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How to use Alexa routines: The possibilities are endless
While directly controlling your accessories from a device like an Amazon Echo is all well and good, a smart home isn’t very smart if it doesn’t run some things on its own. Here’s how to use Alexa routines, the automation backbone of Amazon’s smart home platform.
See also: The best Echo speakers
Alexa routines are created via the More > Routines menu in the Alexa app, which is available for Android, iPhone, and iPad. After choosing a name for a routine, you assign a trigger condition, such as the time of day, a voice command, or a sensor state. You must also assign one or more resulting actions, which can affect just about anything connected to the Alexa smart home platform.
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What can you do with Alexa routines?
Alexa routines consist of three parts: a name, a trigger condition (“when this happens”), and one or more actions. In theory, the possibilities are endless, dictated only by your imagination and the compatible hardware and services you have available. If it connects to Alexa, chances are you can automate it.
There are several different trigger categories:
- Voice refers to a custom Alexa phrase, such as “Alexa, I’m leaving for work.”
- Schedule refers to a time of day. This includes options to repeat on one or more days of the week, and/or use sunrise or sunset offsets instead of a fixed time. You might, for example, want to trigger outdoor lighting 30 minutes before sunset, which will happen at different times throughout the year.
- Smart Home uses the state of accessories like locks, sensors, and security cameras.
- Location is based on the presence of the mobile device you’re using the Alexa app on. You can set actions to trigger when you leave or arrive at a particular address.
- Alarms makes things happen when you dismiss a clock alarm.
- Echo Buttons are no longer sold by Amazon, but if you have one, you can physically control Alexa.
- Sound Detection options include coughs, barks, snoring, water sounds, crying babies, or beeping appliances.
- Guard specifically means Alexa Guard, a security feature that listens for sounds like breaking glass or smoke/carbon monoxide alarms. You have to configure Alexa Guard to use this trigger.
There are dozens of action categories, each with its own sub-menus, but these are some of the most commonly used ones:
- Custom supports anything you can think of an Alexa command phrase for, which can help cut to the chase.
- Alexa Says makes Alexa say something in its synthesized voice.
- Briefings deliver a summary of reminders and calendar events you’ve created.
- Device Settings can stop audio, change the volume on an Alexa speaker, or turn on Do Not Disturb mode.
- Fire TV controls Amazon’s namesake brand of streamers and TVs, for instance, by playing a show or movie.
- Guard tells Alexa Guard to arm itself by switching your status to Away.
- Messaging can either push a notification to the Alexa app or send an announcement to all your Alexa devices.
- Music & Podcasts play a specified song, artist, podcast, or station. If need be, you can set a timer to limit how long things run.
- News plays the Flash Briefing configured in the News sub-menu under Settings.
- Smart Home triggers something your Alexa-connected accessories are capable of.
- Traffic reports current road congestion based on your home and work addresses.
- Weather gives a quick forecast based on where your Alexa device is located.
How to use Alexa routines
To build an Alexa routine:
- Open the Alexa mobile app and select More >Routines.
- From the Routines menu, tap the plus icon in the upper-right.
- Enter a name. Make it short yet memorable, especially if the routine is voice-triggered and you want to remember what to say. It’s easier to say “Alexa, go dark” than “Alexa, Kitchen and Living Room Nighttime Shutdown.”
- Tap When this happens to choose a trigger condition. You’ll see various categories (described above), each with its own configuration options. We recommend limiting triggers to contexts you can count on. If you commute daily, but your partner frequently works from home, you shouldn’t have all the lights turned off whenever you leave the house. It might be better to schedule lighting changes instead, say by having lamps come on 30 minutes before sunrise, and shut off after you’ve gone to bed.
- Tap Add action to choose what happens when a trigger condition is met. You can combine multiple actions. A “good night” routine, for example, might shut off the lights, lock the doors, lower the thermostat, and reduce the volume on your bedside Echo before it starts shuffling ambient music from Spotify.
- Be sure to tap the Save or Enable button (depending on context) to have the routine take effect.
If you want to save time or need some recommendations, Amazon has a selection of pre-made options in the Routines menu’s Featured tab, such as “Wake up,” “I’m home,” and “Sunset lights.” If you pick one of these, you can (and should) still personalize the routine before enabling it.
Read more: How to use Amazon Alexa
Yes. While you can’t select them as triggers, they can be assigned as actions. Amazon even lets you browse both your own skills and popular ones, in case you feel like experimenting.
No. Amazon is presumably trying to avoid the potential chaos of chain-linking existing automations.
There’s a limit of 99 per Amazon account. Realistically that should be more than enough, and well before that threshold, you’ll probably want to delete unused routines for the sake of keeping your list tidy.
You can only create routines via the Alexa mobile app. While there is a Windows version of Alexa with many of the same functions, routines aren’t among them.
No, unfortunately. This may be to avoid accidentally making routines too easy to trigger (using the wrong “or” conditions) or too hard (using the wrong “and” conditions).