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How IFTTT is changing smart homes

How IFTTT is changing smart homes

By: Yelekal Mengistu

  Wouldn't it be nice to have your home operate like you wanted to without you intervening? Silly to ask that question, right? Well, it has been done, it's being done and it will be done even better in the future.

   This process of automation is not a new trend, however, its areas of applications have been broadening in the last years. It has shown up in the automotive industry with BMW, cloud services like Gmail and most recently the smart home world.

  Seems like a complicated technology but it's actually quite simple. At the start of the decade, a new concept has had great strides in that front. That technology is identified today as IFTTT (IF This Then That). You see, IFTTT uses web based services to integrate commands based on an underlying condition. If that condition is met, then the outcome will present itself.

  IFTTT is completely cloud based and works on its own servers. It is designed to engage other devices and software to make them interact. Although it has been around for quite some time now, we wanted to know what kind of impact it was having on the whole smart home frenzy. In the mean time, it wouldn't hurt to see if it has any downsides. So let's get to it.


IFFFT applet 'Turn Hue lights on when Uber arrives'

IFTTT can trigger certain devices to turn on/off when conditions are met in other web based service applications


How did it come about?

  The inception of IFTTT can be traced back to 2010 when Linden Tibbets, co-founder,  hinted at 'ifttt the beginning'. A blog post that wasn't a whole lot of an indication of what's to come. Needless to say, the buzz was worth it.

  After the launch of the official website in 2011, both Tibets and Jesse Tane set about expanding the existing IFTTT applications and set about creating a platform for conditional statement creations. Fast forward 2012, IFTTT had reached 1 million tasks meaning that there were inputs of a combination of  'if' and/or 'then' statements that led to a collaborated desired outputs.

  Soon after, IFTTT entered the Internet of Things or IoT market. Thereby, it set about creating links in with devices and machines. This was a very interesting prospect as most applications were geared towards integrating software applications as a mean to extract meaningful commands.

  And by 2014, IFTTT had amassed enough users to be deemed as the next digital heavyweight company. It was believed that at that time, IFTTT was a little less around the $200 million valuation.

   Along the way, many applications were developed as supplements. They were conceptualized in the hope to 'Do' certain tasks at the touch of a button. Three applications of that nature went on to be integrated into one. They ended up building a foundation for more of IFTTT command applications.



  Conditional 'If' statements in the IFTTT world are called applets. Formerly called 'Recipes', applets let you operate different scenarios so that you can create correlated commands.

  A very simple applet can hold this form right here: say you own an online retail business. Every time you get a 5 star feedback, an email is sent to, let's say,  your Gmail inbox. An applet can be programmed so that that review is posted on social media with the right hashtags. This builds customer loyalty for your business and facilitates social media update, a process that would otherwise take a significant amount of your time.

 Building an applet is simple. Learn how to define your 'IF Then' s and 'Then That'

Creating applets is fun and exciting. Most of them are born through frustration as a result of  the inability to address small but important tasks that may be forgotten or time consuming. PCMag.com recently published an article entitled 'The 25 Best IFTTT Applets'. In this article, Eric Griffith gives his list of the IFTTT applets that have been used the most by users. These 5 ones really caught our eyes:

1) 'Extricate yourself'

 Program  an applet that gets you out of an awkward situation by receiving a phone call. Easy to do, just tap on your phone and it will trigger a phone call so you can swoop out of any situation!

 2) ' Emergency Anniversary Reminder'

We all have reminders on our phones, whether it's to remember our dentist appointment our parents anniversary. This applet takes that a step further by triggering email reminders at various times. You can also get creative with the emails.

3) 'Save your tagged photos on Facebook'

Just imagine creating a collection of the best pictures of yourself, taken by other people. Impromptu pictures end up coming out great (well almost always!). This applet lets you save those pictures whenever you get tagged on Facebook.

4) 'Prep for Pollen'

 Brace yourself for allergy season. This applet gives you alerts whenever the pollen count reaches a certain level. Eric explains that on a scale of 1 to 11, a 6 or higher can become a trigger factor, just in time to grab your decongestant!

