Which Digital Assistant Has The Best Morning Routines?

Photo: Andres Urena, Unsplash

Waking up to an alarm clock, even your smartphone, almost feels like an ancient practice at this point. If you’ve bought into the smart speaker craze — mainly, one of the Google or Amazon speakers, or Apple’s wood-staining HomePod — then you have so many more options for getting yourself ready for the day than the annoying braaap-braaaap-braaaaap of an alarm.

I love a thorough morning routine, especially a digital one, because I’m usually too tired or absentminded to take on a daily to-do list in the early hours. Thankfully, Google Assistant/Alexa/Siri is all too happy to help. But each assistant gives you different options for automating your morning routine. Here’s what I’ve learned after sharing many cups of coffee with all three (in no particular order):

Google Assistant / Home

How to plan morning routines

You access “Routines” for your Google smart speaker by pulling up the Google Home app for iOS or Android and tapping the purple “Routines” icon, and then “Manage Routines.” Google gives you a bunch of “ready-made” routines you can use, but the heck with that, because it’s easy to customise your own—a lot more fun, too.

Triggers you can use

Your routines can run via a voice command, which you input yourself—anything you want. You can also assign multiple words or phrases to serve as a trigger, in case you like mixing it up (or, like me, are prone to forgetting trigger phrases). Additionally, you can also have routines run at set times and days, and you can select a specific speaker for them to use (if you have more than one).

Screenshot: David Murphy

Actions you can launch

One of the neatest things about Google’s implementation of routines is that you can trigger any action that you’d otherwise say to your speaker (or Google Assistant, on your smartphone). There are plenty to pick from—and I highly doubt you, or anyone, has memorized the big ones—but you can also get a little silly with what your Google speaker says to, er, itself.

If you need a little help with some ideas, the Home app can also give you popular actions to pick from, including standard options like turning connected “smart” items on and off, setting temperatures or lighting scenes, giving you your commute time, yelling out events on your calendar, or broadcasting to your speakers that you’re on the way home (to the delight of your roommates, no doubt).

You can even have your Google speaker say anything you want it to say — yes, anything — when you launch a certain routine. “Wake up damnit” is a popular one around my room.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Anything else?

Although you can create your own trigger to have your speaker play a podcast or your favourite wake-up jams, there’s also an “Add media” section in the Home app’s routine-builder that makes it easy to pick news entities, audiobooks, and even soothing sleep sounds to listen to.

(You’ll have to type in your favourite albums, playlists, radio stations, or podcasts if you want your Google speaker to blast any of those.)

Screenshot: David Murphy

Amazon Alexa / Echo

How to plan morning routines

You access “Routines” for your Amazon Echo speaker in the Alexa app for iOS or Android. Tap on the three-lines icon in the upper-left corner to open up the app’s sidebar, and then tap on “Routines” to get started.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Triggers you can use

Like Google, Amazon’s Alexa app can also launch triggers when you say any word or phrase you want—or at a particular time on whatever day or days you want. You can also have connected devices trigger routines. (My digital door lock doesn’t work, sadly, but I can have a routine trigger when my Echo Plus notes that the temperature of the room it’s sitting in has gone past a set degree.) Finally, you can set up geofencing to trigger routines, whether you’re arriving at or leaving an area.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Actions you can launch

Unlike Google, you can’t super-customise your routines via Alexa—no typing in commands you want your smart speaker to trigger, if you have a creative idea of how you want it to perform a particular action (or silly response). Instead, you’ll be picking entrees from Alexa’s menu: Alexa can say pre-populated or custom sayings, tell you what’s on your calendar, change its volume, play music, read the news, and control your connected smart home devices (to name a few activities).

I especially like the “Wait” activity buried at the very bottom of the Alexa app’s list. It sounds so simple on paper—just wait, Alexa — but it’s an incredibly useful way to add delays to your actions. It’s great if you want to kick your smart lights on in the morning, but you want to give yourself a little time to acclimate before your smart speaker blasts you with your daily to-do list.

Or, for that matter, suppose you want to create a custom “Nap” routine that turns your favourite song on after a [insert your typical nap time here] delay. For routines like these, wait is great.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Anything else?

If you really want to get wild, consider integrating Alexa with services like IFTTT or Stringify. That’s especially true if you want to control devices that the Alexa app might not support by default, like your cloud-connected network-attached storage box. At least, I’ve found it incredibly useful to be able to tell my Echo to send my NAS to sleep mode, rather than fiddling around to enable sleep mode within its accompanying app. (Both sites also work with Google Assistant, so you’ll be able to yell at Google’s speakers to trigger custom actions, too.)


Apple’s Siri / Home

How to plan morning routines

You have two options. You can either create automations via Apple’s Home app, or you can create Siri Shortcuts (in iOS 12 or later) to trigger a wide range of activities. Unless you have a bunch of HomeKit-friendly devices (and a HomePod, Apple TV, or an iPad you’re using as a HomeKit hub), you’ll probably want to go the shortcut route. Also, Shortcuts can be a lot more comprehensive than automations.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Triggers you can use

If you’re going the automation route, you can trigger HomeKit devices to perform an action based on a status—when you flick the switch on a HomeKit light, for example—as well as a time or a location. If you’re setting up Shortcuts, you can tap on the shortcut button you create as a widget, within the share sheet, or on your Home screen. You can also hook it up to Siri and launch it with a word or phrase.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Actions you can launch

I’ll concentrate on Siri Shortcuts for this one, since it’s probably obvious what actions you can trigger in a HomeKit device—lights can go on and off, or jump to a scene; thermostats can set a specific temperature; smart switches can activate or deactivate; et cetera. If you want to combine these hardware-themed actions with actions based on various data points, like having your HomePod speaker read you the news or hearing Siri tell you what’s coming up on your calendar, you’ll need to go the Shortcuts route.

As we’ve previously covered, Siri Shortcuts let you do an incredible amount of things across your devices. Mostly, you’ll be limited by your creativity and “coding” chops. You probably won’t actually be doing much programming, if any, but you’ll definitely need to do some legwork to figure out how to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do.

Or, to put it another way, creating a daily routine is a pain in the butt. While this is an extreme example of a Siri Shortcuts morning routine, and I love how comprehensive it is, download it and install it to your iPhone to see just how much logic is required to create a thorough morning routine.

Even if you wanted a shortcut that does a fraction of what that mega-routine can do, like a fairly standard morning briefing, get ready to spend some time figuring this one out (or modifying existing shortcuts you find online).

That’s the blessing and curse of Siri Shortcuts: you can do almost anything, but you’re going to have to do a lot more heavy lifting (and head-scratching) than with a more traditional “assistant” or “smart speaker” app.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Anything else?

I don’t have a HomePod, so I can’t verify this myself, but it seems that it’s not currently possible to stream music to an AirPlay device via a Siri Shortcut. In other words, you’ll only be able to wake up with a soothing song coming out of your iPhone or iPad (as part of your daily routine shortcut), which seems silly.


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