Standing in your home and saying, “Hey Siri, turn off the hallway light” or “Hey Google, turn on the air-conditioner” or “Alexa, turn off the heater” is all well and cool. Yet, the future we imagined back in 20th century TV shows where we verbally instruct computers and cars and spaceships to do things is not quite as it would seem.
The big problem is chaining multiple commands together. You typically don’t want to just turn off one set of lights. You might want to turn one off, dim another, turn another on, and change it to a specific colour while playing some music for 30 minutes, and perform a range of other actions whether they be device control, music, news, anything.
Until recently, the only option was to work with ITTT - “if this then that” - and Stringify, two online services that link various other services together so an event somewhere — in this case, an utterance — invokes an action or actions, subject to the latency inherent in using third-party services.
Apple’s brand new HomePod offers no satisfaction here, but today, Amazon has given greater power to its Alexa-powered Echo device users.
Specifically, the Alexa app now includes routines. It also includes greater ability to detect and manage home devices from within the app (vs. saying "Alexa, discover devices") and that’s appreciated, but Alexa already could control devices — as can Google Home, as can Apple HomePod — even if now simpler. The big one for me is routines. This is powerful and will be a welcome addition to those who are using their home assistant to control multiple devices, to receive information, to manage their schedules, to listen to music, and many other things.
With the new routines feature you can construct a command with words of your own choosing, then sequence action after action after action, constructing a chain of things which Alexa will do when you issue this one voice command. You can also make these actions to be performed by a specific Echo device instead of the one you are speaking to. You might have an Echo Plus in the lounge room, an Echo in the kitchen and an Echo Dot by your bedside table and can tell any of your Echos to run the routines on your Echo Dot so it is the one telling you the news.
This is a welcome feature and Google and Apple will need to catch up. Now I just need Amazon (and Apple) to add the "broadcast" feature which Google offers, and I would struggle to find other things which the competition do and Alexa does not.
Check out our other home assistant coverage:
- Amazon Alexa and Echo Devices in depth
- Which home assistant is right for you?
- Which home assistant has the best jokes and most impressive audio?
- D-Link releases two new smart-home Wi-Fi cameras
- AGL energy provides Alexa skill for voice-managed energy enquiries
- Amazon music unlimited coming to ANZ on February 1st
- Amazon's Alexa and Echo devices coming to Australia
- Amazon takes Alexa to the boardroom
- Google may be home but large Aussie retailers seemingly do not want to cash in on home automation