Before a scheduled calendar event begins, post a reminder to Slack. Automatically create an archive of your Spotify Discover Weekly playlists. Tell Google Assistant to change the color of your Hue lights. These automations are simple examples of what you can build with IFTTT, which rhymes with “gift” and stands for “if this, then that.” IFTTT is a free service that lets you connect internet-aware apps, services, and devices, even if you don’t know how to code. The IFTTT website and mobile app help you build commands (which IFTTT used to call recipes and now calls applets) using bright, visual cards and powerful fields. IFTTT and its more business-oriented competitor Zapier are both Editors’ Choice services for productivity.
IFTTT vs. Zapier
As mentioned, both IFTTT and Zapier help you connect apps and services that otherwise would not communicate with each other. Both are effective productivity tools and work well, but there are some subtle differences.
Foremost, IFTTT and Zapier differ in their areas of focus. For example, IFTTT works with digital voice assistants (Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Siri), as well as smart home devices (such as lighting, appliances, and security systems). In contrast, Zapier offers more functionality for the enterprise crowd, including hooks to services such as Amazon S3, GoToWebinar, SQL Server, Wrike, and Zendesk. The two do overlap in the cloud, mobile, productivity, and social spaces, however. Both IFTTT and Zapier support Asana, Dropbox, Facebook, Google Drive, Instagram, Slack, SMS messaging, Trello, and Twitter.
One major difference is that IFTTT offers mobile apps for Android and iOS, while Zapier only has a web interface. On the other hand, Zapier lets you create multistep (3+ steps) automations, while IFTTT limits users to a single step connecting two actions. For example, using Zapier, you could set up a Zap that follows this outline: If I receive an email attachment in Gmail, then create a new task in the to-do app Todoist, and then post it to a Slack channel. You can configure a second IFTTT applet to trigger in response to the first one, if you want to create chains of automated actions, though Zapier’s approach is more intuitive.
Pricing and Platform
IFTTT is free (as of this writing) and anyone can sign up for an account with an email address. In the past, the company said it planned to introduce paid plans, per a 2014 New York Times article, but the service still remains completely free to use. IFTTT does offer two enterprise-focused plans (Developer and Business), but you need to contact its sales department for pricing.
Zapier also offers a free version, albeit one with limited capabilities. Free account users can run up to 100 tasks per month, can have up to five Zaps active at any given time (they run every 15 minutes), and cannot use Premium apps. Zapier’s Premium apps are simply those that it restricts to higher account tiers, such as MySQL, PayPal, QuickBase, QuickBooks, Salesforce, Zendesk, and many others. These do not otherwise work any differently than the regular apps, however. Furthermore, free users cannot enable Autoreplay, a fail-safe measure that reruns Zaps on a staggered schedule if they don’t work on the first try. Zapier’s paid plans, which unlock premium apps, enable the Autoreplay feature, allow multistep Zaps, and increase the frequency with which Zaps run, start at $20 per month.
You can use IFTTT’s web interface or its Android and iOS apps to build applets. Although Zapier does not offer mobile apps for any platform, it does support some mobile-based functionality, such as SMS messaging. On the other hand, IFTTT can access system-level information like battery status, ringer volume, and notification data on Android and can access App Store data, reminders, and the built-in calendar on iOS.
IFTTT’s web interface has a bright, modern, and inviting design complete with bold colors, large card-style elements, and smooth animations. IFTTT has streamlined the interface since the last update to this review, but the change isn’t wholly positive. On the left-hand side, IFTTT now only shows menu items for Home and Search. On the right-hand side, you can access your profile or click the Get more button to explore sample applets. The Profile drop-down menu lets you view your activity, see all your applets and services, or jump directly to the applet creation screen.
From the account settings section, you can connect a profile picture from another service, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr. You can also set up two-step authentication for more secure sign-ins. Enabling two-factor authentication is wise for any service, but especially for IFTTT, given the number of other accounts you will likely end up linking to it. You can also choose whether the home screen shows your connected applets or services, export your account data, and delete your account entirely.
The Home screen now makes it easier to see which applets are connected by displaying that status at the bottom of each applet card. You can click into any card to view related activity and to change its settings. If you choose to see your connected services on the Home page, you can explore all your applet-creation options by clicking on a service.
The Search bar is less useful than the previous Search section. Previously, you could view different categories of services in a more organized view, but now you must search directly for connections and services. The Get more section is similarly less functional than the old Discover tab. Instead of the Discover tab’s themed collections and personal recommendations, this new section highlights a mix of unrelated applets, hubs for general audiences (such as for beginners or social media users), and spotlights for specific services, such as Domino’s and Fitbit.
The Activity section shows all applet activity, such as when an applet ran (or failed) or when you linked a new service, going back to the very beginning. Each instance shows the date and time, and you can click through to see the total number of times an applet ran. However, we wish there were more organizational or filtering tools here, as you find with Zapier. The longer you use IFTTT, the more unwieldy this section becomes.
