At CES 2022 this week, lock manufacturer 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 the Home Key function, as well as a Thread radio to support HomeKit over Thread.
Home Key, introduced with iOS 15, lets you store a digital door key in your Apple Wallet and lock and unlock your door by tapping your device on the lock, similar to how Apple Pay or Apple Transit works. The system uses the iPhone’s or Apple Watch’s NFC chip to authenticate a user.
The Schlage Encode Plus will be available in spring 2022 for $300 (that Plus moniker comes with a $50 price hike from the original Encode). The Schlage Sense, a HomeKit-only lock that doesn’t support Home Key, is still available for $200.
The addition of Home Key gives the Encode a feature available on other door locks that so far it had been largely lacking — a hands-free way to unlock the door (if you use the watch option, that is). You can also control it with an app, a keypad, a regular key, and voice control using Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.
Home Key has two modes for unlocking: “Express Mode,” where you don’t have 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, enabling Lost Mode through Apple’s Find My feature will disable all elements of your Apple Wallet, including Home Key. If your phone battery is dying, you can still unlock the door with the Power Reserve feature introduced in iOS14. It works in the same way it does with Express Transit mode, functioning for up to five hours after the red Power Reserve icon appears on an Apple Watch or iPhone.
Home Key also brings with it the option to manage access keys in HomeKit, so you can have different codes for different folks. A nice feature for families is that once you set up Home Key on your device, every member of the household who is part of your Apple Home automatically has the key added to their wallet.
The Schlage Encode retains the same exterior design and all the existing features of the non-Plus version and integrates with Google and Amazon Alexa smart home platforms for automations and voice control via the Schlage Home app. You can use HomeKit and the Schlage app simultaneously. As a Wi-Fi lock, it doesn’t require any separate hub or bridge for remote access.
However, the lock can be set up entirely in HomeKit if you prefer, although it requires an Apple Home hub (such as a HomePod Mini or Apple TV) for remote access in this configuration. The Schlage app also adds a few features not in HomeKit, such as scheduling access and a built-in alarm feature. “With this lock, we’re giving our customers the opportunity 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).
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 keypad screen.
The Encode Plus uses four protocols, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, and Thread. NFC has been part of Schlage’s commercial options previously, but this is the first time it’s used it 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 come to market in North America with a Home Key-compatible lock.
The Thread radio supports HomeKit over Thread specifically, says Beene, and is Schlage’s first Thread-enabled product. The company is closely watching the developing Matter smart home standard, too. “The hardware is here for Matter,” he says. “This will be the first [lock] product with the hardware on board to support something like that, but we still don’t know where those tech specs will land.” Matter is slated to launch in mid-2022.
With all those radios on board, battery life could be an issue. With all-in use — i.e., if you connect the lock over Wi-Fi to the Schlage app and to HomeKit — the battery life is about four to five months, says Beene. Using HomeKit only, it jumps up to about a year, he says, but you will need an Apple Home Hub for remote access.
The addition of Home Key and HomeKit compatibility makes the Encode Plus one of the most fully featured smart locks on the market (for iPhone owners, although Beene told The Verge that the company is looking at bringing the NFC function to Android phones). August and Yale’s August-powered smart locks also have wide compatibility with smart home platforms and an auto-unlock feature that uses geofencing to control your lock as you approach.
My experience with August locks is that the auto-unlock feature is quite hit or miss. Home Key looks to be a more reliable way to easily unlock your door in a hands-free fashion. Currently, a fingerprint reader is my favorite way to unlock a smart door lock, but we’ll have to wait and see whether this will prove to be a more convenient option.