As first reported over at HomeKit Authority it seems the first of many (we hope) smart locks with Thread support, has emerged via the discovery of an FCC filing for the Schlage Encode Plus Smart WiFi Deadbolt. The US lock company already have a Schlage Encode available, so this is clearly a new model, based on the name, and although the user manual found via fcc.io only mentions HomeKit support, not Thread specifically, the details within the FCC filing reveal that the Encode Plus uses a Silicon Labschip that uses both a WiFi chip alongside a Bluetooth chip capable of Thread (Silicon Labs MGM12P32F1024GA).
To take advantage of Thread capabilities, HomeKit users will need a Thread Border Router, of which Apple currently offer two products that contain the relevant hardware to provide this function, namely the HomePod Mini and the 2021 Apple TV4K.
One word of caution is in order, however, as even though the chip contained in the lock is Thread capable, there’s no guarantee that it would be put to use, at least at the start, as we have seen with the Wemo Stage Scene Controller smart button, that was advertised as Thread-ready, but as of yet still only uses Bluetooth 5.0 for connection to HomeKit.
In addition to this exciting news (at least for deadbolt users) it would appear from Schlage’s own website, that the lock will also support Apple’s announced HomeKey feature, which uses a beefed-up version of NFC allowing the user to unlock their door by simply bringing their phone close enough to the smart lock for NFC to connect and unlock the door. The ‘key’ in this case is stored on the phone in the user’s Apple Wallet, much like credit or loyalty cards are stored.
From our own research, it appears that the difference between standard NFC and NFC+ used for HomeKey is that it uses what is called ECP (Enhanced Contactless Polling) made by the chip manufacturer NXP. Although HomeKey is an exciting progression in the field of Smart Locks, at present only one other company has stated its intentions to use this technology for consumer-grade locks, which in this case is Aqara.
Other areas where HomeKey will be making its debut is in hotels, where instead of being handed a key (electronic or otherwise), guests will be sent a digital key to keep on their phone for the duration of their stay.
Thanks to Bing Feng Yeh for the heads up.