One of the most powerful features of Amazon echo smart speakers is called routines. Rather than letting you do just one thing, routines can bind multiple actions to a single voice command. You can even automate tasks without you having to say anything.
Setting up Alexa routines – and making the most of them – requires a bit of work and creativity. Here's what you need to know to create your own elements:
Understanding Alexa's Routine
To start creating routines, open the Alexa app for Android or iOS, tap the menu button in the upper-left corner and choose You routines. To add a new routine, press the + button in the upper right corner.
All routines consist of a trigger condition (such as a voice command) and one or more appropriate actions. Start by setting the trigger by selecting "When this happens".
From here you can view five options:
- Voice: The routine is triggered with a phrase of your choice, such as: Eg "Alexa, goodnight"
- Timeline: Triggers the routine at a specific time on certain days (including weekends and weekdays only).
- Device: Triggers the routine by using a supported contact or motion sensor (currently requires a SmartThings or Echo Plus hub)
- Arriving or Leaving: Uses the geographic location of your phone, to trigger a routine at home, at work, or at a specific address.  Echo Button: Press one of the big buttons from Amazon ($ 20 for a two-pack) to trigger a routine.
The mechanism of this trigger is mostly self-explanatory. Simply select one from the list and follow the instructions on the screen. If you want a routine to fire only at certain times of the day, you can also click Modify next to the Anytime section to set a schedule. (This applies to device triggers, arrival or exit triggers, and the echo button.)
After you set up a trigger, you can select actions by clicking the Add Action button up several options:
- Alexa says, will make your echo sound a bit loud. This can either be a custom phrase or one of several preset utterances, e.g. A joke or a salutation.
- Calendar lets Alexa read the daily program, the schedule of tomorrow or just the next event.
- Device Settings can adjust Alexa's volume, stop audio playback, or enable Do Not Disturb mode.
- Messaging can either send a custom notification to the Alexa app or send a custom message to echo and Fire TV sets
- Music returns a song, artist, or playlist of your choice from Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora or TuneIn again. (If you do not see all of these options, first log in to Settings> Music in the Alexa app.) You can also set a timer to automatically pause the music after a while.
- News will have Alexa Read your flash briefing that you can customize via Settings> Flash Briefing in the Alexa app.
- Smart Home can control your smart lights, locks, thermostats, etc., provided you've already set them up with Alexa. (If you've created groups on the Devices tab of the Alexa app, you can also control concurrency control.)
- In Traffic Alexa will read a traffic report, assuming you've set up the task details via Settings> Exchange traffic in the Alexa app.
- Wait lets Alexa pause between actions for a while.
- Weather lets Alexa announce the local forecast.
Once When you have set up an action, go to the Edit Routine menu, where you can further customize the routine. To do more, click the + button next to "Add Action" and choose another action from the menu. You can then press and drag the = button next to any action to rearrange their order, or tap the action itself to change it.
You can also do this for certain types of triggers In the From section, specify which Alexa device provides the audio output. Either choose a specific device or choose "the device you talk to" that works even with the Alexa app on your phone.
Finally, notice the "Enabled" switch at the top of the screen. Turning off this option disables the routine so that you can temporarily pause execution without deleting it.
One of the best ways to start using Alexa routines provides wake-up and bedtime actions.
Try to set up a "Goodnight" routine at bedtime to play relaxing sounds for a while. If you have intelligent light bulbs in the bedroom, you can also turn them off as part of the routine.
On weekdays, try to create a scheduled routine that turns on your smart bulbs and displays the forecast agenda and your ride, and then begins to play music. You can even create two separate morning routines, with the first turning on the lights faintly and playing meditative music to wake you up slowly, and the second turning the lights up with some more happy tunes.
If you have an echo button, you can even give yourself a snooze button for hitting. Just set the Echo button as a trigger and create three actions: Stop playback, wait 10 minutes (or how long you'd rather sleep), and then start playing music. You can also prevent the snooze feature from taking effect a second time by selecting Modify from the Edit Routines menu next to Anytime, then set Suppress For to one hour or so.
Echo buttons can also be used Create all kinds of fun routines. Use one to confirm yourself, start playing funky music, turn on all house lights, or send the message "Dinner's Ready!" To every speaker in the house. Users of multiple language assistants can even have an Echo Button work with other company's Smart Speakers by triggering a "Hey Google" or "Hey Siri" signal.
Alexa's location triggers may enable some powerful automations. Try turning off music and lights when you go or starting to play relaxing music when you get home.
Limitations (with some workarounds)
Although Alexa's routines are easy to set up and use, they do have some notable limitations, especially when compared to Google Assistant routines for a Google Home speaker.
Above all, there's no way Alexa can execute custom voice commands. Instead, they are limited to what's available through the Actions menu. This means you can not use video-automation routines on FireTV devices, interact with third-party capabilities, or play your personal music collection through a media server like this one. Alexa Routines also does not support multi-room audio, so any routines that involve music are limited to a single speaker.
However, some shortcomings of Alexa's routines have a workaround. With light control, Alexa routines can not dim several lights as part of a group. You can work around this by adding each light individually to your routine and adjusting its brightness levels individually.
Another notable limitation: Music playback can only be the last step of a routine, so you can not create a morning alarm that plays some relaxing music for a few minutes before switching. The only way to get around this is to create separate routines and plan one after the other.
While Alexa's new location-based triggers can be useful, they only work with a single user. This means you can not make sure they are all out of the house before you trigger a routine that turns off the lights and lowers the thermostat. To do this you need to go beyond the Alexa routines. Certain smart home hubs, such as Samsung SmartThings, support multi-user geofencing, and you can use the Life360 location-sharing service with IFTTT to automate smart home devices based on the location of multiple users. You'll regularly receive other useful features, including: Music timer, wait times and location-based routines to the most recently added functions. I hope it will not be long before Amazon takes the wheels off its shoulders and users can do even more.