If This, Then That
IFTTT—aka If This Then That, aka “ift” (rhymes with “gift”)—is a wonderful service that automates the Internet services and apps you use all the time. Our best friends at PCWorld have an excellent primer on getting started with IFTTT, so check it out if you’re unfamiliar with how it works.
Basically, the services IFTTT works with are called channels, and the little programs that tell the channels how to interact are called recipes. They’re searchable, shareable, and highly customizable—and they can do some surprisingly useful things. Here are 22 of our favorites. But we could list 100 more and still barely scratch the surface of what IFTTT can do, so if you have a favorite recipe of your own, let us know in the comments!
Track your packages
The excellent package-tracking service Boxoh has an IFTTT channel, and you can use this recipe to have Boxoh send you a text message when your package moves. This is kind of a single-serving recipe: You have to visit IFTTT first to enter a tracking number (FedEx, UPS, USPS, OnTrac, or DHL/Airborne). But thenceforth you’ll get a text every time the tracking info on your item is updated—including upon delivery!
Get a little sun
Because San Francisco is usually so mild, seeing the temperature creep above 80 degrees is a rare and special thing. But this recipe keeps an eye on the weather—and if the forecast says it’s going to be hot out, the recipe adds a quick event to my Google Calendar telling me to get outside for an hour in the afternoon to soak up some sun.
Take a Benadryl
The weather widget is more than just a temperature forecast. It also tracks the pollen count, which is a magic number for allergy sufferers. So this recipe watches for a pollen count above a certain number, and when it sees one it sends a push notification to your iOS or Android phone courtesy of Pushover. That way you’ll know to take an allergy pill before you go outside and start sneezing your head off.
Grab all the pics you're in
When a friend tags you in a photo in Facebook, this recipe will save the image to your Dropbox, anywhere you’d like. That way you’ll have your own copy, in case you want to use it as an profile pic on another social media site—or because you sleep better at night knowing your giant folder of images of yourself is that much closer to complete. This recipe is easy to tweak if you’d rather assign the photo to your SkyDrive, Box.net account, Google Drive, or elsewhere.
Get text alerts for VIP email
I get a lot of email, like, a lot—hundreds of messages a day sometimes. It’s easy for something important to get buried. But not a message from my husband, thanks to this recipe, which sends me a text whenever I receive an email from him.
Hear about iTunes freebies
A lot of great IFTTT recipes are built on the concept of notifying you by email when something is added to an RSS feed. This recipe, for example, alerts you when a new free item is added to the iTunes Store. (Not an app; we’re talking a song, book, or TV show.) And this recipe won’t deluge you with email—usually you won't get more than one or two messages a day. That isn’t always the case with RSS-to-email recipes, as you’re about to see...
And App Store freebies too
This IFTTT recipe also emails you new items from an RSS feed. In this case, the feed is from Appshopper, and it’s all the paid apps in the iOS App Store that have gone free, either temporarily (due to a sale) or permanently. Depending on the day, this recipe can hit your inbox hard. I enabled it on a Friday, and within an hour it had triggered 60 new emails. They all went to my Gmail account’s inbox, but I can easily create a filter (to skip the inbox) and add a label (like "free apps"), so they’ll be in one place when I go looking for them. The subject line of the email has the app’s name and category, so it’s easy to scan down the list and trash any unwanted items.
Run targeted Etsy searches
Etsy is a treasure trove of vintage and handmade products, and you can find so much great stuff to buy, but the inventory changes literally every day. If you’re looking for something specific, this recipe can alert you by email, and you can even target your searches to specific Etsy categories, such as knitting or holidays.
My search is for scarves with elephants on it (for a gift for a friend who loves elephants…and scarves…), which saves me time heading to Etsy to search manually—and saves me money since I won’t impulse-buy nine other non-elephant-scarf things while I’m there.
Automate your home...more
“Smart home” products like the Belkin WeMo system and Philips Hue lightbulbs are supercool because they let you control your house by using a smartphone app. But what if even that is too much work? Philips Hue has its own IFTTT channel, and Belkin has three, for the WeMo Motion sensor, the WeMo Light Switch, and the generic WeMo Switch (which lets you plug in anything you want).
Once you've activated those, you can make all kinds of cool recipes, like this one, which turns on your WeMo lights every day at sunset. Now that’s smart.
Back up Instagram to Dropbox
Instagram’s cute little square pictures mostly live inside the app. It’s easy to collect the ones you post yourself, since you took them—but if you follow someone excellent (whose pics are public), this recipe will let you save their pictures to your Dropbox. (Or you can use it to save your own, for effortless backup.) This would be a convenient way to stealthily collect a friend’s Instagrams so you could surprise them with a fun Instagram-based gift.
Back up Dropbox to GDrive
IFTTT’s Dropbox channel only works with files that are in your Public folder, since it uses the file’s URL (and not the file itself) to perform the action. But this recipe lets you stash a file in a subfolder inside your public folder, and then that file gets automatically added to your Google Drive. Mmmm, redundancy.
It’s a one-way process, so you can always move the Dropbox copy of the file to a non-public folder later on. And if you don’t use Google Drive, you could also do the same Dropbox backup with Box and SkyDrive too.
Send a text, get a call
This one is the perfect mix of evil and genius. Say you’re going on a blind date, or venturing into any similar situation where you might want an escape hatch. After enabling both the SMS and Phone Call channels in IFTTT, this recipe will let you send a text message to IFTTT that includes the tag #helpme.
