IFTTT, the internet automation service, is growing from a single app to a family of them. Today the company is launching three new apps for Android and iOS, as well as rebranding its flagship app. It’s part of an effort to make the sometimes-confusing service more accessible to normal people — though the profusion of apps may ultimately have the opposite effect.
IFTTT — short for "if this, then that" — was founded as a way to stitch various internet services and devices together. Its web service and companion smartphone apps let you do things like automatically back up your Instagram photos to your Dropbox account, or record all your Foursquare check-ins in Evernote. Starting today, IFTTT is now a suite of apps, each one designed to quickly route photos, text, and other inputs to wherever you’d like them to go. To its founders, the new apps represent a step toward turning IFTTT into a remote control for the internet, letting you take charge of the web services you depend on via simple, one-button interactions.
creating a remote control for the internet
Along with the flagship app, whose name has been shortened from IFTTT to IF, the company is introducing Do Button, Do Camera, and Do Note. Each offers a way for you to trigger frequently used actions with a couple of taps. With Camera, you might program it to upload photos taken inside the app to a specific Facebook album, or to email them directly to your parents. (One IFTTT co-founder programmed it to send every selfie to his fiancée.) With Note, you can instruct it to take a snippet of text and create an event in Google Calendar, save it to Evernote, or post it to Twitter.
The third app, Do Button, is meant to bring instant access to your most-used IFTTT recipes. As with Camera and Note, you can program Do Button with a maximum of three actions. Unlike those two, though, Button lives in an Android widget and, on iOS, your Today screen. Set it up and you’ll have one-tap access to tasks like setting your Nest Thermostat to a certain temperature or turning your Hue lights on and off.
A world saturated with connected devices is slowly but surely emerging all around us, and Do Button aims to be its remote control. "IFTTT is really about how do we help people manipulate that digital world, almost like a programmer can, and do it in a really intuitive way," says Linden Tibbets, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
Helping people manipulate the digital world
The button currently suggests dozens of recipes, and you can build your own using any of IFTTT’s 167 active "channels," or services: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Evernote, Dropbox, Pocket, Slack, and so on. "Anything you want to do with just a button, you can do with the Do button," Tibbets says. "It’s this whole new class of applications. On Uber, it’s one button to get a car. This is an application that is one button to do anything, and you tailor it to what you want that thing to be." (I set up a recipe to post a message in Slack to let my team know I’m leaving for the day.)
For all its promises of simplicity, IFTTT often requires a good deal of explanation. It’s a service designed to make things easier, but to use it, you must first make your life more complicated. Create an account, activate your channels, whip up a recipe, download the app, sign in — it’s a long way to go in the name of simplicity. You could set up IFTTT to change the temperature on your Nest thermostat — or you could just, you know, change the temperature on your thermostat. Many of the suggested recipes sound more like proofs of concept than handy utilities. "DM yourself your location with a note," reads one in the app’s essentials collection. Uh, ok?
When it first arrived, IFTTT felt like a necessary tonic to a web that was becoming ever more siloed. Your Facebook photos, your Foursquare check-ins, and your Fitbit data were all stuck in place. The promise of IFTTT was to make those things talk to each other, creating an all-powerful LEGO set made from other companies.
That LEGO set is now built; IFTTT now stores 18 million recipes, which users run 20 million times a day. But it still feels like a toolset intended more for geeks than the average user. (I’d honestly forgotten what I’d even set up my IFTTT recipes to do before I sat down to write this piece.)
Heading for the Apple Watch
Still, there’s something here worth exploring. Tibbets all but confirms IFTTT is coming to the Apple Watch: "You can imagine the Do Button concept would work really, really well on your wrist," he says. And other companies keep reaching for the same goal: LaunchCenter Pro on iOS is a kind of ur-app designed to combine useful functions into programmable buttons. More recently, the app Workflow launched with a similar but distinct set of useful, scriptable functions.
To their most passionate users, apps like these become an essential part of their working lives. For me, they’ve never been much more than a novelty. For his part, Tibbets says turning IFTTT’s brand of automation into something as simple as a button is the first step toward making it mainstream. "I think it’s going to be really, really powerful," he says.