Setting Up Amazon Alexa Routines, Part 2

Earlier this week we looked at the basics of setting up Amazon Alexa Routines and what you can do with them in a broader sense. In this second part, we’ll take a closer look at some practical examples for Alexa Routines that can be used for automating your home.

Starting your day with Alexa

Alexa already provides a default “Start my day” routine that will read off the news and weather, and it’s pretty easy to customize this further to add some home automation steps, such as turning on your bedroom lights. Simply select the existing “Start my day” routine and add a “Smart Home” action to the list, choosing the devices you want to have turned on.

Depending on the smart home equipment you’re using, there are a couple of different approaches you can take here as well. Remember that Alexa Routines can control individual devices, groups of devices (as defined by the Alexa app) or any scenes that are available in third-party vendors’ platforms such as Hue and Caséta.

So if you wanted to turn on all of the lights in your bedroom, you could simply create multiple actions in your Alexa Routine, one for each light. However, if you’re using a lighting platform like Philips Hue — which exposes your rooms to Alexa as devices —  you can also simply select “Bedroom” as the device, which will affect all of the Hue lights assigned to your bedroom. You can also directly trigger a Hue scene, which can be useful if you want to get more creative with your morning lighting — such as setting different lights to different colors.

Creating an Alexa Group

Another option is to use an Alexa group, which can be particularly useful if you want to control lights from different vendors. For example, if you want to turn off your Hue table lamps and the Caséta light switch for your ceiling light, you can group them into a single collection of devices for your entire room. Alexa itself has no concept of “rooms” — unlike Apple’s HomeKit and many other third-party lighting platforms — choosing instead to just use the more generic idea of groups. But you’ll need to create these manually if you want to be able to easily control all of the devices in a given room — especially if they’re made by different companies.

Groups in Alexa are set up outside of the “Routines” section; you’ll need to go into the “Smart Home” section from the main menu instead, and then tap the middle tab to access the group configuration screen. Tapping “Add Group” will begin the process, presenting you with a list of suggested names based on rooms. You can also type in your own name.

Once you’ve picked a name, you’ll be able to add your devices to the group. You can add any Alexa-supported device to a group; if you include devices that aren’t supported by Alexa Routines, you’ll still be able to control that group from a routine — any unsupported devices will simply be ignored.

Keep in mind also that although Alexa suggests room names, a group can actually be used for any collection of devices that you want to control together, so you could use a group for only adjusting a specific set of lights in your home — turning off all overhead lights, for example, while leaving table lamps on.

Saying Good Night to Alexa

Now that we have a group for our bedroom lights, we can use them in a “good night” routine to ensure that they’re all turned off when going to bed. Simply select “Control a group” when creating the routine and choose the group you created for the bedroom lights (“Master Bedroom” in this example).

Since Alexa can do a bit more than just control lights, we can also add a bit of bedtime music to the list, asking Spotify to play some music for sleeping. Keep in mind that you’ll need to use an actual Amazon Echo speaker for this. If you also have third-party Alexa-compatible speakers, you can set your routine to play your music back from an Echo instead, regardless of which speaker receives the voice command.

One key limitation of using groups here, however, is that you’ll be limited to only turning lights on or off, regardless of the capabilities of the lights in the group; even if a group contains only Hue lights, for instance, you still can’t tell Alexa to dim them or change their colors as part of a Routine.

Summary

Alexa’s Routines are a handy way to initiate regular home automation setups with your voice, but sadly they’re still pretty limited — especially in the types of devices that can be included. But they’re great if all you want to do is adjust your lights.

You can use IFTTT to work around some of these limitations by tying Routine-supported devices into IFTTT applets that will trigger other home automation devices, but we’re hoping Amazon eventually adds a bit more versatility to the home automation aspect of Alexa’s Routines.

Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington is based in Toronto, Canada, where he lives with his daughter, Victoria. He is the author of iPod & iTunes Portable Genius, and works as a senior editor for iLounge.com. Prior to becoming a writer, Jesse ran his own information technology consulting practice and served as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve.

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