One of the big problems with the emerging Internet of Things is many of the products can’t talk to one another.
A San Francisco startup thinks makers, tinkerers and software programmers can help solve the issue.
On Wednesday, IFTTT is planning on opening up its platform, which acts as a kind of connective tissue between different gadgets and services, to individual developers. Using IFTTT’s software tools, a coder could, for example, create an app that sends you a text alert when it’s about to rain, while also shutting off your home sprinkler system and readying the perfect rainy day music in your car for your drive home.
IFTTT users can already find hundreds of thousands of apps on its service that can connect various devices together. But there are plenty of other potential connections that could be made.
“Makers will fill in the gaps,” said Linden Tibbets, IFTTT’s CEO.
Individual developers will be able to create apps — or “applets,” as IFTTT refers to them and publish them in IFTTT’s app store for free. They will be able to use those tools to link together services or devices offered by any of IFTTT’s more than 430 partners. Those include smart home gadget makers like Nest, Philips Hue and Netgear’s Arlo, as well as companies as diverse as BMW, Domino’s, Dropbox and Spotify.
Initially, makers won’t be able to charge for their applets. But that’s something the company is considering allowing in the future, Tibbets said.
“It’s a big opportunity for the company to help our developers and services find new ways to monetise” their efforts, he said.
IFTTT’s move comes as the home automation market is growing, but is becoming increasingly fragmented. Many gadgets can’t talk with one another, because they use incompatible or proprietary standards, because of technical conflicts, or because their parent companies simply haven’t struck deals to work together.
Along with IFTTT, other companies are trying to build ecosystems that will allow disparate devices to communicate. Among them are Apple with its HomeKit technology; Samsung with its SmartThings unit; Google with its “Works with Nest” program and its Google Assistant intelligent assistant; and Amazon with its Alexa assistant.
IFTTT is different from many of its rivals in that it’s not a gadget maker, and it’s open to any device or service that wants to partner with it. IFTTT makes money by charging corporate partners who want to develop applets for its service.
Although it’s kept a low profile, IFTTT already has some 10 million users, 60% of which are located outside of the US, according to Tibbets.
Back to the future
Opening up its platform to individual developers is something of a back-to-the future move for IFTTT. When it launched its service in 2010, the company, whose name stands for “if this then that,” initially geared it to helping individual users create simple statements or “recipes” that tied together different gadgets or aspects of their online lives. For example, a user might have been able to create a recipe that would take everything he posted on Twitter and re-post it on Facebook.
But last fall, IFTTT, which has raised $US39 million and now has 30 employees, took steps to broaden the appeal of its service. Instead of focusing on helping users create “recipes” of their own, the company redesigned its app and website to help everyday users download and configure already created recipes, which it now calls applets.
It also developed software tools that could be used to create more sophisticated applets for its service. Initially, though, it limited its new platform just to its corporate partners.
Now, individual developers can use those same tools. And instead of simple “if this then that” recipes, they will be able to create complex ones that can, once triggered, prompt multiple services or devices to do different things.
Working with a “smart” city
Louisville, Kentucky’s city government recently joined IFTTT as a partner. Among the services the city is opening up to IFTTT is its measurements of local air quality. The city has already created some applets that tap into that data, including one that will automatically turn on a resident’s WeMo air purifier when the air quality gets bad.
The city may build more such applets, but it’s unlikely to make all the possible connections that area residents might want to use, Tibbets noted. That’s where he hopes individual developers will step in.
“There’s no way Louisville can build integrations with each one of the environmental control services” that’s out there, he said.
IFTTT’s move to open up its platform to individual developers, while at the same time trying to make its service easier to use for average consumers “is exactly where they have to go,” said Tom Kerber, an analyst who focuses on the Internet of Things for market research firm Parks Associates.
Getting the makers involved “just helps accelerate all these edge use cases to get filled in very rapidly,” he added.
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