Automation applications, sometimes referred to as Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) are software that is usually hosted externally and links otherwise unconnected services and devices so that they work together.  These amazingly applications have the ability to transform basic standalone devices and services into a coherent meshed network.

What We Love:

IFTTT (If This Then That – pronounced like ‘gift’ without the ‘g’)

Why We Love it:

This free web/mobile application sets the standard for personal and home automation integration applications.  It boils things down to the essence of what automation is all about: an action in one application triggering a response in another.  IFTTT creates an amazingly easy way to connect services and automate routine tasks.  

Hmmm:

There isn’t much not to love about IFTTT and it is especially hard to argue given the price.  However, the fact that it is free does mean that there are risks.  The service could be cut off or changed at any time and you have little recourse.  There is also no guarantee of service levels or performance unlike some of the paid alternatives.  We have sometimes felt limited by the number of events that are or can be triggered and the scheduling of the frequency of triggers and actions.

Works Best With:

IFTTT is the jack of all trades defacto service for most DIY automation services and projects.  It works best if you are just looking for basic and easy integration with a wide range of services.  Many newer products are designed specifically to work with IFTTT.  As you would expect you will usually find that when the product is designed from the ground up with IFTTT in mind it tends to work better and have more IFTTT specific features and functionality.  

Great For:

Wow, if you aren’t already familiar with IFTTT the things you can do may just blow your mind. Everything from synchronizing your social media posts across all the platforms you use to having your car open your garage door when you get home.  If you haven’t already, go over and browse through their “Discover Applets” section for a bit.  We’ll wait (please come back!!) – that popping sound you hear will be your mind exploding with ideas.

IFTTT shines as a way to add integration to DIY home automation projects.

You Might Also Love:

There seems to be a new integration application service announced every time we turn around and they are not all small, previously unheard of silicon valley startups.  For example Microsoft offers an integration application (Flow).

Some alternatives you may want to check out:

Stringify – particularly good for home automation focused connections.  The app will even allow you to control basic features for connected devices without moving to another application.

Yonomi – another nice home automation focused application.  

Zapier – very powerful all around service with more focus on business services and business class service delivery.

Automate.io – allows integration across multiple applications.

Alternatively you can run your own service with a home automation hub and an application like Events built into HomeSeer, PLEG for Vera or the SmartThings Rule Machine.   

Stuff We Really Like:

There are some alternatives that are a better fit for more specific applications:

Flow – (by Microsoft) this solution is not currently as well developed and doesn’t have the broad range of integrations IFTTT and others have.  However, it does have a huge name behind it.  If you need to automate interactions with Microsoft applications you may want to look here first.

Skyvia – integrate, backup, access, and manage your cloud data.  Not designed to control and interact with devices and home automation gear but can be a very useful tool for cloud data specific needs.

What’s Not To Love:

No service is perfect and IFTTT has its fair share of glitches, slow updates and missing features.  When it works it is unbelievably great.  When it doesn’t it is hella frustrating.  This doesn’t mean the problem is always with IFTTT and often the problems you encounter would impact a competitor application as well.  

For any service acting as an intermediary reliability can be particularly frustrating.  When the interfaces for either the trigger or action sites/services are not working perfectly it can be perceived as a failure of the intermediary service.  In reality the integration service provider may have no control.  Alternatively, it may be that the problem is completely their issue… or just one service or even all of the services… or something you programmed wrong when you set things up… who knows?  One of the biggest challenges can be troubleshooting these services when they aren’t working the way you want or expect them to.  

Also, (this is more of a small preference gripe than a flaw or problem with IFTTT), not all services are created equal.  We found some of the differences surprisingly massive at times.  For example there are at least five different types of smart lighting systems supported by IFTTT and each one offers wildly different functionality.  To complicate matters further it isn’t always the most mature or popular systems that offer the widest or most useful ranges of services.  In this case: if you plan to use IFTTT as your main way of controlling and connecting your smart lights we would recommend LIFX bulbs over our usual recommendation of Hue bulbs.  The recommendation changes solely because the IFTTT functionality offered by LIFX is much better. Bottom line: if you plan to use IFTTT extensively be sure to research and factor in the functionality offered for competing options.  Just because it says “works with IFTTT” on both tins does not mean that everything inside is equal.  

When the Alternative Might Be Better:

IFTTT has a huge list of integrations and an open interface to add more as needed but you may find that alternatives are needed (or work better) for specific technologies.  For example the Microsoft Flow tool will probably work better and have more functionality integrating with other Microsoft applications.  If it is a mission critical corporate application you may find that Zapier is a better fit.  

In general Stringify is probably the best overall automation application and it really excels for home automation.  The main reasons Strigify is not our pick of what we love are: It has fewer partners and integrations, IFTTT is easier to use, and IFTTT has a few killer canned recipes that jump start and make it super useful right away.  However, the annoying limitations of IFTTT are addressed in Stringify with multiple conditions and actions.  Stringify also is way more reliable, it is more likely to fire an event because it does or doesn’t see a trigger than to let one pass without running like IFTTT.  Stringify is getting better every day and we find ourselves using it more and more instead of IFTTT so we wouldn’t be surprised to see our recommendation change in the future. If you are not put off by the complexity and are willing to invest the effort to figure out the intricacies of how Stringify works and the devices you want to control are in the ecosystem (which is growing rapidly – they are even connected with IFTTT now!) Stringify is a great alternative and highly recommended.

Finally, if you have the interest and the aptitude: using a home automation hub can move more control back to you.  It also moves the responsibility and the work so it is up to you to decide if the scales tip in favour of working harder and controlling your destiny or going with the easy integration and accepting slightly less control.