Harmony's history with Google Home and Assistant goes way back. When support for the service first rolled out, it was an Actions on Google integration (or Assistant app). That meant you had to "ask Harmony to do something" every time, which only worked with your own voice (no support for other home members unless they added the account in their own Assistant) and was very inconvenient. Sure, you could create shortcuts/routines to avoid having to say "ask Harmony" for every command, but even those were voice-dependent and you had to manually set up an equivalent shortcut for every action.
Direct integration for Harmony with Assistant — so it would work like Hue, Nest, LIFX, and others — was promised in May. But we waited, and waited, and waited, until another official announcement last week that mentioned Harmony support would be coming soon to Assistant. My reaction was that I'll believe it when I see it, and today, I finally see it.
Compatibility: Harmony devices, languages
The Google Assistant is compatible with Logitech Harmony Elite, Companion (formally Home Control), Smart Control, Ultimate, Ultimate Home, and Harmony Hub. Professional installers can also connect the Google Assistant with Logitech Harmony Pro.
The Harmony Action on the Google Assistant is currently only available for select languages in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Set up Harmony on Google Assistant
Harmony is now listed among the different Home control services you can link in Google Assistant. In the new Google Home app, tap +Add then Set up device, and choose the Works with google option. Scroll down to Harmony and pick that.
The full steps for linking your account are documented below. All your activities and channels can be imported, and you can add multiple "friendly" names for them, so you don't have to remember if you called your movie activity "DVD" or "movie," or anything else. Any nickname you add here will be understood by Google Assistant.
When you're done, all activities show up as independent remotes in the Google Home app and can be assigned to specific rooms.
Benefits of this direct integration
- You no longer need to "ask Harmony" to do something, which is both faster and doesn't conjure up a different Assistant voice in response to every command.
- If multiple users reside in your home, you don't need to set up the Harmony account on all of their devices to give them access. It now works like Hue and Nest and other native devices, so anyone in the house has control over it.
- If you want to give further control of these Harmony activities to your family members, you can do so as part of the home sharing feature in the new Google Home app.
Drawbacks, things to keep in mind
- Voice commands aren't very obvious. There's no official list from Logitech, but you will receive an email that lists the commands that will work for you. Keep an eye out for it, because this will have exactly what you need. For TVs, for example, playback and volume controls are supported, but also channel numbers, and channel names for favorites (those you've added in Harmony). Channel names for non-favorites don't work.
- Even if one of the setup process screens mentions you can say, "Hey Google, turn on channel_name" for your favorite channels, that command doesn't work. What works is, "switch to channel_name on TV" or "go to channel_name on TV" or "switch TV channel to channel_name." You have to specify your device name, eg. "TV," for things to work.
When I don't mention the TV, the action doesn't get executed. When I do, it works.
- Multiple Harmony hubs do not appear to be supported. When Artem tried to link his Harmony account with four hubs, he was asked to pick the one he wants to control. That's a severe limitation. The only workaround I can think of is, if you have shared your Home with someone else (it's a feature in the new Google Home app), you might ask them to add the same Harmony account from their own Home app, but try to link another hub. If they can do that, the activities they add will be shared with you too, and you'll both have access to both hubs... I don't have multiple hubs to test with, and Artem can't try this now, so I'm just throwing this theory out there in case anyone can test it.
- The old "ask Harmony" integration has been retired, and you need to re-link the new one from Home control to make things work.
- If you ever decide to add new activities for your Harmony Hub, you may need to go through the process of unlinking and relinking your account for those to show up in Assistant. This is tedious, and something that Google remedied by adding an Assistant command for syncing smart home devices to remove inactive devices and bring in new ones. But the way Harmony is set up (the whole web interface for selecting activities and friendly names) makes me think new activities won't show up immediately in Assistant. The good thing is if you unlink/relink, your old settings will be restored, so it won't take a lot of time to bring things up to speed.
- When you ask Assistant to turn on a certain activity, you will get the new visual response card, which doesn't sync the state. In the example below, I asked Google to turn on my TV activity. It did so, but the card still shows the TV as off. There's even a "turn on" button below it. Waiting a few minutes doesn't affect this, the status doesn't sync.
- These Harmony activities appear to be treated as switches, but not fully. You can ask Assistant if an activity is on and get an accurate answer, but:
- the new Google Home app doesn't show them as switches, so you can't quickly flick them on/off as you would for other lights and switches,
- and they don't appear as native switches in Assistant's routines, so you can't easily add them to a routine. You'll have to type the full command to add them.
I've been testing all the various facets of this integration for the past few hours and the result is I certainly prefer it over the previous one. Actually, I never used the "ask Harmony" setup because it was too tedious for me and my husband to use. I circumvented it by adding Harmony to my SmartThings and bringing in those activities as SmartThings switches into my Google Assistant. Silly setup, but it worked natively in Home for both of us.
With the new setup, things are definitely easier and I no longer need to talk to Harmony via SmartThings, but it still feels like things could be done better. Access to the full list of commands is essential — I almost missed the email if it weren't for my colleague Ryne. This is something Google needs to implement for all services, so we don't have to blindly guess what'll work and what wouldn't, but Harmony could help things by giving us a support page we can refer to. Integration for multiple hubs is a make-or-break feature for many users and the fact that it doesn't work now is certainly limiting. And finally, proper support inside the Google Home app would be nice too, so we can control volume and playback without having to issue voice commands.
Still, the difficult part is now over and things work more or less like they should. And that makes me happy.