5) 'Learn when the ISS is Overhead'

The international Space Station (ISS) is an incredible accomplishment for mankind. As the largest orbiting satellite in space, its location fascinates space lovers and beyond. Use this applet to get notifications whenever the ISS is close by.


  These are just some examples of what IFTTT applets can do for you. Having said that, IFTTT is limited in that it only accepts one 'condition' per applet. It doesn't allow a series of conditions to play out. To side step this problem is to simply create a similar applet with a similar goal from the previous applet, albeit with a different condition. Not a very smart way of dealing with that.

 The International Space Station

The International Space Station might be around the corner, use the right applet to get notification

(source: scientificamerican.com)


IFTTT with smart home devices

  With a move towards IoT devices, IFTTT is tapping into a market that cries out for operations automation. These days, most smart devices have built in software that is controlled trough a UI app.  Inputs are usually needed to trigger certain affects.

   For example, forgetting to turn off the lights is problematic for some forgetful people. Thanks to smart automation, having a smart light bulb or a smart switch will enable you to remotely switch them off regardless of where you might be.

  In fact, most apps are designed to offer features like 'timer switch' or 'dimmer' and a host of other benefits that can help operate your devices.

  However, we can consider other factors so that they have an influential effect on how we operate these devices. For example, instead of setting a timer to turn OFF our lights, we can program an IFTTT applet to do so when our smart thermostat detects a dip in occupancy, therefore a dip in temperature, acknowledging a situation where people have left the room. This triggers the lights to be switched OFF.

   This type of integration requires the assistance of more than one smart home device. And clearly, an understanding between devices is necessary to create a harmonized system. It's important to understand that smart devices can communicate between each other regardless of an IFTTT applet: raising the alarm siren whenever there's a water leak or locking the doors when the door vibrations are unusually high.

 These applications may be dependent on certain aspects, but they are created in response to certain preconceived conditions, in most cases, unwanted or unexpected conditions. With the IFTTT applets, these conditions are expected and responses are created in accordance. In other words, IFTTT enables to create order inside order.  

iRobot Roomba IFTTT applets

Some example of applets for the Roomba Robot

(source: ifttt.com)


What’s next?

  Entry into the IoT market is just the beginning of things. The IFTTT applets seem to be at their infancy. In recent times, big companies in different sectors have shown interest in the applets applications. GE, BMW and Microsoft are some of the big boys that have themselves attached to IFTTT.

  But it seems that the smart home community could benefit from its features. Most recently, IFTTT partnered with iRobot, the company behind the Roomba robot cleaner. The deal behind this partnership is just one of many that is deemed to strengthen smart home integrations.

  Yet, one could argue, most smart devices come with a hub that is also reliant on the internet but has its own server and storage capacity. So why exactly would we shy away from a physical hub that links all the products together? Well it might all come down to compatibility.


Applets for smart home devices

IFTTT is turning its focus on smart home devices. Pictured: home applets front page on the ifttt.com homepage

(source: ifttt.com)


  One of the main goals of smart home devices is to make life easier. Manufacturers today have not been successful with providing a solution to this problem: unifying all smart devices, no matter what brand, onto one hub. Some devices don't even require a hub.

  This is perfect for IFTTT, a web based application, that can link almost all your devices with simple conditional commands.



  The benefits of IFTTT are immense. Its seamless integration with other software and device makes it an excellent choice to program conditional commands.

  Although its applications have found great success in web based services, IFTTT is slowly building an influence on smart home devices. Unlike most commands in smart devices, the IFTTT applets look for new and interesting outcomes to guide the usage of those devices.

  However, Zapier is geared towards more productivity apps where as IFTTT sees its future shinning in smart home automation.

   If you're new to the smart home world, getting to grips with IFTTT is not overwhelming. Its easy set up of applets makes it a very simple tool to use. Although I would recommend mastering its web based service applications before entering the home device automation.

  Besides having to create multiple applets for a series of tasks, IFTTT presents another dimension to the smart device usage: it enables far more conditions and outcomes than most smart devices enable to do. On top of that, it's clod based service encompasses the majority of devices, making sure that integration is less of a problem.

 So maybe IF 'IFTTT can improve your home' THEN 'downloading its free application should be a great idea'


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