1991-2016—25 years of Art & Logic

IoT Smart-Locks: Apple HomeKit & Schlage Sense-lessness (or how to spend $2000 on a deadbolt)

IoT Smart-Locks: Apple HomeKit & Schlage Sense-lessness (or how to spend $2000 on a deadbolt)

The goal

  • Upgrade home-office security and take the opportunity to join the Star Trek generation of smart-home IoT.

Exec summary

  • Describe my experience installing and configuring a couple of Schlage Sense smart-locks and configuring them to connect to a couple of Apple TVs as their HomeKit hubs.
  • Examine the pro’s and con’s of smart-home devices: their features are compelling when they work, but IoT remains a bleeding-edge, artful science.

Take home

Both Schlage and Apple’s hardware and software engineering are amazing, but their documentation and support delivery leave a lot to be desired. Do not attempt this yourself unless you’ve got a few spare hours (per lock) and are ready for a serious technical challenge. Auto-lock is convenient, but convenient smartphone unlocking will require a bit more human re-training and forethought before it threatens to replace keys or punch-codes.

confused
face-palm


This seemingly simple task became quite a comedy of technical errors and quickly devolved into many (at least eight) hours of self-support including:

  • multiple firmware updates
  • multiple hardware resets
  • incompatibilities, updates, and fickle, shifting support promises from Apple TV 3rd/4th generation & tvOS/iOS10 version
  • getting literally locked out in the cold — thankfully had thought to put the backup hardware (old-school) key in my pocket
  • finally, a Disney-finish where I can say:

“Hey, Siri, lock the house”
or
“Hey, Siri, unlock my office”

and it ‘just works’ (once I unlock my iPhone 6 with Touch ID, most of the time — if my Apple TVs are feeling cooperative).

Warning

If you are the least bit clumsy, do not attempt to unlock your house without either a hands-free Bluetooth headset or an impact-resistant case. You will drop your phone while fumbling for your virtual keys, carrying groceries, etc.

schlage groceries

Aside

Of course, if you’re a real geek like me, you’ll use a Bluetooth Star Trek communicator to direct Siri to unlock the door. Soon, she may even respond in the official Starfleet LCARS voice.

schlage-unlock

Want your house to smarten up? Here’s how:

  1. First, you need an excuse to spend all that cash, so entice someone into a ‘B & E’ on your garage to steal a few things you care about like your:

* ludicrously-expensive lawn-tennis shoes
* nearly irreplaceable Fender Jazz custom-fretless bass guitar
* favourite new pre-amp, important backup hard-drives, favourite kid’s RC car, etc.

  1. Take careful note that your insurance deductible and the increased cost of losing your claims-free discount are probably about the same amount as the replacement value of the goods that were stolen.

  2. Become angry enough to drive straight to the Home Depot and buy the level-1, top-of-the-line, newest in digital home security: the Schlage Sense lock.

  3. Install one Schlage Sense lock in studio office (outbuilding). Become very impressed with the engineered quality of the lock. The packaging materials are also slick enough to contain a sacred Apple product. My teenage son helped me with the hardware reset and held the lock so it didn’t fall off while I was tightening screws. We both thought the setup code optical recognition scanning routine was cool, but the factory setup codes are printed almost illegibly in microscopic font size 3 or something. I could barely read them and have better than 20/20 vision.

  4. Attempt to watch as little as possible of Schlage’s countless hours of banal-edited-for-the-elderly video install instructions that IKEA could replace with a three-page fold-out leaflet of amusing little Swedish cartoons and less than ten words of English.

  5. Install a second Schlage Sense lock on the house, consulting previously-mentioned library of how-to videos only once, since the hole in the door required a slightly different handle-mounting procedure.

  6. Update the firmware of both devices (one at a time). This is a lengthy procedure, so be sure you have enough time, patience, and battery not to interrupt it. Oh, and did I mention that you’ll need to repeat all of the configuration and setup code entry? Don’t put those manuals away just yet . . .

  7. Fight a private war to Bluetooth pair the locks. This remains an issue, as the Schlage Sense app uses Bluetooth to configure the lock, while Apple HomeKit connects you via a combination of Wifi (to your phone) and Bluetooth (to the lock). You will need to be within a few feet of each lock to Bluetooth configure it; my home and office are only about twenty paces apart, so the locks cannot be configured from a single location.

