While new smart locks might not be the most exciting news coming out of CES 2022, Schlage’s latest home security device delivers a key feature iPhone and Apple Watch users like myself have been waiting for — support for digital keys.
The Schlage Encode Plus Smart WiFi Deadbolt is an upgraded version of the popular Schlage Encode, one of the best smart locks on the market. Schlage’s next-generation, HomeKit-compatible model comes ready to work Apple’s virtual keys feature that started to roll out to select cars and hotels, but haven't yet hit mainstream smart home devices.
As a reminder, iOS 15 lets an iPhone or an Apple Watch hold digital versions of the user's house keys, hotel room keys, workplace ID cards and a driver's license or other government-issued form of identification. That last category has hit some snares, but clearly isn’t slowing interest in virtual keys.
When you’ve added your home key to your Apple Wallet, you should be able to lock or unlock the Schlage Encode Plus installed on your door just by holding your iPhone or Apple Watch up to deadbolt. Some smart locks like the August WiFi Smart Lock already have proximity bands lock and unlock features based on a Bluetooth or WiFi connection to your smartphone. The Encode instead relies on NFC, demanding an intentional raise of your iPhone or smartwatch to your door.
Of course, this convenience comes with a few points of failure, but none Schlage seems to be unprepared for. For one, thanks to Power Reserve mode for the iPhone that launched with iOS 14, your handset may be able to unlock your door for up to five hours after it goes dead. And if that’s not an option — or worse, you’ve lost your phone or had it stolen — the Encode Plus still has a physical keypad for getting inside.
I know a lot about the Schlage Encode because, well, I have one. So I’m not surprised to learn that the Encode Plus will also let me assign dozens of access codes in the app, and let me keep track of when those codes are used. The Encode Plus is also compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant for multi-device smart home routines or voice controls. Again, nothing new there.
Leaning into HomeKit is a game-changer, though. The Encode Plus is by no means the first HomeKit-compatible smart lock, but the integrated controls in the HomeKit app and support for digital keys embraces Apple’s smart home platform in a manner I think more brands and users will soon. I, a dedicated Alexa user, have started using HomeKit more. I called the redesigned HomeKit app the most underrated new Apple Watch feature in watchOS 8.
I regularly use my Apple Watch 7 to tinker with the best HomeKit devices in my apartment. Using it to actually activate controls without needing to press a button sounds like a natural next-step and one I might even take by replacing my current Schlage Encode. The Encode Plus is coming in the spring and costs $299, which is $50 more than the regular Encode. I just hope I’m not pressured to buy everyone in my household an Apple Watch so they can enjoy the tapping to unlock, too.