IFTTT

The cryptically named IFTTT is a clever service where you can put together different web services to identify a condition and, if it occurs, perform a task. You can use it with smart devices, your calendar, weather reports, social networks, etc.

IFTTT is the abbreviation for IF This Then That so an example “applet” might be

IF everybody has left the house (THIS)

THEN

turn down the heating (THAT)

I have previously used IFTTT to control a WeMo Smart Socket but, as the Alexa app has developed, it is now easier to do this as an Alexa Routine.

However, I do still use IFTTT to notify me of weather changes and (as mentioned in my “Making friends with Alexa” blog post) I send items from Alexa to my two favourite list apps (Things 3 for my todo list and Todoist for my shopping list).

Here are a few examples of the applets that I use….

Setting up an applet of your own

Once you’ve signed up, you can use IFTTT on the mobile app or their website www.ifttt.com. There are hundreds of services that you can link to – location trackers such Life 360, your home heating system such as Honeywell or Nest, news services such as the New York Times.

To show you an example, I’m going to create the example of turning down the heating when everyone has left the house – based on the assumption that they take their phones with them! This can be achieved using services Life 360 and Honeywell….

Select +
Select Life 360
Select “Last family member leaves….”
Select relevant location – in this case “Home”
Select +
Select your service
Set up the rules
IF Life 360 says everyone has left (THIS)
THEN
Set Honeywell heating to low (THAT)

And that’s it – the possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and what services have been set up, but with the hundreds of services in place I’m sure you’ll find some clever features that will work for you.

Alexa routines

Did you know that you can create a customised set of instructions to follow that you can request through a key phrase or at a scheduled time?

For example, as I eat breakfast, I say “Alexa, good morning” and she does the following:

  • Tells me a fun fact
  • Reads out my calendar for the day (well, the first 4 appointments)
  • Tells me how long my commute will be that day
  • Plays the latest news
  • Tells me the weather forecast for the day

So, how did I set that up? In the Alexa app, the menu has an option called “Routines”. Select that then choose the “+” button and follow the steps as shown in this short video below. In this one, I set up a routine triggered with the words “Alexa, let’s go”:

Making friends with Alexa

We have a number of Amazon Echo devices around the house and, as well as playing music, Alexa can be very helpful in reminding us of upcoming events, writing a shopping list and telling everyone when food is ready.

Here are my favourite commands:

Messages in the house

Announce [my message]

Hollering up the stairsThis sends a “ping” followed by my message to every device in the house. It’s a one way communication. If I say “Alexa, Announce Dinner is served” then there’s a bell sound plays too which gets everyone’s attention quickly. That’s usually followed by a stampede down the stairs.

Drop in on [device name]

This command works as an intercom and is great to stop me yelling up the stairs. So, “Alexa, Drop in on Master Bedroom” allows a two way conversation with Mr Savvy if he’s just popped upstairs. Just when he thought he’d got 5 minutes of peace and quiet 😉

To end the conversation, either person can say “Alexa, hang up”.

Lists

Add [item] to my shopping list

This is one of my most used commands in the kitchen. If I’m cooking and getting towards the end of the soy sauce, I say “Alexa, add soy sauce to the shopping list”. There’s no need to look around for pen and paper when you’ve got sticky hands.

Add [action] to my to-do list

The to-do list is another useful feature when things pop into my head. Last week, the “oil service required” message appeared on the car dashboard. When I was peeling carrots, I remembered this and said “Alexa, add arrange car servicing to my to-do list”.

You can read, amend and tick off items from your shopping list and to-do list in the Alexa app. Alternatively, there’s an option to synchronise with specialist list apps – currently the options are Any.do, AnyList, Picniic or Todoist.

 I don’t use this feature as I use 2 list apps – Todoist for my shopping list and Things 3 for my todo list. Instead, I use IFTTT to send my list items from Alexa to the appropriate app – IFTTT will be the topic of a future blog as I have a few “applets” that I regularly use.

Other favourites

Your schedule, music, news and weather

What’s on the calendar?

If you link your calendar in the Alexa app using Settings -> Calendar then select your provider (Google, Microsoft or Apple) and link your account then you can do the following:

Alexa can tell you what’s on your calendar defaulting to today but you can also say “Alexa, what’s on the calendar tomorrow” or “Alexa, what’s on the calendar on Tuesday?”

You can add an event to your calendar – “Alexa, add an event to my calendar” and she will prompt you for date, time and event name or you can say something like “Alexa, add dentist to my calendar on 31 October at 3pm

Play some music

Play some music OR
Play [album or artist] OR
Play [name of radio station]
OR
Play [type of music]

What’s in the news?

You can select the news service you want to use in Alexa skills – see this page on how to do that.

I have been using Sky News but may change now that they’ve added adverts to the end of the bulletin.

What’s the weather?

Alexa will tell you the weather forecast for today in your home location based on your settings in the app. You can ask for weather for other towns and cities and/or for the coming days – “Alexa, what’s the weather in Whitby on Monday”

Set a timer

Set a timer for [length of time][for optional timer name]

There’s lots more to share but I think that’s enough for now. I plan to share future posts on the best Alexa skills and setting up Alexa routines.

Activate Alexa’s skills

Alexa’s skills

Alexa has thousands of skills available to control your lights, to order pizza or to play animal noises. I plan to create a list of my favourites in a future blog but, for now, here’s how to find and activate a skill.

  1. From the menu, select Skills & Games.
  2. Find a skill you want to use, and then select it to open the skill detail page.
  3. Select Enable Skill, or ask Alexa to open the skill. Refer to the skill’s detail page for examples of things to say.

Getting started


I have toyed with the idea of a blog for a while now and today I took the plunge.

I want to share with you handy hints and tips on using technology in the home and how gadgets can help keep you and your family organised.

My favourite gadgets are the Amazon Echo, the iPhone and the iPad. I thought I’d start my blog with my favourite Alexa commands so watch this space and I hope to have my first full post up in the coming days.

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