A universal word or term for "your device/machine/computer/tablet/phone/smart watch/gadget/whatever"?

  • I want a word that accurately covers tablets, phones, desktop PCs & Macs, laptop PCs & Macs, smart watches, smart glasses, smart fridges, smart socks (watch this space...) and any future kind of device.

    Obviously because I used "device" in the question and the sentence above, you might wonder why I don't want to use that word. I feel to users, they don't consider their desktop PC or Mac a "device", and as much as some might consider desktop machines as more and more irrelevant, a great many millions of people still sit in offices getting distracted by (hopefully) my web app in an office with either new or antiquated desktops. Plus I'm writing this from a desktop so I'm biased....

    My opinion on the top three:

    I don't think users think of desktop machines as something as small sounding as a "device"

    I don't think users think of their phones as something as grand as a "machine"

    I don't think users are browsing my web site and using my app from 1998, and they certainly don't think of phones and tablets as a "computer"

    The best I can think of (without having the UI detect what kind of device is actually being used) is to say "your device or computer".

    Can anyone do any better?

    As requested, a few example sentences being:

    • Please restart your device
    • This application is not compatible with your device

    Edit 2
    A good example of ambiguity: Surface Pro 4, running Windows 10. I can call this a "device", of course. But how do I know it's not just a normal desktop? I could put a catch in for vendor specific products, but that's going to become rather cumbersome to maintain. A good, universal word is essential.

    I am tempted to just use "device" everywhere, but it hurts my cotton soft feelings on desktops :(

    I really hope the day won't come that I can't put on my socks because they first need a firmware update.

    i don't see anything wrong with "device"

    Alternatively, "Please restart your mobile device or PC"

    Why not make the message context aware - call it a device when using a tablet or phone, and computer when using a desktop or laptop?

    @HorusKol because of course this is possible, but it allows much more room for error, and adds to maintenance as new device types appear such as watches, even smart ass fridges. There is also the ambiguity issue of can you really be sure you've correctly determined what *kind* of device your app is running on? Safest bet is to choose an excellent catch-all word.

    @joshcomley - I think most people will happily think of watches, fridges, televisions, etc as devices - the only case where you might need something specific are computers, purely because of history.

    @HorusKol I agree. But what do you use for a Surface Pro 4? Device or computer? Whichever you choose, how do you know you're not on a normal laptop running Windows 10? The line is too blurry, so whilst we have at least two kinds of device, a unifying word is needed because it is becoming impossible to distinguish via code without excessive product specific catch lists.

    For something like Surface Pro - either computer or device would be fine

    Microsoft themselves use the term "device" for, well, Windows 10 devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, Xbox, Surface Hub, Microsoft Band, HoloLens...).

    I think you could actually get a better response in the English StackExchange. I think the best word is probably "device."

    I am probably not typical, but I assure you that I do think of my tablet as a computer, and indeed, have been known to use a standard Linux-type xterm on it. (Now if only I could find a decent keyboard for it.) My phone, OTOH, is just a phone, just like my fridge and my socks.

    I don't think there's any problem with using "device" for desktop computers as well. A computer is definitely a device, and if you *really* don't want to use it, `system` is another good generic word.

    Why do you need a universal word? *"Installation is complete but requires a restart. Restart now?"*. For compatibility, why not be specific - "...this application is not compatible with **iOS7** (*Windows Vista*, *OSX Panther*, etc...). Systems let you query them for specifics, so why not be specific? Why leave your users hanging on the question of what they might need to *meet compatibility requirements*.

    I suppose "Square Girlfriend" is not PC enough.

  • I use the word device to mean anything you use to do work which extends to computers and (most of the time) mobile phones. English StackExchange suggests using mobile device for describing phones and laptops, so I don't see why adding in "immobile devices" would ruin the effectiveness of using the word device to include phones, laptops, and tower PCs.

    @Panzercrisis I disagree - if someone asked me if I was taking a survey on a "mobile device", I would say yes if I was taking it on my smartphone, and no if I was taking it on my laptop. (But I do agree that "device" is a great single word to refer to any personal computing device - though, on the other hand, I *wouldn't* use it to refer to, say, a back-office server.)

    I don't think laptops are "mobile" nowadays (and wouldn't pay any attention to what english.SE says).

    @djechlin I don't think anyone ever called laptops "mobile" - the word that's been used since the earliest days of laptops has always been "portable".

    @J...In the _earliest_ days (Osborne 1) the term "luggable" was quickly adopted.

    I think "mobile" vs. "portable" comes to differentiate between "can be used while moving" vs. "can be moved anywhere to be used while stationary".

    @TripeHound Yes, but more as a slang, although fair enough it did persist through the decade (I remember the term being applied even to the 16lb Mac "Portable").

  • IF you don't want to use the word device then you could use something more specific like (obviously) operating system. Or just use "Restart your system." "Not compatible with your system" Or don't even give it a name and say "Restart" Not compatible with this OS.

