At CES 2022 this week, lockmaker Schlage announced it is launching the first lock in North America to support Apple’s home key. The Schlage Encode Plus Smart WiFi Deadbolt is an updated version of the popular Schlage Encode WiFi smart lock, adding an NFC chip for Home Key function, as well as a Thread radio to support HomeKit on Thread.
Home Key, introduced with iOS 15, allows you to store a digital door key in your Apple Wallet and lock and unlock your door by pressing your device on the lock, much like Apple Pay or Apple Transit. The system uses the NFC chip on the iPhone or Apple Watch to authenticate a user.
The Schlage Encode Plus will be available in Spring 2022 for $ 300 (this Plus moniker comes with a $ 50 price increase over the original Encode). The Schlage Sense, a HomeKit-only lock that doesn’t support Home Key, is still available for $ 200.
The addition of the Home Key gives the Encode a feature available on other door locks that it has lacked until now – a hands-free way to unlock the door (if you are using the watch option, this is ‘that is). You can also control it with an app, keyboard, regular key, and voice command using Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.
Home Key offers two unlocking modes: “Express Mode”, where you don’t need to unlock your phone, and “Require Face ID or Passcode”, which adds the step of authenticating with Face ID or Touch ID. If you lose your phone, activating Lost Mode through Apple’s Find My feature will deactivate everything on your Apple Wallet, including the Home Key. If your phone’s battery is dying, you can still unlock the door with the power reserve feature introduced in iOS14. It works the same as with Express Transit mode, running for up to five hours after the red power reserve icon appears on an Apple Watch or iPhone.
Home Key also offers the possibility to manage access keys in HomeKit, so you can have different codes for different people. A great feature for families is that once you’ve set up Home Key on your device, every household member in your Apple Home automatically has the key added to their wallet.
The Schlage Encode retains the same exterior design and all of the existing functionality of the non-Plus version and integrates with Google and Amazon Alexa smart home platforms for automations and voice control through the Schlage Home app. You can use HomeKit and the Schlage app simultaneously. As a Wi-Fi lock, it does not require a separate hub or bridge for remote access.
However, the lock can be fully configured in HomeKit if you prefer, although it does require an Apple Home hub (such as a HomePod Mini or Apple TV) for remote access in this setup. The Schlage app also adds a few features not found in HomeKit, such as access scheduling and a built-in alarm function. “With this lock, we give our customers the ability to use all the different features and integrations – Alexa, Google Assistant, as well as HomeKit,” says Donald Beene, senior product manager for Allegion (parent company of Schlage).
This Schlage-produced video shows the Encode Plus in action.
The lock is available in the same styles and finishes as the Encode: the more traditional Camelot design or the more modern Century option. The only physical difference is the addition of two NFC targets on the keyboard screen.
The Encode Plus uses four protocols, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and Thread. NFC was already a commercial option for Schlage, but this is the first time it has been used in residential locks. There are a few other locks that currently support NFC; one is the Level Lock Touch, but Schlage is the first to be released in North America with a Home Key compatible lock.
The Thread radio specifically supports HomeKit over Thread, says Beene, and is Schlage’s first Thread-compatible product. The company is also closely monitoring the development of the Matter smart home standard. “The material is there for the material,” he says. “It will be the first [lock] produced with the on-board hardware to support something like this, but we still don’t know where those specs will land. The launch of Matter is scheduled for mid-2022.
With all of those radios on board, battery life could be an issue. With full use, that is, if you connect the lock over Wi-Fi to the Schlage app and HomeKit, the battery life is around four to five months, says Beene. Using only HomeKit it can be up to about a year, he says, but you’ll need an Apple Home Hub for remote access.
The addition of Home Key and HomeKit compatibility makes the Encode Plus one of the most complete smart locks on the market (for iPhone owners, although Beene said The edge that the company plans to bring the NFC function to Android phones). Smart locks from August and Yale also have wide compatibility with smart home platforms and an auto-unlock feature that uses geolocation to control your lock as you approach.
My experience with August locks is that the auto unlock feature is pretty hit and miss. Home Key appears to be a more reliable way to easily unlock your door hands-free. Currently, a fingerprint reader is my favorite way to unlock a smart door lock, but we’ll have to wait and see if that turns out to be a more practical option.