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Smart Home

Google Routines realize their potential with full customization

Play music, control your smart home and get a daily briefing, all with a single customizable command.

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Make controlling your smart home part of your morning routine. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

At last, Google's Routines can now be pretty much whatever you want them to be. After rolling out a more limited version of Routines in March, Google has announced it's taking the training wheels off of its grouped commands feature for Google Assistant at the company's I/O developer conference. Starting today, Google Assistant users can now create customized routines that use their own trigger phrase, made up of any set of commands that they want. 

Unlike the single result from a basic voice command, a Google Assistant Routine can play music, brief you on your calendar for the day, tell you about traffic on your route to work, play a podcast, play a customized news feed and control a smart home device, all at a single command phrase. 

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Expanding your options

Google previously offered six options for Routines -- good morning, bedtime, leaving home, I'm home, commuting to work and commuting home. Each routine offered a handful of the above options, and you could only trigger the two commuting options from your phone. Now, you can add any element to any routine that you'd like, and you can customize the phrase that triggers it, so you could say something like, "Hey Google, it's dinner time."

At I/O, Google announced a few other updates to routines that will roll out later this summer. You'll be able to schedule Routines to trigger automatically at certain times, or as a response to certain apps like Google Clock. Handily, the clock app won't trigger your morning routine if you hit snooze, just once you actually turn it off. You'll also be to able to add third-party elements to Routines such as reading a to-do list or playing meditation music.

Catching up to the competition

Routines work with Google's voice assistant, just called Google Assistant. At this point, Google Assistant is built into most Android phones, so you can access it just by talking to your mobile device. It's also the voice in Google's smart speakers such as the Google Home. It's even available as an app on Apple iPhones.

Google Assistant is similar to Amazon's assistant Alexa and Apple's assistant Siri. Both Alexa and Siri have features similar to Google's Routines. Alexa's are also called Routines. Alexa's Routines have a lot of the same features, and have offered customizable commands at launch in fall 2017.

Siri's version of the feature is "scenes". Siri's scenes have been around for years, but as of yet, you can only use them to control smart home devices with a single command. You can't add elements to a scene such as playing a podcast or going over your calendar.

To an extent, Google's playing catch-up since Alexa has had customizable commands for a while. In fact, a few of Google Assistant's new I/O features already have counterparts in Alexa. Still, third-party integration could mean Google's Routines will get a few tricks that could soon force Alexa to take its turn playing catch-up. 

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