Using Google Home Routines

Earlier this month Google rolled out long-awaited support for “Routines,” expanding Google Assistant’s “My Day” feature to allow users of the Google Home ecosystem to launch a series of home automation actions through the use of a voice command, similar to the “Scenes” found in Apple’s HomeKit and Amazon’s Alexa.

Although Google has officially announced the feature, it appears to be rolling out in stages, so you may not see it appear yet, and it may not even be fully functional right away — some users have reported only seeing a single “Good Morning” scene appear at first, with the rest only appearing several hours, or even a day or two, later. Once the Routines have rolled out to your account, you should see them appear under “News” in your Google Assistant settings. Routines is also only officially available in the U.S., although many international users who use “English (U.S.)” as their primarily language have reported seeing it appear on their devices as well.

Limitations

Google Home is actually pretty late to the game here; Apple has included the equivalent “Scenes” in HomeKit since its inception in 2015, and Amazon added “Scenes” to Alexa through a developer API back in 2016 before opening it up for end users as “Routines” last fall. Of course, individual manufacturers such as Philips and Lutron have supported scenes for even longer.

So we can’t really blame Google Home users for asking the obvious question: “What took Google so long?” While we can’t comment on that, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Google’s new feature may not be all that everybody is expecting.

As is typical for the company, Google has released a basic implementation with tacit promises to expand upon it later. For now, Google includes only six built-in routines — Good Morning, Bedtime, Leaving home, I’m home, Commuting to work, and Commuting home — and there is no ability to create your own routines or customize the existing routines beyond what Google provides. You can add trigger phrases for any of the existing routines, but these are just alternative ways of saying the same thing.

The home automation capabilities in routines are also pretty limited at this point. Only lights and plugs and thermostats can be added to a routine, and lights can only be turned on or off — there are no options for setting light levels or colors. To make matters worse, there’s also no ability to trigger scenes in home automation platforms such as Philips’ Hue or Lutron Caséta, so you won’t even be able to tie into these to set up your lighting the way you want. Locks are also not supported, so don’t expect your “Good night” routine to be able to make sure your doors are locked and your garage door is closed.

Setting It Up

Once support for Routines is available on your account, you can find it in your Google Assistant settings, where it replaces the My Day feature (My Day continues to be supported for users outside of the U.S., where Routines aren’t yet available).

You can also begin setting up Routines simply by calling one out to your Google Home. Say something like, “Ok Google, I’m home” and it will enthusiastically reply back that “You’ve discovered a Routine” and take you through a basic explanation, pointing out that you can further customize it in your Google Home or Google Assistant app. A few seconds later, you’ll even get a push notification on your phone and a notification card in the Google Home app providing you with a link directly to the Routine settings. This can also be a useful workaround if you haven’t seen Routines replace My Day in your Settings yet — in one of our test configurations, this allowed us to go in and get our Routines all set up a full day before the settings menu option actually appeared, but don’t be surprised if you initially see a Routines setup page that’s entirely blank, or is missing one or more of the built-in routines.

Once you’ve made it to the Routines configuration page and see all of the pre-defined Routines, you can configure each of them simply by tapping on it and choosing the options you want. Google’s Routines still include the functionality of the My Day feature, and are basically just expanding it.

Good Morning

Let’s take a quick look at the Good Morning routine, which provides the most comprehensive capabilties of the entire set of Routines. The Good Morning routine is actually a direct expansion of the original My Day service; it provides the same features as My Day such as weather, traffic, and calendar briefings, but adds not only home automation control, but also the ability to take your Android phone out of silent mode, adjust your media volume, begin playing music, news, or an online radio station, or to pick up where you left off on a podcast or an audiobook.

Setting up the Good Morning routine is just a matter of selecting the features you want to use and tapping on the gear to the right of the ones where further configuration options are avilable. For example, for the two home control options — Adjust lights, plugs and more and Adjust thermostat — you’ll need to tap on the gear to select which devices you want to control and how you want them to be set.

For lights and plugs, you’ll see a list of all of your supported devices, all set to a neutral “Don’t change” setting by default. Tapping on an individual device brings up a pop-up menu that provides options to turn that light or plug on or turn it off, but as we mentioned earlier, there are no advanced options available, so you won’t be able to set a light to a specific color or intensity. The organization of the devices here is also a little rough right now — devices appear in a single list, sorted alphabetically, with room assignments indicated only by a prefix in square brackets, rather than section groupings. It’s functional, but a bit ugly.

Setting up thermostats is handled in a similar way, allowing you to specify a temperature set point, but not providing access to more advanced features like heat/cool or fan modes.

Default trigger phrases for the Good Morning routine are “Good morning”, “Tell me about my day” and “I’m up,” although you can configure as many additional phrases as you like. Options for audio playback are also handy, but similarly cumbersome — instead of presenting you with a browsable list of your playlists, for example, you’re asked to instead type in a playlist, artist, song, or genre that’s then passed on to your preferred music service. Choosing a podcast or a radio station works in the same manner.

The Good Morning routine provides a useful overview of what Google Assistant and Google Home can now do, and in part two we’ll take a closer look at the other five routines, what you can do with them, and some practical examples of how they can fit into your home automation world.

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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