When it takes more than half a year for something to get released, after being officially announced, we can assume that this something is probably a Google feature. When this something involves working with another manufacturer, since it’s an integration, we can assume it was a rough ride. And when this something is revealed then, prematurely, disabling main features on our Google Homes, like a simple “play some music” command, we picture exhausted developers and overworked testers, sleeping under their desks, with their heads resting on piles of pizza boxes.
So, here we are now, the biggest bugs are fixed (“play (some music)” works now since 2018-11-08), pizza boxes disposed, time to test ride this integration. Since the Google Home app has also received a makeover, you will find here updated screenshots together with an updated how-to connect your Google Home to your Logitech Harmony Hub and how to voice control it.
A BIG THANK YOU goes to all of you who take the time and share your Google Home & Logitech Harmony experiences and questions in our discussion section, like Andy, Brandon, David, Francis, Jason, Jeremy, drkfiber, DudeDad, Stuart, Viking, Mikell and Nik! Only together, we’ll figure it out ..
Jason, thank you for co-testing countless hours, when we were trying to make sense of the initial release. You’ve highlighted many concepts I am re-using here!
Andy, thanks a lot for all the important feedback! I am adding this in the warning below!
Table of contents
- Before we begin ...
- What has changed?
- Let's set up Harmony for Google Home
- How to use our new Harmony Integration?
Before we begin …
In case you have not set up your Harmony devices, activities and favorites yet, please refer to our post here: Logitech Harmony: a Hub and its Elite, Ultimate, Companion. You need to complete the Harmony setup first, before you can configure the Google integration.
WARNING: Please be aware, that some of the brave people who worked through this guide in the end returned back to Harmony’s (retired) red Action. As Andy indicates below, when you are using a Google Home Hub you might end up with essential voice commands not working at all and even the effect, that the new Harmony Blue Service affects other smart home controls. This makes it currently unusable on such a device! We will extend the tests with screen devices begin next year and keep this post updated.
If the new updates are not available in your country yet, or you don’t like the blue Harmony service and prefer the red retired one, please refer to our older post here: Logitech Harmony and Google Assistant: Setup and Voice Commands. Maybe the old setup can help in your case. You will also find an overview of Google’s ready made routines, custom routines and scheduled routines in there.
What has changed?
Before we dive into the setup, a couple of remarks on why this is an important update. This is basically a summary of the observations we were discussing in the comment section of the old post(s) above:
- The old (aka “retired” or “red”) integration, required to set up the Logitech Harmony “link” for every user when using voice match. With this update we expect Logitech Harmony now to be part of the home control devices (like our lights, thermostats, cameras, etc) which we can easily share with the Google Home apps new “household” feature.
- For the old integration we had to create custom routines to avoid saying “Hey Google, ask Harmony to …” and again, since we cannot share our custom routines with our family, we had to recreate them, for everyone.
- To summarize: for those who know Alexa’s “blue skill” for Harmony, with this update we expect to see similar features, for those who don’t care about Alexa: with this update we expect a solid, functional, snappy integration, where we do not need to create custom routines and which our families can also use, without additional work on our side.
Let’s set up Harmony for Google Home
Google’s Home App Update
Google’s Home app has received a makeover and displays now all of our smart home devices like lights, thermostats, cameras, etc. with a new, more graphical rather than textual user interface.
This goes in hand with the announcement of the new Google Home Hub, which offers us a touchscreen and with that a mixed voice / touch experience. When you, for instance tap the microphone button in the new Google Home app on your smartphone and just say “lights”, Google will turn on all your lights and the app will show you controls to dim the brightness for the whole group or individually.
Our Logitech Harmony is obviously not a light and no additional screen will be displayed to further control our Harmony activity or to select one of our favorites (yet?). Still, this mixed voice / touch experience is the gist of the new Google Home app update.
The main screen of the updated Google Home app offers us now “Quick Actions” on top, to:
- Turn our lights on and off (all or by room)
- Play music and set the volume on all our cast devices
- Broadcast a message to all Google Home devices
- Display a feed from our security cameras
- Open our home settings, and finally …
- The plus button “Add …”, which enables us to set up services, add home members, create speaker groups and homes. Here we can find the new, blue Harmony service. But before we install it, let’s get rid of the old “red” one first.
In case you have the old, now retired, red Harmony Action installed, let’s unlink it:
- (Force) quit the Google Assistant app
- Tap the microphone icon at the bottom of the Google Home app.
- The Google Assistant popup will ask you “Hi, how can I help?”, tap on the blue compass icon in the upper right corner of the popup. This takes us to the Google Assistant app and you should see a “Explore” text box on top of your screen. In case you end up someplace else in the Assistant app, tap the compass icon (now on the bottom left) of the Goggle Assistant app.
