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Smart Home

Control your smart home with a single command using Alexa routines

Amazon recently introduced routines to Alexa, which lets you perform several actions using a single command. Here's how to set it up.

Chris Monroe/CNET

One of the biggest inconveniences of smart speakers to date is having to speak multiple commands to perform a simple task. For instance, changing the color of smart bulbs, locking the door and adjusting the thermostat temperature used to take three separate commands. Now you can do it with just one using routines with your Alexa speaker.

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Alexa routines are not all that unlike a scene you might create with your Philips Hue lights or a scheduled scene you can run with an app like Yonomi. But now you can play news and weather updates and control your entire smart home, all with a single command. Here's how to set it up.

To create your first routine:

  • Open the Alexa app on Android or iOS.
  • Tap the hamburger button in the top-left corner.
  • Select Settings.
  • Scroll down to Accounts and tap Routines.
  • Tap the plus sign in the top-right corner.
  • Tap When this happens and select When you say something or At scheduled time.
    • If you select When you say something, type in a phrase, such as "Good morning" or "Movie time."
    • If you select At a scheduled time, set a time and choose which days it should repeat.
  • Click Done to continue.
  • Next, tap Add action.
  • For actions, you can choose between News, Traffic and Weather, which will play just like in your Flash Briefing. However, you can also choose Smart Home actions. These actions include turning on a scene or controlling individual devices, such as turning on or off smart lights or locking a smart lock.
  • Click Add to finish adding an action and repeat until all actions are added to the routine.
  • Finally, choose which speaker the routine will play audio from. If you use a scheduled routine, you will have to select a speaker, but if you create a routine based on a phrase, you can specify that you want it to play audio from whichever speaker you speak to.
  • To finish setting up a routine, click Create.

Once a routine is created, you can edit it by going back to Settings > Routines in the Alexa app and tapping on a routine. You can remove or rearrange actions, add new actions, change the time or day the routine runs and change the phrase. You can temporarily disable the routine from here by tapping the toggle next to Enabled, and if you tap the three dots in the top right corner, you can manually play a routine or permanently delete it.

Unfortunately, there is one caveat with routines: they are limited to smart-home control and news, weather and traffic updates. This means you can't have a routine where you say, "Alexa, story time," and dim the lights and listen to an audiobook or your favorite podcast. You can't have a routine stream music or start a skill either.

Still, this should reduce the overall number of commands you have to issue to Alexa to accomplish what you want, and if nothing else, it's a huge leap in the right direction and a big win for Alexa users everywhere.