  8. Upgrade your iPhone 6 to iOS 10 to enable HomeKit support: abandon all hope of intuitive usage, ye who enter here! It took me about a week to get used to iOS10 with frequent support from my teenage daughter.

  9. Realize that Apple just withdrew iOS 10 HomeKit support for 3rd generation Apple TV.

  10. Realize that remote access in HomeKit on iOS 10 requires users to enable two-factor authentication for the iCloud account used to manage HomeKit. Some people will hate this. I’m used to it from doing the Google two-step, but it can be a pain to set up, as it may affect family members who think smart locks are more trouble than they’re worth.

  11. (aside) Frantically change your iCloud password after it appears that someone is hacking your house from Surrey (about 100 miles away, one of the worst parts of Vancouver, BC). Breathe a frustrated sigh of relief after realizing that Apple two-factor authentication doesn’t resolve location very accurately, and it was just my kid, who was at school but fiddling with his iCloud settings (connected to our family account).

  12. Purchase a new 4th generation Apple TV, after giving up on getting the 3rd generation to work as the main HomeKit hub. Thankfully a refurbished Apple TV is only about half the cost ($150 CAD) of the Schlage Sense ($300 CAD), and I’m an Apple junkie, so I wanted one anyhow.

  13. Install the old 3rd generation Apple TV as a dedicated sub-hub in the studio office, since the lock there is out of Bluetooth range of the main hub.

  14. Enjoy the fruits of your labours. Eagerly explain to an incredulous wife and teenage daughter (my son gets it) how cool the locks are and why they are worth all the trouble. Update: my wife and daughter are starting to appreciate the locks now that they can no longer get locked out by forgetting their keys. They did accidentally set off the alarm one day by keying in the right code (presumably off-by-one number) several times in a row. The alarm was loud enough to cause our timid dog to make a rather large mess around the house.

  15. Disable the ‘unlock the house’ automation. It scares my wife that anyone with my phone might run it. I have to admit that she’s right about the real security risk in over-automation. Most of the functions require your phone to be unlocked to run, but this one doesn’t.

  16. Enjoy Halloween trick-or-treating with the kids, knowing that if you’re forgetful or otherwise unconscientious, your home and office will auto-lock themselves a couple of minutes after you leave.

  17. Remember that common-sense is infinitely more valuable than Schlage Sense: if the door isn’t completely closed, it won’t auto-lock!

Warning

On install, the lock mechanism must work smoothly, or the electric motor drive will jam if the deadbolt rubs against the door jamb assembly. This may change seasonally if your doors are metal or have temperature-sensitive rubber seals. It’s easier to align the deadbolt if the door is equipped with a secondary latch handle, which is typically the case. I would not install a Schlage Sense deadbolt on its own.

Coming soon: a follow-up blog about IFTT integration beyond Apple HomeKit and Tesla EVE, where you can run automations or ‘scenes’ like:

  • “Turn out the lights and turn down the thermostat when I drive away.”
  • “Unlock the house and turn on the lights when I arrive home.”
Kevin Belanger

Kevin Belanger

A graduate of the University of Toronto (1996, BSc Physics) and the University of Victoria (2013 MSc, Earth and Ocean Sciences), Kevin enjoys aikido, canoeing, travelling, writing poetry and spending time with his family.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike

    Hello,
    Is your ATV3 successfully working as a Sub Hub for HomeKit?

    I have the Schlage Locks in my main house within range of my ATV4 however my detached Garage & Guest Suite are out of range from the primary ATV.

    I was thinking of placing an ATV3 in the Garage for the sole purpose of being an extender of HomeKit.

    • Kevin Belanger

      Good question, Mike! I haven’t confirmed with 100% certainly yet that the 3rd-Gen Apple TV is working as a Sub Hub. Here’s what I do know; my HomeKit system is working beyond the Bluetooth range between my 4th-Gen Apple TV and my outbuilding garage (about 30 ft / 9 m).
      I have had the best success with a two-home setup (one room each) rather than treating the outbuilding as a room in a single home. My primary home lists only the 4th-Gen Apple TV, the studio home lists both Apple TVs, the 4th-Gen as ‘Connected’ and the 3rd-Gen as ‘Disabled.’ Siri and Home button pushes on the office only seem to work when I’m within Bluetooth range, whereas I get wifi notices about my primary home door over the internet (WAN).

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