- In the Explore box on top of the screen, search for Harmony. A red Harmony Action will appear, tap on it.
- Scroll all the way down until you see an “unlink” button.
- Tap on it and we are done.
Now we are ready to link the new Harmony integration:
In the Google Home app home screen, tap the “+” button named “Add …”
- Tap “Set up device”
- The top entry “Set up new devices” is for new Google Homes, so we need to counterintuitively tap on “Have something already set up?” in the “Works with Google” section.
- Tap the search icon on the top right and search for “Harmony”
- A blue “Harmony” service will appear, tap on it
- In the upcoming “Logi” screen select your preferred way of linking to Harmony (Amazon, Facebook, Google or email). I prefer email. Note, the screen display is not optimized for smartphones with a notch, you’ll need to scroll down a bit, to not miss the buttons.
- Enter the e-mail address where your Harmony Hub is registered and tap sign in.
- Here we need to authorize Google to access our Harmony remote, tap “authorize”.
- If we were linked to Harmony before, a screen will inform us that our settings have been “restored”. Here we can switch between Harmony Hubs, in case we have multiple. Check out Jason’s trick below for avoiding Yonomi, Stringify, IFTTT or any other 3rd party cloud service and integrate multiple Harmony hubs directly with Google Home.
Selecting Activities & Favorites
A list of your Harmony activities pops up. Here you can check which activities should be controlled by Google. You can define new alternatives for your activities by tapping “Add friendly name” or delete suggested alternatives by tapping the little “x”.
Please note, different to our old approach with the red Harmony Activity, we don’t want to create routines later on, so picking the right friendly names is super important here. Some “friendly names” are reserved for Google (e.g. “music”), but this is still not checked here. In case you find that particular activities or favorites do not work for you later on, the screens above are the right place to rename them. Just repeat the steps 1-3 from the previous chapter and click on the Harmony icon to unlink the service from Google Home and repeat all steps, again. I agree, this is not easy to remember and not very intuitive.
On the next screen, you will find a list of the favorite channels that you have specified during your Harmony setup. Check, which favorites you would like to control with Google Home, and specify friendly names as alternatives for voice commands.
On the final screen, you will see a list of sample commands like “Hey Google, turn on TV!” and a cute “Enjoy!”
How to use our new Harmony Integration?
When you’ve successfully linked your accounts, Logitech will send you an e-mail to your registered account at Harmony, with some voice command examples based on your configuration. Some will work, some not. You will also find the tip, that you are able to “sometimes” use short commands. Heh?
Before we dig into the voice commands to “Enjoy!”, there is a concept we should be aware of (to understand the “sometimes”):
- Activity commands, like “Ok Google, turn on TV”, work always! Easy.
- Additional commands, like favorites, playback and volume control, work
- always in long form (when you add, “… on my TV” or “on the TV” or “on TV” or just “TV” at the end) and
- yes, that’s cool: also in short form (without adding “… on my TV” at the end), but only if you have not switched the voice focus meanwhile to another device.
What’s a voice focus? To be honest, we just made up this “voice focus” concept, to be able to better understand the behaviour of this integration. Any request to any device (Google Home / Chromecasts vs Harmony activities) switches the voice focus to the device, which will execute the request. From there we can use commands in their short form. Here are some examples:
- “Turn on TV” and then (wait a bit for the activity to execute) “Volume Up” turns the TV on and then the volume up on the TV (via Harmony)
- But “Play some music” and a subsequent “Volume Up” plays music and turns up the volume on the Google Home device.
- “Turn on TV” and then “Pause” turns the TV on and pauses your eg cablebox (or whatever is mapped to the pause button in your Harmony activity)
- “Play some music” and a subsequent “Pause” plays music and then pauses it on the Google Home device (or whichever default speaker you have set)
- I hope by now this concept makes sense, because the next example is a bug and should not confuse you:
- “Turn off TV” and then a “Volume Up” returns currently “Sorry, something went wrong …” and is obviously a bug, because we’d expect that our voice focus goes back to the Google Home device, as no Harmony activity is running. Who do you think we are talking to, Google & Harmony, if we just turned off the Harmony activity? No wonder, something went wrong.
This voice focus remains active, until we switch it explicitly by using a long form command, adding “… on my TV” or “… on my GH speaker name” at the end or, implicitly, when issuing a command which is executed on some other device (e.g. “play some music”). Please note, that only the Google Home device you have started the Harmony activity with, is taking part in this voice focus game. The voice focus does not time out (like after some minutes with Alexa).
If we don’t keep this voice focus concept in mind, we will very soon ask ourselves: why is Google always reacting differently to the same short command?
