Earlier this week we took a look at Google’s new “Routines” which bring expanded home automation control to Google Assistant, letting you launch a series of different actions simply by using your voice — actions such as turning on your lights, reporting the weather, and playing some music simply by saying “Okay Google, Good morning.”
Google’s Routines are still in their preliminary stages — right now they’re only officially available to users in the U.S., only include six predefined routines, and provide limited home automation control — but they will definitely be appreciated by anybody who has invested in the Google Home ecosystem. The six built-in routines are Good Morning, Bedtime, Leaving home, I’m home, Commuting to work, and Commuting home, and each can be customized to provide home automation control and several other features, depending on the routine. We looked at the Good morning routine in our previous article, which is the most comprehensive routine of the bunch, and basically replaces Google’s My Day feature. Today we’re going to delve into the other five.
Although all six of the routines offer the same home automation capabilities, they differ in other predefined Google Assistant actions according to their purpose. As we saw in part one, Good morning provides services appropriate for starting your day, and Bedtime naturally provides features suitable for ending it. Built-in Google Assistant options include putting your Android phone on silent (sadly, this doesn’t work for iPhones), giving you a weather and calendar briefing for the next day, asking you what time your alarm should be set for, making your home automation adjustments, and then setting your volume and playing music or sleep sounds. Unlike the Good morning routine, you can’t automatically listen to news, play a radio station, a podcast, or an audiobook, however you can choose from a collection of nine different ambient sound tracks to help put you to sleep.
It’s worth mentioning that each routine actually executes its tasks sequentially in the order shown. This means that if you’ve set up your Bedtime routine to turn off your lights, this won’t happen until after Google Assistant has given you your briefing and asked you what time your alarm can be set for. You can disable specific actions, but you can’t reorder them. Further, as we noted in our last article, only lights, plugs, and thermostats are supported, so you won’t be able to use a routine to ensure your doors are locked when you go to bed, and you can only turn lights and plugs on or off; there’s no way to adjust the color or intensity of a light as part of a routine, so if you like to sleep with a dim night light on, you’ll still have to issue a separate command to Google Assistant for that.
The Leaving home routine is actually the most basic of the bunch, providing only home control options and nothing else. It’s a handy way to turn out your lights and turn down your thermostat when you’re leaving, but it has the same limitations on what home automation devices are supported and what you can actually do with them; you won’t be able to adjust your thermostat’s mode when you leave, for instance, as only temperature changes are supported.
Still, the Leaving home routine is probably where the current limitations will be the least problematic, as most people are content to just ensure all of their lights are off when they go out the door. Unfortunately, there’s no ability to include third-party scenes from platforms like Philips Hue or Lutron Caséta, nor is there any way to adjust the status for multiple items at the same time, so if you have a lot of lights, you’ll be working your way down the list and tapping on each one a couple of times just to make sure you’re turning them all off.
Although Google has chosen a different way of phrasing it for whatever reason, the natural complement to Leaving home is I’m home. The actions here start with adjusting your home automation devices — turning on the lights and turning up the thermostats — and then offering the ability to have all of your Google Home speakers announce your arrival, read off your home reminders, and then adjust media volume and start playback. Again, the lack of support for door locks here means that you’ll still need to give Google Assistant a separate command if you want it to unlock your door.
Audio playback options are the same as for the Good morning routine, allowing you to listen to music, news, radio, a selected podcast, or an audiobook, and the way of specifying what you would like to listen to is similarly cumbersome, requiring users to type in an playlist, artist, album, or genre, or the name of a radio station or podcast.
Commuting to Work
The last two routines are actually somewhat unique as they can’t be triggered from a Google Home speaker, but only from Google Assistant on your phone. Call out “Let’s go to work” to your Google Home speaker and it will tell you as much. The idea behind the Commuting to work scene is mostly to offer briefings on traffic, weather, appointments, and reminders, and then play your chosen audio source, providing the same options as Good morning and I’m home.
Although this routine does offer home control, we’re not sure how useful that is, although you could use the same settings as your Leaving home scene, saving you a step if you’re going out the door and jumping into the car. But otherwise, most people likely don’t need to adjust their lights or thermostats once they’re already on their way to work.
The obvious reverse of Commuting to work is Commuting home, which offers some unique Assistant options, including the ability to send out a text message to let your partner know you’re on the way home, for instance, or simply to broadcast that you’re on the way from all of the Google Home speakers at your house. You can also have Google Assistant provide a briefing on your commute, read your unread texts, adjust lights and thermostats, and then set your volume and start playing your favorite audio source from the usual list of options.
Sadly, this is another area where Google’s current limitations on home devices are a bit unfortunate. While warming up your house on your commute home is a great idea, you won’t be able to automatically do other things like preheat your oven, although you can still do this with separate Google Assistant commands, particularly if you’re using IFTTT with Google Assistant.
Using Google Routines with Multiple Users
One area where Google is actually ahead in the home assistant game is support for multiple user profiles. Apple’s HomePod has no idea who is actually talking to it, and while Alexa can identify multiple users, everybody shares the same list of routines. Google actually takes it personalization to a higher level, allowing each user to set up their own routines independenty of the others — including which home control devices are a part of each. This means that each person’s routine can control different accessories, so when your partner says “Okay Google, good morning,” only their bedside table light turns on instead of yours.
The downside is that this makes routines more cumbersome to set up; for example, each family member will need to configure their own individual I’m leaving routines, even though they’ll all likely just be doing the exact same thing — turning off all the lights. It would be nice if there was a way to automatically share a base routine across all users and then let them customize their individual settings, but Google’s Routines are still at a fledgling stage — the implementation is a bit rough around the edges in a lot of areas, but it’s a good start and we imagine that there will be some polish and numerous enhancements to come.