NEW YORK — Your digital life is littered with apps.
There are social networks and messaging services, each with their own websites and mobile apps. Then there are stand-alone apps that control “smart” devices — thermostats, lightbulbs, fitness trackers, scales — which have only just starting trickling into our homes.
One company called IFTTT has been working on automation tools that make it easier for all those apps and gadgets to work together. Now it’s reaching out to the non-technical crowd with a new trio of dead-simple apps.
The name stands for “If This Then That,” a phrase that describes exactly how it works: If you post a photo to Facebook, then save it to Dropbox. Called recipes, you can create your own or choose from the thousands in the IFTTT library.
There are recipes to text your husband when you’re a certain distance from the house, email you anything your mom tweets, or flash the lights when someone opens your (sensor-equipped) liquor cabinet at home.
Users cobble together automations using any of the 170 compatible services like Facebook, Nest and Fitbit.
The company’s three new apps let you create buttons that trigger automated actions, Do Button, Do Note and Do Camera. The Do Button app lets you create a shortcut on your homescreen that, with one tap, acts as an on/off switch for smart devices or notes your location in a Google spreadsheet. Date night? Tap the button you programmed to lower all the lights in your house. You can create up to three customizable buttons (IFTTT is considering charging for additional ones).
Do Note simplifies any task you do frequently that involves typing out text, like adding items to a shopping list or emailing yourself a reminder. For example, use Do Note to create a button called “Grocery.” Tap it, type “Buy Cheerios” and the note will automatically show up in Evernote. Do Camera does the same for photos, so you can make a button that automatically emails selfies to your three best friends.
The Do buttons aren’t just cutting down on steps, they’re an early attempt to give people one central way to control all their Internet of Things devices. IFTTT is also turning regular people into programers, even if they don’t know it.
“Everyone in the physical world is a whole lot more of a programmer than they give themselves credit for,” said CEO Linden Tibbets.
The company was founded in 2010 by Linden and his brother Alexander Tibbets. Its users are enthusiastic and have created 19 million recipes so far, but the company wanted to take the product in a direction that was easier to understand.
“IFTTT is really trying to solve the next step, which is how do we help people do what they want with all this connected stuff,” said Tibbets.
He imagines a future in which everything will be connected to the internet and compatible with IFTTT. These new apps are just laying the groundwork for a future operating system.
That’s an ambitious and complicated goal for a very simple service.