These are easy. We can see the configured activities in our Google Home app and just say:
- “Hey Google, turn on/off (the) <activity-friendly-name>”
Google will come back by confirming “Ok, turning <activity-friendly-name> on/off!”. Please note, Google will always name your activities like the first friendly name you have specified during linking.
To turn off any Harmony activity running (thanks to Mikell), we can say:
- “Hey Google, turn off Harmony”
Google, will come back with: “Ok, turning off <number of activities> things”.
Here we need to keep the voice focus in mind, which I believe by now comes naturally. We can use the short form and omit the device name, if we’ve already talked to the device, otherwise we need the long form and specify the device name.
Favorite / Channel Commands
These are not so easy, as we won’t find a list of our favorites and their friendly names in the Google Home app. We need to memorize them (or write them down).
Now it depends on whether our activity is running, e.g. is the TV on, does Harmony have the voice focus? If yes, great, we have following short forms to switch the channel:
- “Hey Google, turn on / go to / switch to (channel) <favorite-friendly-name>”
If our activity is not running, we need to add “… on TV” at the end of our voice command
- “Hey Google, turn on / go to / switch to (channel) <favorite-friendly-name> on (the/my) TV”
Please note, if you have a Chromecast in your setup, using the short form, when a Harmony activity is not running, will most likely start YouTube playback on your Chromecast device and not turn your TV on and switch to the channel.
As Stuart indicates, it makes a lot of sense to create custom routines for your favorites, to shorten the commands to your liking and workaround that YouTube is launched on Chromecast (e.g. “Hey Google, switch to channel <favorite-friendly-name> on the TV” could be shortened to “Hey Google, <favorite-friendly-name>”). Please refer to the chapter “No, not again Custom Routines” for more workaround ideas!
Alternatively, if we are into channel numbers, we can say:
- “Hey Google, switch to (channel) <number> (on TV)”
Note, if Google comes back with “Sure, for that you can talk to Harmony. Does that sound good?”, the voice focus was not with Harmony and you forgot to append “… on my TV” at the end.
Additionally, if our favorites are close to each other, we can navigate by saying:
- “Hey Google, channel up/down (on TV)”
- “Hey Google, pause (on TV)”
will pause/resume the playback. Note, as of 2018-11-15, the short form “play” is reserved for music (if you played music before on your Google Home device). As “pause” is implemented as a toggle and you can use it to pause/play on TV.
To navigate within a movie we can say
- “Hey Google, (fast) rewind/forward on TV”
Note, that the short forms do not work reliably and please refer to the chapter “No, not again Custom Routines” for workaround ideas.
To mute/unmute our Harmony activity, we can say
- “Hey Google, Mute/Unmute (the TV)”
To control the volume, we have following commands:
- “Hey Google, volume up/down (on TV)”
- “Hey Google, increase/decrease the volume (on the TV)”
Thanks to Mikell, I checked following command again, and it works =)
- “Hey Google, increase/decrease the volume by <amount> on TV”
In my setup the increments are 0.5 dB. So if I say 10 it will change by 5 dB.
Google supports up to 6 voice profiles per Google Home device. With the voice match feature, Google is able to distinguish between different voices in your household. This supposedly improves “Hey/OK, Google” recognition and enables us to get personalized results and personalized media services like music and video.
To cut another potentially long story short:
If you’d like to receive personal results from your assistant (this includes Google Photos, Email, including flight reservations and bills, Google Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Memory aids, Shopping lists, Purchases, Recipe recommendations and last but definitely not least media recommendations like music and video recommendations), you need to enable personal results.
Now that everybody, even guests, can access and influence your personal results with their voice, you need to enable voice match.
Last but not least you can invite your family to your household (through “Add…”/”household member”), so that every household member:
- sees all smart home devices in their apps,
- can create their own individual routines which can combine many actions into one personalized voice command,
- can link their personal music and video service to improve personal recommendations.
How to integrate Multiple Harmony Hubs
There’s a trick with household members: Jason found that any invited family member can contribute with their smart home devices. We just retested and yes, how cool is that!? Suddenly it seems we have broken the barrier of just one Hub supported on Google Home, at least for Logitech Harmony (we’ll test other devices soon).
Here’s a step by step:
- Invite your household member from your own smartphone/account, the invitation will appear pending in the other accounts Google Home app settings
- On the household members device/account, accept the invitation and you can see the full household smart home setup shared, including the first Harmony Hub activities
- Add the Harmony Service on the household members smartphone/account (see “Linking the new, blue Harmony Service” above)
- When you get to the point where you can select the Harmony Hub, select the Harmony Hub, you’d like to add to your setup
- On the household members device/account, map the second Hubs activities to a room in the shared home
- After successful configuration, you should see the activities of all Hubs on all devices/accounts.