You have two options when it comes to applets in IFTTT; you can use one that someone else already created or build your own. To add an applet to your account, start by searching for the service or topic relevant to the connection you want to create. If someone has already created the applet, there’s no sense in recreating it for yourself. Just click on the card and switch it on. An example—if it’s going to rain tomorrow then send me a text message—is what started the whole site, as we learned in a past interview with IFTTT founder Linden Tibbets. For some ideas on just what you can do with an applet, check out our roundup of the best IFTTT applets.
Some applets require you to sign in to other accounts, but the simplest ones only require an email address or phone number. For example, you could use IFTTT to automatically send a text from your Android device to your spouse (or whoever, really) when you leave work each day. Other applets simply rely on the IFTTT app to push notifications. For example, you can enable an applet that notifies you every time the International Space Station passes above your home.
Some of the pre-built applets require you to enter additional information or make further customizations, but the methods for doing so are all visually consistent and mostly easy to understand. For example, all of the map-based functionalities use the same fluid interface, though we wish you could set a default location for all of them.
Other parts might trip up some users. For example, with the work departure applet, you have the option to change what appears in the message body. This section allows plain text input, as well as data snippets, which IFTTT calls ingredients. In this example, it gives you a drop-down list of three items: Occurred At (the time you left work), LocationMapImageUrl (a picture showing the location you left), and LocationMapUrl (a link to the map). Of course, other applets have different Ingredients, though some do not require them at all.
If this is confusing, take the time to experiment with all the options. As with anything, the best way to understand how to use IFTTT is simply to keep at it. Once you get more comfortable with how IFTTT works, you can start building your own applets.
To start, simply click on the Create option under the profile drop-down menu or the plus button from the Get more section. As mentioned, IFTTT stands for “if this, then that,” so you can think of an applet as having two main parts: this and that. IFTTT makes this connection obvious; it simply shows the above sentence on the creation screen. You click on the plus icon in front of “this” to choose a trigger event and then the plus icon in front of the “that” part to complete the process. It helps to know what you want the applet to accomplish before diving into the creation steps. Let’s say, for example, you want IFTTT to add a new entry to a spreadsheet each time you upload a video to Vimeo.
The first step is to specify the trigger service. In the case of our example, you select Vimeo as the trigger. As with Zapier, IFTTT generates a list of trigger events related to the app, along with a description of each. To build our example, select the New Video Upload card.
Next, you choose the action service and the trigger action (or “that”), in this case, Google Sheets and the Add a Row to Spreadsheet function. Completing the action fields comes next (telling IFTTT exactly what to do).
In our example, you need to define the name of the spreadsheet you want to use (it creates a new one with the new name if it doesn’t already exist). You also choose what information IFTTT adds to the spreadsheet and its format. This is where ingredients come in to play. Vimeo provides a couple of ingredients you can add anywhere in the setup, including in the Spreadsheet name and folder path, such as Title, Caption, URL, Embed Code, and UploadedAt. The last step is just to review the applet you created and choose whether to enable notifications for when it runs.
In testing, this applet worked as advertised. After we uploaded a short video to our Vimeo account, IFTTT added all of the requested information to a spreadsheet. The one catch is that the video has to be public in order for IFTTT to correctly detect the action. Also, as we mentioned, you can’t create more than one action step in a single applet with IFTTT right now. Zapier lets you add as many steps as you want. So in theory, we could tell Zapier to go one step further and post the uploaded video to Slack or Twitter, for example.
IFTTT offers apps for both Android and iOS. The apps carry over the website’s clean look and vibrant card-based elements. We had no issues installing or logging into our account on our test device. App performance is quick and we did not encounter any lag. We tested IFTTT on a Google Pixel 3 running Android 9.
IFTTT has updated its mobile apps since our last review. Instead of separate sections for different features, the main page now shows a list of your connected services. Oddly, you cannot choose to show your applets on the home screen. You need to tap each service to enable them or make any changes. This is annoying and a step back from the previous version of the app. You can still create new applets from the Get more tab on the bottom in exactly the same way as you would on the web. The Activity section is now the same as on the web too. Previously, IFTTT’s mobile apps organized activity by Notifications, Everything (such as instances of services connected and apps enabled), and Errors. This is also a change for the worse, from an organization standpoint. All the same Account settings are still accessible from the app.
IFTTT for Everything
IFTTT is very capable, highly accessible, and free to use. If you want two disparate apps, IoT devices, or services to communicate with each other, IFTTT likely offers some sort of solution. Our main concern is that the latest updates to the web and mobile apps sacrifice some usability for a cleaner design. Despite that shift, IFTTT is an Editors’ Choice pick alongside Zapier. Both are powerful and flexible automation tools, though they excel in different ways. IFTTT supports smart home appliances and offers excellent mobile apps, while Zapier natively supports more business-centric services and lets you combine multiple steps in a single Zap.