Easy-to-use task automation on Android with IFTTT

/ Updated: May 7, 2014 10:39 AM PDT

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Josh Miller/CNET

Popular automation service If This Then That (IFTTT for short) has finally arrived for Android, and the beautifully-designed app offers simple task automation, while keeping track of everything IFTTT does for you.

IFTTT, made by the company with the same, is an online tool which, in the most basic sense, automates your online/digital life by helping two different online services -- a social network, online tool, or email provider -- to talk to each other, where they never did before. A great example is when you get an new email with an attachment, IFTTT can automatically save the attached file to your Dropbox account for safe keeping.

IFTTT's Android app (also available for iPhone and iPad) helps you manage your account on the go, and comes with a few useful Android-specific actions that anyone, current and new IFTTT users, can appreciate. If you're just getting started with IFTTT, the app will help you get set up, but it's better for those who've already gotten their feet wet and want keep tabs on how the service is working for them.

How it works

IFTTT has been around for years, but if you've never used it, it might sound complicated at first. It's actually quite simple once you start playing around with it. The entire service is built on cause and effect: "If it starts raining outside, then text me," or "If I favorite a new video on YouTube, then post that video to Tumblr."

Every "If this, then that" scenario is called a recipe. The "this" part of the recipe is called a trigger, while the "that" is referred to as an action. Lastly, there are channels, which are the services that IFTTT supports, including social media sites, online tools, and email and services such as Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, Vimeo, Belkin WeMo, and Evernote. There are also situation-based channels, for the time and date, and the weather. All told, there are 100 channels, and for a full list, check out the IFTTT website.

Triggers are events, such as a new email or new video uploaded to YouTube. Some channels have several triggers, while others just have one or two. For instance, in the Twitter channel, there are six triggers, including a new tweet by you, new follower, and a new tweet favorited by you.

Every time a trigger goes off, it sparks an action. It's the effect to the trigger's cause, and again, these vary by channel. Using the Twitter example, that channel's actions include posting a new tweet, changing your Twitter bio, or sending a direct message to your account.

IFTTT on the go

The IFTTT app for Android can do everything the IFTTT website can do, and more. It opens to a screen with a timeline of all of your recipes, which shows every instance, including date and time, where one of your recipes completes its task. You'll also see extra information, where available, such as photos that are shared through IFTTT, or your location on a map if you check in with Foursquare as part of a recipe.

I think this is the most helpful part of the app, because it lets you know that your recipes are working correctly, and shows what IFTTT does for you on a daily or weekly basis. You can also opt to get a notification on your phone when each of your recipes run, just to check everything is working.

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The IFTTT app has a timeline of each time one of your recipes is triggered (left). You can also manage all of your recipes from the app (right). Screenshots by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Swipe left from that screen to see all of your recipes, in order from newest to oldest. You can quickly turn a recipe on or off (meaning it will or will not run automatically) by tapping the green slider. Any recipe that's turned off gets grayed out. Tap any recipe to see a detailed screen of what it does, when it was created, how many times it has triggered, and when it was last triggered. Below that, you can edit, share, delete, and "check" the recipe, which runs the recipe manually and makes sure there are no issues.

Though you can create a new recipe in the app, I don't recommend it. The process is just not as fluid as it is on the website since you have to swipe through a carousel of channels to find the one you want, which is tedious and slow. The way around that is to tap the search button while creating a recipe, which shows a grid of channels that's much easier to browse.

In the Android app, the IFTTT team created a few themed collections of popular recipes, including photo-focused and sports scores, to help you get started. You can also browse recipes featured by the company, and see the all-time most popular and most used recipes. Just swipe left from the home screen, then tap the eyeglasses icon to start browsing and searching. Though I don't like creating a recipe in the app, it's quite easy to find someone else's recipe and add it your own account -- just select a recipe you like, and tap the "use recipe" button.

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You can browse popular recipes in the app and add them to your own collection. Josh Miller/CNET

Android extras

When IFTTT landed on Android, it brought with it six new Android-specific channels: Device, Location, Notifications, Phone Call, Photos, and SMS. Using them, you can create recipes that control your phone and backup data from your device. One of my favorite recipes is "When I get to the office, mute my ringer," which uses the IFTTT location trigger to determine my phone's location, and an action that silences it. You can create new recipes with these channels in both the app and on the website.

My only gripe with these Android channels, is that if you install IFTTT on both your Android phone and Android tablet, there's no way to distinguish between the two devices in the service. That means any recipes using Android triggers or actions will occur on both devices. The only way I can see to combat this, is to create two different IFTTT accounts and sign into one on each device.

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The IFTTT app comes with six Android-specific channels. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

With these new features, IFTTT goes up against the advanced automation app Tasker. That app, along with similar title AutomateIt, focus solely on controlling your Android device, and they can perform tasks that include launching your favorite music app when you plug in your phone, or turn off GPS and Wi-Fi when your battery drops below 10 percent. However, Tasker and AutomateIt can be daunting to use, even for seasoned Android fans. That makes IFTTT a better choice for anyone who wants a much simpler way to automate your Android device.

Outlook

With IFTTT's Android app, you can now tinker with your account on the go, and easily check in to make sure your recipes are working. It could definitely be more fluid when it comes to creating new recipes and managing the ones you already have, but it's a good start.

I like to think of IFTTT as one of the first steps toward the completely automated future we've been promised for decades. It can already turn on your lights before you get home, or silence your phone when you arrive at the office, and it's just a matter of time before it connects even more of your life and home. Thanks to new partnerships with smart devices, such as the Phillips Hue light bulbs and the Belkin WeMo switch, and its robust community of IFTTT fans, who are constantly thinking of new ways to make the service work for them, every day we inch closer to a Jetsons-like future.

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Where to Buy

IFTTT (Android)

Part Number: com.ifttt.ifttt

Free

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  • Category Office and productivity
  • Compatibility Android