The First Home Key Compatible Lock Could Be Just Around the Corner

Schlage Encode Plus with Home Key Credit: Apple / Schlage
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The biggest challenge Apple faces when adding new HomeKit capabilities is that they’re entirely dependent on the readiness of third-party accessory makers to actually embrace them.

Over the years, we’ve seen this happen with just about every new product category Apple adds, from garage door openers and doorbells to air purifiers, security cameras, and routers.

Still, Apple seems to be happy to follow the adage, “If you build it, they will come,” but for Apple fans, it’s the waiting that’s often the hardest part.

Such is the case this year with Apple’s debut of Digital Keys in iOS 15. It’s a great idea, but unfortunately, it also requires that locks exist to support these digital keys.

Even Car Key, which was introduced in iOS 13.6 over two years ago, still doesn’t have much uptake from any automakers. It’s not a bad feature if you’re a BMW owner, but everyone else has been left out of the loop so far.

Along the same lines, the new Hotel Keys are a cool feature if you intend to visit one of the six Hyatt Hotels that support them, but it’s safe to say that most of us won’t be experiencing that iOS 15 feature anytime soon either.

The good news, however, is that it does look like a Home Key compatible smart lock is on its way, and it’s coming from a mainstream lock maker too.

Schlage Encode Plus

HomeKit Authority recently discovered that Home Depot had briefly listed a new entry in Schlage’s lineup of smart locks that promises to add a full gamut of home automation technologies — including support for Apple’s Home Key technology.

While the Home Depot listing was quickly removed, it prompted the folks at Home Authority to dig a little deeper, and they managed to come up with an install guide hidden on Schlage’s website that specifically mentions Home Key. Thanks to Schlage’s necessary FCC filings, they also found a full PDF of the manual.

It looks like the new Schlage Encode Plus will also pack in just about everything else you could want in a smart lock. This includes full HomeKit support, with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and even Thread built right in.

Since the lock will still be powered by only four AA batteries, it’s unclear how well it will hold up when using Wi-Fi, but this is also the sort of problem that the Thread protocol is ultimately designed to solve. And, of course, the new Apple TV 4K and HomePod mini both have Thread support already built-in.

Most importantly, the FCC filing confirms that there will be an NFC chip inside, which is the key requirement to make Apple Home Key work.

Since the Encode Plus fully supports HomeKit, however, it’s hard to say how necessary Apple Home Key really is. If you already have to take your iPhone out to tap on your lock, you can just as easily open the Home app and tap the “Unlock” button — and do this before you get out of your car or while you’re walking up to the door.

Of course, Apple Home Key support is a nice bonus and could be a very welcome addition for anybody who doesn’t want to bother with a full HomeKit setup, but with everything else that’s packed into it, the price of this new Schlage Lock is likely to be fairly high.

In our opinion, the real market for Apple Home Key is in more affordable locks that focus on that feature alone, rather than trying to be all things to all people. After all, Home Key really doesn’t add much to a lock that’s already HomeKit-compatible — except to likely increase the price even more. For iPhone users who aren’t looking for a full home automation ecosystem, however, a simple $99 lock that offers Apple Home Key would be a very attractive solution.

As for Schlage’s Encode Plus, there’s no word on when we’ll actually see it arrive, but the fact that it briefly popped on Home Depot’s website and Schlage already has the documentation in place suggests it should be coming sooner rather than later.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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