT widget called the “do button.” You can place this button on your phone’s home screen and use it to do whatever you like. I use this to quickly turn off my smart outlets (anywhere, by the way) without having to open the WeMo app.
  • Unify Your House – There will be no links to applets in this part, but I needed to make a separate sub-section to stress the utility of connecting your whole house. Smart home products already lead to saving time and money; however, you can upgrade your set-up even more by allowing all of your devices to talk to one another through IFTTT. If you don’t have a smart home hub and your smart products are all made by different companies, then you will have several different apps on your phone and things can start to feel significantly less “smart.” But if you have several applets with the same “if trigger” and multiple “actions you can control your entire house with fewer steps. For example, when I get into bed at night I say “Alexa, turn off the house” then all my lights and smart outlet-operated electronics turn off and the thermostat lowers.
  • Make Your Smart Home a Fun Home – IFTTT and smart home products don’t have to just be used for convenience! You can use these to have a little fun too. Here’s an applet that helps start the party on New Year’s Eve. Having millions of different color lighting shades at your disposal can make for some nice atmospheres, or even create a fun disco ball type effect. Or maybe you want to start a color loop whenever the ISS the passes through the area of deep space directly above you. There’s plenty of other effects you can achieve once you link your Spotify account or integrate a Chromecast device or whatever else you can think of.

Put Alexa to Work

  • Get Your Tony Stark On – I highly recommend getting an Amazon Echo or Google Home in order to voice control everything in your house like Iron Man. Be sure to see our article on utilizing the Echo. Alexa can already control quite a few things in a smart home, but there are some limitations. For example, the Phillips Hue lights have Alexa integration but you cannot do certain advanced commands such as changing color. IFTTT can help bridge this group with voice triggers like the “game time” one I previously mentioned. I also use an applet that helps make Alexa’s robotic secretary tasks a bit more useful; first, enable (install) the “quick event” Alexa skill then activate an applet that e-mails you about calendar events (I know this is a bit redundant but it helps me). Similarly, there’s a feature within the Echo that allows you to create a To-Do list, but it is pretty barebones, so if you want Alexa’s help staying even more organized you can sync the Echo To-Do list with Google calendar. Lastly, I doubt this is something I would ever use but there are super organized completionists out there who might want to keep track of every song they ask Alexa to play in a spreadsheet — I have no idea why, but it’s kinda cool, I guess…

Install Some Geofencing

  • Put Your Phone’s GPS to Use – “Geofencing” involves creating a radius on Google maps that triggers an event when you pass through it in the physical world. If you aren’t too concerned about enabling location features (there are, of course, privacy and battery issues) on your smartphone, you can open up a whole new world of IFTTT options. As long as you have a phone with GPS tracking, you should be able to harness the true power of automation. You can have your lights come on when you pull into the driveway or have them turn off when you leave so you don’t accidentally waste energy. Or perhaps you always forget to mute your phone at work? Now you don’t even have to think about it. Similarly, if you want to extend your phone’s battery life by turning off power draining Wi-Fi when you leave home you can do that too — sure, it’s easy to tap a button and switch it off, but it’s just as easy to forget to do that. There are also some less conventional uses for geofencing such as an applet that logs your time at a certain location. This could come in handy if you work a job with manual time entry or a contracting position that requires a thorough tracking. Like most of IFTTT, this aspect is only limited by your imagination.

I hope you will find this guide as helpful as I’ve found IFTTT. If you enjoyed it, please stay tuned in the coming weeks for more similar guides/articles on smart home products such as the Amazon Echo. And as always, let me know what you thought in the comments below. Why not share your favorite IFTTT applets and spread the wealth?

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