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How to get the most out of IFTTT for Android

IFTTT is a great tool for automating your life. Here's how to get started using the Android app to create new recipes and manage the ones you already have.

Now playing: Watch this: Use IFTTT to automate your Android

Popular automation service If This Then That, which goes by IFTTT, helps you set up automatic cause-and-effect commands using online tools, social networks, and more. The app landed on Android last week, and I'm here to show how to use it to automate simple tasks

The IFTTT Android app includes six new Android-specific channels: Device, Location, Notifications, Phone Call, Photos, and SMS. Each channel has its own sets of triggers and actions that interact with your phone. For instance, the Device channel can change settings on your phone or tablet, such as turning down your ringtone volume, or carrying out an action when you connect or disconnect from a Wi-Fi network.

Using these channels, you can create hundreds of recipes that control your phone, or backup data from your device. IFTTT for Android can also help you manage your current recipes, find other interesting uses for the service, and help you keep tabs on what IFTTT does for you every day. Below, I walk you through how to accomplish each of those tasks.

How to use the activity log/timeline

The main screen of the IFTTT Android app shows a timeline of every instance where one of your recipes completes its task. You can use this screen to get some valuable information about your recipes.

Step one: Scroll up and down to see which recipes have triggered over the last few days or weeks. Each entry on the timeline shows the date it happened, with the recipe description, and any extra information.

Step two: Tap any recipe to view the full description, edit, delete, or share it, and turn it off or on.

Step three (optional): Some recipes include photos that are shared through IFTTT, or your location on a map if you check in with Foursquare as part of a recipe. You can tap on any of those to expand that recipe event.

Your list of IFTTT recipes in the Android app. Josh Miller/CNET

How to create a new recipe

You can easily create new recipes and manage existing ones from the app, here's how.

Step one: From the timeline screen, swipe left to see your list of current recipes. Here you can turn off a recipe by tapping the small green slider.

Step two: Tap the plus (+) sign at the top of the screen. You'll see the recipe screen, which says "If +, then +."

Step three: Tap the first plus sign to pick your trigger. This is an event that sets your recipe into motion, such as receiving a new email, a new image posted to Instagram from a set geographical area, or something as simple as a particular time of the day. Swipe left and right through the carousel of channels (services that IFTTT supports) to find the trigger you want, and select it.

Step four: Now, pick an action -- what you want IFTTT to do for you after your trigger goes off. Like before, swipe through the carousel of channels to find the action you want.

Step five: Once you've picked a trigger and an action, just confirm everything is right, and tap finished. Now you're done!

Step 6 (optional): With some recipes, you might want to edit the description, or tweak a few details. To do that, just tap on the finished recipe in your list to make any changes. You'll especially want to do this if you create any recipes that automatically send an SMS message from your Android phone, since IFTTT just uses a generic message that you can customize to make more personal. I'll show you how to set up that recipe next.

How to use location-specific triggers

The Android app introduces a few location-triggers that go off when you phone enters or leaves a specific area on a map. I'll show you how to send a message to someone when you leave the office, and the video above shows you how to turn off your ringer when you get to work.

Just a note that any location-specific recipes will use up battery more quickly, because the GPS radio in your phone is working throughout the day to check your location.

IFTTT's Android location trigger. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Step one: Start a new recipe by tapping the plus sign. For your trigger, pick the Android Device channel, and choose "exit an area."

Step two: After you pick that trigger, IFTTT asks you to locate the specific area that you'll leave to set off your recipe. You'll see a map with your current location and a circle that you can tap to unlock, move around, and zoom in and out if needed in order to get your office location on the map. You can even search for an address to speed up the process. Once your office location is within the circle, tap next.

Step three: Now you'll choose your action, for the recipe. Swipe over to the Android SMS channel, and pick "send an SMS." Then type in the phone number, including country code, where you want to send the message. Tap finish to save the recipe.

Step four: Now you'll want to craft the actual message that is sent every time you leave the office. Select the recipe from your list, and hit edit. Scroll down to Action section, and tap into the Message field to change the message from the generic one that IFTTT gives you to something more personal, like "Hey honey, I'm on my way home from the office, see you soon!"

Check out my finished recipe on IFTTT:

Click the image to use the recipe.

Bonus: How to use someone else's recipe

The IFTTT community has created thousands of recipes, and you can use every single one if you want. This one is so easy, it almost doesn't even require step-by-step instructions.

Step one: Tap the eyeglasses icon in the app to view a marketplace of recipes. You can browse curated collections, featured, trending, and the all-time most popular recipes from the community and the IFTTT staff.

Step two: When you find a recipe you want to use, tap on it, and then tap "Use recipe." That's all there is to it. You can also edit it to make it more personal using the directions I listed above.