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IFTTT's Do apps give you an 'easy button' for your favorite tasks

Three new apps from automation service IFTTT let you assign complicated tasks to a single button.

Josh Miller/CNET

IFTTT just gave us a new way to automate our lives. Thursday the company debuted three new apps, Do Button, Do Note and Do Camera, all designed to streamline the common tasks we do on our smartphones each day.

Think of all the repetitive actions you do with your phone, such as adding something to your to-do list, checking in with your significant other or uploading photos to Facebook. With IFTTT's new suite of Do apps, you can program a button to do those things for you, and all you have to do is press it.

While none of these tasks is all that time-consuming, they usually require a few steps: opening the app, finding the feature you want and using it. The key with Do is that everything happens in no more than two steps. You program everything up front so your favorite actions are waiting for you anytime you need them.

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You program the Do apps with formulas called recipes. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

How they work

Much like IFTTT , the Do apps work on the formula "if A action happens, then do B action," such as "If I star an email in Gmail, add it to Evernote." The difference is that here "action A" is you pressing a button in the apps.

That formula is called a recipe in IFTTT's world, and you use those recipes to program the apps. Recipes can include all sorts of actions, from "Add a new item to my to-do list in Evernote" to "Upload the photo I just took to my vacation folder in Dropbox." Among the three apps, there are thousands of recipes that you can use immediately, and you can create your own, too. IFTTT created helpful categories to get you started, with recipes for home, work, play and family. Browsing those categories is very helpful if you need ideas on how to use these apps.

The last part of the equation, channels, are just the services you likely use every day, including Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Fitbit and even home-automation services Phillips Hue, WeMo and SmartThings. You can authorize IFTTT to access your accounts with those services to use them in your recipes.

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Do Button lets you assign complicated tasks to a single button. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Do Button

Each of three Do apps has its own purpose, and IFTTT designed them this way to keep them simple and uncluttered. In the most basic sense, Do Button gives you a single button that you can program with a recipe. Press the button to set off the action and you're done -- IFTTT handles everything for you.

Do Button is meant for repetitive tasks you might do every single day, like sending a message when you're on your way home, setting your Nest Thermostat to a specific temperature or even sending a message to a group in GroupMe . Instead of using separate apps to do those things, Do Button gives you a single space to do them.

I've been using Do Button to log the number of cups of water I drink each day, with of time stamp of when I finished it. For me, one tap of the button means one finished 8-ounce glass, which gets logged in a Google Spreadsheet that IFTTT created when it used the recipe for the first time. Each new button press adds a new entry to that spreadsheet automatically.

When you open the app, you see a large button and a description of the recipe attached to it. Just swipe left or right to see the other two recipes you've programmed. The mortar-and-pestle icon in the lower right is where you can edit your recipes or choose a new one. That design is the same within each Do app, with some minor variations.

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With Do Note, you type in what you want and press the button for your action. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Do Note

Next up is Do Note, which IFTTT says to think of this as a command line for your apps and digital services. Simply type a command using text and numbers, press the button and the app will recognize the characters and words to create the action.

A great example of what Do Note can do is using it to create event in Google Calendar. You can type something as simple as "Coffee meeting at 2 p.m." or as complicated as "Every Tuesday 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Yoga Class at Local Yoga Studio." The app parses what you mean and creates the event for you.

Other ways you can use Do Note include adding a to-do item that gets appended to an existing list in Evernote (my personal favorite), and typing in a color to change the color of your Phillips Hue light bulb.

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Do Camera can take photos and share them with one step. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Do Camera

The last Do app gets access to your phone's camera to share or save photos with one step. This time, the button acts as both the camera's shutter and the catalyst for the action you program. That action could be sending the photo via email, uploading it to Tumblr or saving it directly to a specific Dropbox folder.

Like the other apps, you can pick from a number of recipes to assign to the button. I particularly like Do Camera because I can see new parents using it to send photos they take of their little one directly to the grandparents. Instead of taking the photo, adding it to an email and sending it off, the app streamlines that process to just one step.

Limitations

While these new Do apps are really neat, there are some limitations. For now, each app only supports three actions at a time. IFTTT is looking at ways to add more, and the company is considering creating a premium option for extra actions and other features in the future. For now, you get three actions and thousands of recipes that can be assigned to one of those actions. You can swap out and change the actions whenever you want.

Another limitation is that for many actions, such as sending a Twitter direct message or an SMS message, you can only send something to yourself, not someone else. The way around this for now is to use email to send messages to other people.

Lastly, if you're not already using IFTTT on the web or with the Android or iOS apps, you'll need to do a bit of set up to get started with the Do apps. That means going to IFTTT's website and activating the channels you see there with your account information. That can be a tedious process, especially for newcomers.

Looking ahead

IFTTT is taking a new step with the Do apps, hoping to get more people familiar with automating their digital lives. It's also making strides in home automation, and the Do apps are just another way to help control all of your connected devices with little effort. In the future, I'm expecting more apps like these, helping to bridge the gap between all of the services, gadgets and other smart technology that we use.

As for the Do apps themselves, their biggest strengths are that they are simply, pretty and inviting. There's a short learning curve, but it's not too hard to pick them up and start programming. If you want to streamline the tasks you do each day or dislike opening an app and digging around to do a simple action, the Do apps are a great set of tools to help you out.

All three apps are free and available in the App Store and Google Play starting today.

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