In Apple's recently-released OS X Yosemite includes an awesome new way to get on the internet: tethering. Of course, tethering isn't new, but it's typically something you activate from your phone, deep in the menus. You fire up a WiFi hotspot to share your phone’s internet connection, then you track down that WiFi hotspot from your computer and enter a bizarre password. In Yosemite, you can start iPhone tethering right from the WiFi drop-down menu on your computer with a single click. It even shows your iPhone's signal strength and battery life, right there in the menu. It's almost absurdly easy, and I hope someday Apple finds a way to support non-Apple devices as well. Being able to connect to the internet wherever you are is an amazing power, and Apple just made it much easier.

So, why would you ever buy a separate hotspot, like Karma, if you can just tether from your phone?

Apple's Instant Hotspot featureApple's Instant Hotspot feature

Lifehacker actually recently covered this topic, and I love their answers. They list a lot of reasons why a dedicated mobile hotspot might be preferable to tethering, but it all comes down your own specific needs. Lifehacker sums it up like this:

Mobile hotspots are generally for people who need a reliable, backup internet connection, wherever they are—home or abroad. Personally, I found there's a tipping point between "Comcast is out, I can tether to my phone," or "riding the train from DC to New York, would love to check my email on the way," to "Comcast is out for hours and I have a deadline to meet" and "this hotel's Wi-Fi is horrible and I really need to finish uploading this." That tipping point is different for each of us, and it's up to you to decide where on that line you fall.

Some of the specific points they make include performance (hotspots can handle more connections better, and won't throttle a heavily-used connection), battery life (tethering destroys phone battery, so you'd better have a charger with you!), and reliability (a dedicated hotspot gives a more consistent connection, and might have coverage in places your phone doesn't).

"That tipping point is different for each of us, and it's up to you to decide where on that line you fall."

For me, personally, it boils down to the fact that your phone is too important to be relegated to hotspot duty. Yes, it's (mostly) capable, but it has better things to do. If you end up with a dead laptop battery and a drained hotspot, you can always rely on your phone for essential communications. If your phone dies, you suddenly can't make calls or use Maps or take pictures or play Threes. And even if you keep it plugged in, phones usually get nasty hot when they're tethered.

You could also be impacting your phone's usefulness for the rest of the month: most carrier tethering plans, even the ones that cost extra, count tethering your usage against your phone plan's overall data limit. That swanky 5GB a month plan you pay $99 a month for, which seems infinite on a phone, might go by a lot quicker when it's shared with your laptop and tablet. Some carriers will throttle your data when you run out — even some "unlimited" plans are throttled under heavy usage — or they'll cut you off from LTE or charge overages. For me, my phone data is too important to be messed with.

And on a "good karma" note, Karma is the only hotspot that makes it truly easy to share your connection without sharing your password or worrying about how much data other people will eat up. Everybody pays their own way, and you're rewarded for sharing.

If your phone dies, you suddenly can't make calls or use Maps or take pictures or play Threes.

What I love most about mobile internet is how it makes you see the world differently. Spaces are no longer divided into "internet-having" and "internet-not-having." Internet is wherever you are, for whatever you want to use it for. Hotspots and phone-as-hotspot make it even better, because it's not just a connection you get, but a connection you can share with others. It's like carrying a pocket knife, but for the 21st century, where checking email usually rates higher than whittling.

I’d argue that Karma is the best of these pocket knifes. Not only because they pay me to say that, but because it’s a device that’s truly designed around getting other people connected as well as yourself.

About Paul Miller

That guy who left the internet for a year