You are done! Everybody can now voice control all Harmony Hubs and activities.
No, not Custom Routines, again!
I know, we wanted to avoid them, but for the sake of short commands, let’s look into how we can override Google’s default behaviour.
This approach can help you to redefine commands you would otherwise not use with the Google Home device, e.g. for music playback. “Forward” and “Rewind” are good examples, as you would rather use “Previous” and “Next” for songs. You can also shorten commands for your favorites this way and workaround the problem that sometimes YouTube is launched on Chromecast.
To create a custom routine, navigate to Settings / More Settings / Assistant / Routines in the Google Home app and click on the “+” (plus) on the bottom right.
Our own Forward/Rewind
Enter “Forward” in the “When I say …” and the text “Forward on TV” in the “The Google Assistant should …”. For voice feedback or testing purposes you could add a “Say something” from the popular actions and type a “Forward” in there. Don’t test the action with “Ok, Google …”, before saving everything, as it will activate the Google Assistant in your Google Home app and pull you out of the configuration, discarding our work.
Now, when you say “Ok Google, forward” you’ll hear a “Forward” indicating that our routine is running and it will always execute on your TV.
What did they say?
So you’re watching TV, your favorite actor mumbles or something or somebody distracts you and you go like “Ok Google, what did they say?”. Google rewinds a bit (on TV) and resumes playback. Sure, lets do that …
Note, that this routine depends a lot on your setup, in my case a single rewind on TV averages around skipping back 10 seconds, two rewinds average around 30 seconds, as it increases the rewind speed on my setup.
Google Home supports setting a second Google Assistant language. If you do not see the option (under Google Assistant / Settings / Assistant / Languages, you could try setting your smart phone region to English US and re-downloading the Google Home and the Google Assistant apps from the US stores. This has the advantage, that you can access all US features/services and actions, plus set a second language, like currently: Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai.
I have tested with German and can confirm, that as of 2018-11-30:
- the activity commands are not working yet, coming back with power commands are not supported yet
- the channel commands are not working yet, coming back with the activity does not support this yet (in the second language, but with English text =)
- Playback and Volume commands do work already.
We can only hope to see the missing commands supported in the near future.
Apologies for the lengthy and late post. After testing the above, I feel like I slept on pizza boxes. Let’s summarize:
The main problems we had with the retired, red Harmony Action have been finally addressed. We can use now shorter, more natural commands and every family member can use our setup, even when using Voice Match.
Jason’s trick, which helps with multiple Harmony Hubs, is a smart, natural way to extend Logitech Harmony multiple Hub setups with the help of household member accounts.
The integration update came both, too late in terms of announcement, and too early in terms of quality, and had initially serious bugs. Now, we still find following defects:
- As Andy indicated: the new integration is not usable on a Google Home Hub!
- Some short commands (like “Volume up/down”) are still sent to Harmony after turning an activity off (resulting in a “Sorry …” response).
- “Resume” appears only to work with music.
- Some commands reset the voice focus (like sometimes a short “Rewind” which cannot be executed, switches us back to Google Home).
- To workaround some of the inconsistencies (especially in a Chromecast setup) we need to create custom routines for our favorites and forward/rewind.
- There’s no way to see our Logitech Harmony Favorites in the Google Home app. They could have been displayed as scenes, like in Alexa’s integration, but no. We have to learn them by heart or look them up through the lengthy unlink/re-link process.
- And sorry, but the Google Home app GUI reshuffle, might look cute on the frontend, but behind the scenes the usability of the configuration settings has not improved. There are many counterintuitive taps needed to achieve certain tasks, as indicated above.
Let’s hope these get fixed soon!
Also, we have no indication now, if a smart home service gets updated for Google Home. With the retired Action we saw at least a version number. Now every update happens silently on the cloud and though we might be pleasantly surprised, when a feature which never worked suddenly works, the opposite will be more obvious and disappointing. I wish Google and/or Logitech could take the time to send out some newsletter or release notes when there are bigger improvements.
Ok, I could have spared us this headline, but I’d like to say that I found nothing ugly in this integration as of now, since music playback got fixed. It’s definitely a good integration and solid work from Google and Logitech. The flaky “works sometimes” implementation behind, what we call “voice focus“, will definitely leave some of us, who prefer short commands puzzled: Some commands will only work sometimes, but why?
I am sure we will see many improvements in the future, which will make the Google Home and Harmony user experience more intuitive, natural and solid.
Until then, I hope you have enjoyed this post and it helps you to navigate the current integration!
Please share your experience in the comment section below! I’ll keep on maintaining this post with all our findings!