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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Automate This: Revisiting Home automations

Note: This story has not been updated since 2021.

On last week’s episode of the Six Colors Podcast (available to members of this fine website), I mentioned to Jason that my alarm clock was starting to shuffle off this mortal coil, so I’d replaced it with a high-tech equivalent: a Shortcut automation. At 7:00 am, the iPhone would start playing the local radio station via AirPlay to the IKEA Symfonisk speaker in the bedroom.

HomeKit Automation

But I ran into one problem: even though there’s a Set Volume action in Shortcuts, it seems to relate specifically to the iPhone‘s volume, not the speaker to which you may be outputting audio.1 So at one point, when I had to unplug the speaker and plug it back in, it forgot the low volume I’d set it at, meaning we were in for a literal rude awakening the following morning when it started blaring the news very loudly. Likewise, any time that I then used the speaker for something else and raised the volume, I would have to remember to lower it again.

On the podcast, Jason mentioned that it might be possible to make it a Home automation, rather than a Personal (or Shortcut) automation.2 At the time, I regret to say I may have dismissed this idea, as I didn’t think it was possible, but my interest was piqued and I took a closer look. And yes, it turns out that AirPlay-compatible speakers are considered HomeKit devices, which means that you can indeed create Home automations that use them.

Better yet, the audio automation also allow you to explicitly set the volume for that speaker when an automation triggers, though the interface is a little opaque since it relies on your visually figuring out the speaker volume using a slider; providing a percentage, or say, a feedback sound to let you calibrate would definitely be handy.

My initial thought was that since the Home automation provides an “Adjust Volume Only” action, I could set it to lower the volume one minute before my main shortcut automation triggered, but I immediately realized that was a ridiculous idea: this did everything my Shortcut automation did and more, so it made far more sense to replace it with the Home automation altogether.

To be honest, I’ve predominantly used Home automations for controlling our house’s lights at certain times, and it hadn’t occurred to me that it would work for speakers as well. When Home automations launched they were very limited—and there are still restrictions in terms of, say, which sensors it supports for triggering automations—but there were more options than I gave it credit for. Just another reason that HomeKit is becoming a more significant player in the smart home market.

  1. This is made more confusing by the fact that, in more recent versions of iOS, there’s a difference between AirPlaying to an external speaker and controlling an external speaker. Ugh. 
  2. I get why these are separate things, and I’m glad that both Home and Shortcuts group them together, but it is a little bit on the clunky side. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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