In part one of this series, I talked about the questions you should ask yourself before you buy a tablet. I left one question out — purely by accident — but it’s a doozy. Do you want to be able to connect to the Internet with your tablet no matter where you are? If so, you’ll need a tablet with a receiver that lets you connect to cell towers. That also means you’ll probably need to sign a contract with a cell service provider to get access to the network.
If you don’t care about always being a tap away from the Internet, a tablet that only supports Wi-Fi connectivity may be right up your alley. You’ll still be able to surf the Web, download apps, play games and participate in other online activities. But you’ll need to be logged into a Wi-Fi network to do it. Once you leave the coverage area of the network, your tablet will become a standalone device. Many apps will work just fine in this mode, but they won’t be able to pull data down from the Internet until you reconnect.
Connecting to a network is just part of the connectivity options you’ll have with a tablet. If your tablet has an HDMI-out port — or a port that can export audio and video using an HDMI adapter — you’ll be able to connect the tablet to a larger display like a big-screen television. You could use your tablet like a media player, pulling up videos on the tablet and displaying them on the large screen for family and friends.
Other connectivity options include home automation. This usually requires a combination of special hardware and apps. You install the hardware in your home and connect it to your network. Then, using a dedicated app on your tablet, you can control the home appliances directly from your touch screen.
In my home, I’ve installed LED lights from GreenWave Reality. The lights communicate wirelessly to a small base station that’s connected to my home network. An app on my tablet lets me adjust the lighting, turning it on and off and even dimming the lights. I can even adjust the lighting if I’m on the other side of the world. It’s a great way to conserve energy or to make it seem like I’m at home even when I’m away. Or, in my case, a great way to mess with my wife when she’s at home and I’m on a trip.
There are other connectivity apps that can really extend the utility of your tablet. For example, people who own an Xbox 360 might want to check out Xbox Smartglass. The app gives you control over your connected console, allowing you to scroll through options using the touchscreen. You can use the app to stream a movie from your console to your TV. The app then displays other information related to the movie you’re watching. It’s a built-in second screen experience.
I have no doubt that tablets will become the central control station for our homes in the near future. As companies develop more Internet-enabled features and hardware, we’ll need a way to tweak settings to meet our preferences. The tablet is a perfect centralized interface for customizing your environment. Maybe one day we’ll remove the need for an intermediary device to control everything, but until then the tablet is a great solution.