Boom, you’ll get a phone call back from the service, which you can pretend is an urgent, urgent, urgent call for help from a friend. And that’s your chance to politely excuse yourself and am-scray. Now you just need to come up with an excuse for sending that initial text message—or practice discreetly doing it out of your companion's line of sight.
Send receipts to Evernote
Evernote is perfect for storing receipts because it’s so searchable. My Evernote notebook has software license codes that go back years, and I know I have only one place to look, rather than having to search the archives of every email address I’ve ever used to buy software. This recipe watches your Gmail account for emails containing “receipt” in the subject line, and sends those to Evernote.
You can use Gmail’s advanced search operators to hone your recipe. For example, if you order from a store whose emails don’t contain the word receipt in the subject line, you can expand your search like this: subject:"receipt" OR subject:“order received”
Keep tweaking until you have it right, and you’ll never misplace a receipt again.
Don't miss a sick session
Surfline is probably the coolest IFTTT channel. Its entire reason for being is to provide surf reports and ocean weather data to surfers so they can ride the waves they love. And to make sure you don’t miss primo conditions at your favorite break, this recipe will send you a text whenever the surf report hits a certain level—the scale goes from “flat” to “epic,” so just decide how big you want it.
Have Siri take an Evernote
The IFTTT app for iPhone lets you enable three iOS-specific channels that you can’t get to in the web app: Reminders, Contacts, and Photos. And this recipe uses a new item in Reminders as the trigger, and the action is a new note in Evernote. The real magic happens when you realize you can create the new Reminder by dictating to Siri.
So if you had this recipe enabled, you could create a new Evernote item without having to launch Evernote or type anything. All you’d do is hold down your iPhone’s home button to call up Siri, say, “Add to my Evernote list:” and then just talk. Once Siri figures out what you said, a new item will be added to your Evernote list in the Reminders app, and IFTTT will send it on over to your inbox in the Evernote app, time-stamped and tagged.
Remember your umbrella
Reminders can be the trigger for a recipe, as we just saw with the Reminders-to-Evernote example, or it can be the action. In this recipe, the trigger is rain in tomorrow’s weather forecast, and the action is a new Reminder telling you to bring an umbrella. Obviously this can be tweaked in any number of ways—snow in the forecast can remind you to leave for work earlier or to wear boots.
Then you just have to set your notifications for Reminders (in Settings > Notification Center) to be all up in your face about those items, and/or get in the habit of checking your Reminders more often—which you should be doing anyway. Recipes like this are really the essence of what IFTTT does: It funnels all the info you might need, from many places into one inbox: ideally, the place you already check, whether that’s Reminders or Gmail or your texts.
Back up your contacts
The Contacts app in iOS can also be an IFTTT trigger. This recipe adds all your new contacts to a Google Drive spreadsheet. You can even use this to transfer those contacts over to your Google account in a batchy, workaroundish way: Just export the spreadsheet as a CSV file, and import that to your Google Contacts.
Create reminders from Gmail
They say email is the task list you get from other people. Google has its own Tasks feature that works with Gmail, but if you’re trying to bridge the chasm between your favorite Google services and your trusty iPhone’s built-in Apple services, IFTTT can help you build that bridge.
Namely, this recipe lets you add a tag to a Gmail message, like “task,” and then that’s sent over to your Reminders app, which of course uses iCloud to sync between all your iOS devices and your Mac. Since you currently can’t create a new Reminder from the main Mail app in iOS, that’s a pretty neat trick.
Wake up to the right Hue
Jawbone’s Up activity tracker is designed to be worn 24/7 (well, except when charging) because it can track your sleep. So if it sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. (Because you took it out of sleep mode, of course.) And this recipe can use the occasion of your waking up to also turn on your Philips Hue lighting.
Yeah, you could just turn the Philips Hue light on with your phone, which—if you’re like me—is within arm’s reach of your bed anyhow. But it’s just so much cooler to have it happen automatically. And without clapping.
Whip up a photo diary of meals
The Jawbone Up bracelet tracks your movements throughout the day and night, and you can round out your profile with a lot of other info too—like what kinds of workouts you did each day, and even what you ate—but you generally have to add that data yourself. This recipe is a neat way of recording what you ate in your Up profile—all you do is snap a picture of your plate and upload it to Flickr with the tag #up.
This isn’t for anything scientific like calorie counting, but just to keep you honest—let’s face it, you can look at a picture of a bacon cheeseburger, and another picture of a roasted beet and arugula salad, and know which of those is the healthier meal. If you like this recipe, check out this other one that sends specially tagged Foursquare check-ins (say, at the gym or yoga studio) to Up as workout events.
Call your phone if it's Taken
This recipe is pure comedy. If you ever find yourself without your phone, all you have to do is send an email to IFTTT including the hashtag #lostphone. The service will call your phone, and read whatever message you’d like—such as Liam Neeson’s threatening speech from Taken. Ha! In a menacing computerized voice? Amazing.
Sure, you could just text or call your own phone to see if someone picks up, only using what phone, big shot? Because yours is gonzo. And of course, you can reprogram a recipe like this to read whatever kind of information you’d like, to appeal to the kind of upstanding citizen who would find your lost phone. But I dunno, I think Liam’s approach is more satisfying.