Let’s automate with Alexa Routines

Echo ShowSmart voice assistance devices are wonderful, and definitely add values around our household. One of the advance feature available is to create a voice command that will do multiple things for you.  I’ve already did a quick write-up on Routines in Google Assistant, so now, I’m going to do a short write up on Amazon Alexa’s Routines as well.

You can setup routines in the Alexa app by selecting Routines from the main menu. Out of the box, there are already some “Featured” routines pre-configured for you, like Good Morning, I’m home, etc.   You are welcome to customize them to your preference and please remember to activate them if you want to use them.

For my write-up here, I will use the same scenario I use for the Google Assistant Routine article, so that we may demonstrate the similarities and differences.

 

To recap:

We want to have a single voice command “Let’s have some piano music” to

    1. give a unique but short response
    2. set the volume to 40%
    3. shuffle my playlist “today’s piano music”

and another command “I’m done” to

    1. Stop the music
    2. lower the volume to 20%
    3. give an unique but short response

 

The very first thing I noticed is that Alexa’s routine configuration seems to be much more restricted since you can only select action from a predefined set. While Google Assistant’s routine configuration is much more natural, as you can just type in your individual voice command.

Here are some of the limitations I noticed:

  • A very strange configuration limitation where “Music must be the last action in the routine”, so you can’t have a routine, to start playing some playlist, and do something else, like maybe turn on your messaging chair. I’m not sure why this should not be allowed.
  • If what you want to do is not listed in the available option list, you are out of luck, as there is no way for you to just enter a voice command.  For example, there is option to play a playlist, but not an option to shuffle the playlist.
  • Another major complain with Echo Show, is that the screen is always on, there is no option to turn screen off automatically under certain situation.  This is very annoying limitation.  I find that the voice command that I use the most on an Echo Show is, “Alexa, turn screen off”. So when building a routine, I was looking for a way to turn off the screen at the end of my routine, but unfortunately, there is no such option, and as I mention before, there is no option to just type in your voice command as an action, so this is not possible.
  • You can only add one voice command to trigger the routine, this is a big limitation, as you may want to set a few way you can trigger the routine.  Like: Alexa, let’s have some piano music. Alexa, let’s have play some piano music, and so on that you can trigger the same routine.  You can certainly do that in Google Assistant.

Here are some additional features in Alexa, that I don’t see in Google Assistant:

  • A very powerful, yet scary feature in Alexa is that you can direct the action to a different Alexa device. There is an option to choose the destination device, the device you speak to, or any other Alexa device in your household. So I can issue the voice command from my Alexa in one room, but have it response in another room? Wow, that’s spooky!
  • Alexa has many type of triggers that will activate the routine.  By voice, by schedule, by Smart Home, … and more. That is quite powerful as well, for example you can trigger a routine base on a change state of your smart devices. Google Assistant can trigger only by voice commands or time of day.

Overall, routines (even with some limitations) are very useful to automate your life.  There are still lots of room for improvements, but the industry is moving fast, so if any Google or Amazon developers are looking at this article, please add on the required features quickly please 😥.

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