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Last month we got a sneak peek that hinted at an upcoming new smart lock from well-known home security company Schlage that promised to be the first to boast support for Apple’s new Home Key standard, and now it looks like it’s official.
This week at CES 2022, Schlage announced the new Encode Plus Smart WiFi Deadbolt that not only packs in support for the Home Key standard introduced in iOS 15, but also promises a few other interesting features.
As the name implies, the new lock is an updated version of Schlage’s popular Encode smart lock, and sports most of the same features. The most significant changes the new Plus version offers are an NFC chip to power Apple Home Key, as well as Thread support to make it easier to connect to your HomeKit network.
In fact, this also makes the Encode Plus the company’s first lock to support the Thread protocol, which is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Thread promises better range and responsiveness than Bluetooth, while also operating at a fraction of the power required by Wi-Fi.
Since the new Apple TV 4K and Apple’s HomePod mini both include Thread support, this means that many HomeKit users already have everything they need to take advantage of this.
That’s a good thing, since the lock is still only powered by 4 AA batteries, so even though it also includes Wi-Fi support, we expect you’ll go through batteries quickly if you choose to operate in that mode. Schlage promises four months of life on a single battery when using Wi-Fi, versus up to a year when using only Thread or Bluetooth.
As with Schlage’s other locks, the Encode Plus also still supports Bluetooth, however, so if you don’t have a HomePod mini, Apple TV 4K, or another Thread device in your home, you’ll still be able to integrate it with HomeKit this way, just like other HomeKit-compatible smart locks.
Apple Home Key
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Schlage’s new Encode Plus is support for the new Home Key feature in iOS 15. Schlage has included NFC chips in its commercial locks before, but this is the first consumer model to do so, since there arguably wasn’t much point before Apple came along with Home Key.
To be fair, it’s debatable how necessary Home Key is for those with a full HomeKit setup, since you can almost just as easily unlock your front door with a few taps of your iPhone — and do it before you even get out of your car. However, Home Key offers a few other useful advantages.
For one thing, it works from the Apple Watch, so it’s easy to envision scenarios where tapping your wrist on your door lock is the easiest way to open it. While some other manufacturers like August offer automatic unlocking based on GPS geofencing and Bluetooth proximity, this isn’t something that Schlage has ever baked into its locks. It’s also safe to say that Home Key should be much more consistently reliable; in our experience, the auto-unlock feature on other smart locks can sometimes be a bit flakey.
It’s also important to keep in mind that Home Key and HomeKit aren’t mutually exclusive. You can still set up the Encode Plus in HomeKit, where it will work like any other Schlage lock, while still taking advantage of Home Key when you need to use it.
Another big advantage of Home Key is that you’ll be able to manage keys more effectively for things like guest access. Family members will automatically get their own Home Key for the lock added to Apple’s Wallet app on their devices, and you can manually invite guests to access your lock directly through Apple’s Home app.
You can also choose to operate a Home Key lock in either Express Mode, where you can unlock your door using your iPhone without the need to authenticate using Face ID or Touch ID, as well as taking advantage of new automations like locking the door automatically when it’s closed or when you leave home.
Home Keys in your Apple Wallet otherwise offer the same security as payment cards in Apple Pay. You’ll be able to use them without authentication on your Apple Watch, as long as you have Wrist Detection enabled, and putting your device in Lost Mode through the Find My app automatically invalidates all the Home Keys stored on your iPhone or Apple Watch.
Naturally, Schlage also provides its own app to manage the lock, which can be used to configure time-based keypad access codes — something that Home Key doesn’t yet appear to offer — as well as enabling a built-in alarm feature. As with other Schlage locks, HomeKit and the Schlage app can both be used with a single lock to get the best of both worlds.
Schlage’s new Encode Plus will be available this spring for $300 in the same designs and finishes as the Encode — Camelot and Century in matte black, satin nickel, and aged bronze. The original Schlage Encode remains available for $250, and you can also still pick up the Bluetooth-only Schlage Sense for $200, both of which support HomeKit, but not Home Key.