Thus far in our series on using the IFTTT (IF This Then That) service to help automate your home we’ve looked at using the service specifically with Philips Hue lighting, the August Smart Lock, and Ecobee’s smart thermostats, along with some ancillary services that you can tie into each of those. While we’ve touched on sending notifictions via SMS in those prior articles, this week we’re going to take a closer look at some of the other services that IFTTT has available for notifying you about what’s happening in your home.
Although some smart home apps provide their own notifications, these often either aren’t granular enough, or they may not even cover a specific condition you want to monitor. For example, if you’re using an August Smart Lock, either Apple’s HomeKit framework or August’s own app can notify you on your iPhone every time your door is locked or unlocked, but it can’t notify you only when a specific person unlocks your front door.
On the other hand, IFTTT provides more flexibility since it can fire off notifications based solely on triggers that you specify for any supported smart home device. Further, IFTTT supports a broad range of ways to notify you of what’s going on in your home, so that you’re not necessarily tied to Android or iOS devices to receive notifications.
We’ve already looked at SMS in our prior articles, but it’s worth noting again simply because it’s the great equalizer of notifications services — the common denominator for notifications that can be received on pretty much ANY mobile device. This is not only great for users who don’t want to carry typical smartphones, but also for those who may prefer devices such as Windows Phone or Blackberry, where home automation apps aren’t as commonly available.
So, for example, if you wanted to receive an SMS notification when motion is detected at the back door — in this case using Belkin’s WeMo Motion Sensor — you could easily set up an IFTTT applet that triggers an SMS to your phone.
One key point to keep in mind with IFTTT’s SMS service is that you’ll be limited to sending notifications to a single phone number that you specify when you configure the service — the same number must be used for all of your applets that you configure with the SMS service. If you want to be able to send SMS messages to different numbers, the ClickSend IFTTT service can be used, although there’s a small cost for each SMS message sent through ClickSend. If you’re using an Android phone, the Android SMS service is another option, which ties in with the IFTTT app to transmit an SMS message via your phone — although this will only work when your phone is on and within a service coverage area.
Another straightforward notification service is to simply have IFTTT send you an email message when something happens in your home. For instance, if using an IFTTT compatible environmental sensor such as the hugOne, you can get an email whenever the air quality in a room goes above a certain level, reminding you that it’s time to open a window.
Like the SMS service, in order to prevent spam, IFTTT’s Email service must be preconfigured with a specific email address, so you’ll only be able to send e-mails to one address across all of your applets. However, unlike SMS messages, this could easily be a group address for your entire family if you’ve set one up. Alternatively, if you’re a Gmail user, you can use the Gmail IFTTT service instead to send an e-mail to up to 20 recipients.
Let’s face it, despite all of the modern methods of getting notifications on smartphones, there are times that an old-fashioned phone call is just the fastest and most efficient way to find out about something, especially in an emergency. For these times, there’s IFTTT’s Phone Call service, which will place a telephone call to your number and speak out whatever alert you specify. For example, if you have a Nest Protect in your home, chances are that if there’s an alarm, you’re going to want to know right away.
It’s a fairly straightforward notification action, but it’s worth noting that despite IFTTT saying that it only works with U.S. numbers, it also appears to work fine in Canada, which of course uses the same numbering system, so “North American” numbers might be more accurate. Alternatively, there’s also the VoIP Calls service, which relies on the IFTTT app to deliver the message to your iPhone or Android phone in voice form. In our opinion, that’s a little less flexible than the Phone Call service, but it’s still useful if you’re carrying a compatible smartphone and prefer to have it ring through with an alert instead of displaying a push notification.
While the SMS, Email, and Phone Call services may seem somewhat low-tech in an era of Twitter and Facebook, sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective, particularly since these standard channels will work no matter how old your phone or computer happen to be, or even in places where you may have nothing more than an old-school landline. That said, in our next part we’ll look at some of the more modern notification services for tying into social media, collaboration systems, and push notification services.