    +1 for just “restart,” on the grounds of removing unnecessary detail from the statement.

    Yes I had foreseen such suggestions as simplifying to "Restart" etc. Alas, the circumstances are more nuanced than simple example sentences can provide, otherwise of course the simpler the better.

    Or, again just for that particular case, "try turning it off and on again". If they can't work out what "it" means in that sentence then they're doomed anyway, they aren't going to manage anything so complex as a restart.

  • Unfortunately there is no better word than device. Not even 'hardware' or 'operating system' (which is the actual thing you want restarting / causing the incompatability). Nor appliance, system, environment, instrument, computer, processor, apparatus, equipment, etc.

    To make things clear, refer to this device, so whether it's a phone, desktop, or washing machine - there can be no confusion about which object the message describes.

    • Please restart this device
    • SuperApp is not compatible with this device

    +1 I think "this device" removes mostly all confusion possible (with tech illiterate people maybe going and restarting their computer instead of their fridge).

  • If you are dead set on not using word device, then you should consider being more precise and say exactly what device you are referring to.

    So in case of desktop computer you would say something like: "Please restart your computer", and in case of mobile phone you would say "Please restart your mobile phone".

    Using generic term just to save few lines of code should be considered as bad UX and should be avoided at any cost.

    Offer every user the best experience and you'll have, by definition the best UX.

    Trouble with this is, you're second-guessing the future. Suppose you're making an Android app, and you include a few lines of code to switch between "mobile phone" and "tablet" and maybe "watch". Then someone reminds you Samsung and others make Android cameras, so you add some more code to add a "camera" condition. Then you see someone has made an Android TV, and an Android fridge, and an Android combined dashcam and GPS, and an Android robotic vacuum cleaner... "My fridge told me to restart my tablet, which I did, but now the app on my fridge doesn't work"

    @user568458 that's just plain bad coding. Depending of device, you define constant 'DEVICE_TYPE' and use it in all future code. The thing with UX is not to make things easier for developers, the goal is to make UI easier for users.

    I think you completely missed my point... what type of variable you use is neither here nor there. Somewhere, you have to define the strings that appear in your messages to your users. That means, you have to come up with a list of possible device types. That list *will* become out of date, causing users to see inappropriate messages. For example, they might see "Please restart your tablet" appear on the screen of their "smart-fridge", which would be very confusing.

    I did not miss the point, you can detect the device from the list of devices and fall back to the **device** if device could not be auto-detected. That way, you would have "Please restart your phone" for phone and "Please restart your device" for any device that can't be detected.

    Okay, so long as you're detecting using an actual known list of devices (e.g. if `android.os.Build.DEVICE` matches a known phone, for example `GT-19000`, use `"phone"`, else fall back to `"device"` if not recognised). But many people clumsily guess device type using things like screen size or dimensions, which would result in the problem I describe. (also, maintaining that list of device model identifiers will be a *heck* of a lot of work!)

    Building exactly the same UI for all devices is just plain wrong, so basically there has to be some kind of detection during the development of the app/website for which device the app/website is build for. The simple code that covers 80% of cases is infinitely better then code that covers 0% of use cases.

    You detect device *features*, not devices *types*.

  • The specific examples you gave:

    • Please restart your device
    • This application is not compatible with your device

    both have something in common - giving either of these messages to the user is awful UX. There's no reason something you, as an application/service/website/whatever developer, can produce should ever require the user to restart their device, and there's usually no good reason you should exclude certain devices.

    While it may seem like I'm picking on your examples, I think there's actually a theme here: the specifics of the user's "device"/"computer"/whatever are none of your business, and trying to make them your business is not good UX.

    For the second type of example, instead of telling the user their device is not supported/compatible, instead tell them why it's not. Reasons might include:

    • "You need a camera to use this app." (for something that's useless without a camera)
    • "This game needs a motion sensor to play." (for a game that requires a specific form of input - but think about accessibility and what legal consequences of excluding disabled users might be!)
    • "Battery status not available." or "Cannot find a battery to display status for." (for running a battery monitor on a device without a battery or where the app has no access to the battery status)
    • "This program needs [X] GB of memory and you only have [Y] available." (for the one situation where outdated hardware is actually a hard error that makes it impossible to run at all)

    I can think a couple of scenarios where these messages may show up. In the fist case, a software that makes some system internal changes (hardware drivers, system utils, running services...) may require the system to reboot in order to apply those effects. In the other case, it's not uncommon to face some system requirements with many applications. Try to run AutoCAD in a five years old $200 netbook or try to play Skyrim in a Pentium II. It just won't.

    How do you propose to run a time-lapse camera app on a phone with no cameras? Or how would you run a spirit level app on a laptop with no accelerometers? Or a battery voltage app on a desktop with no battery? Sometimes the specifics of a user's device is what makes an app work.

    @JordiVilaplana: Thanks for providing some great examples of awful UX. In the first case, nothing but the OS should ever be able to install or upgrade drivers or force or even request reboots.

    @slebetman: "No camera available", "You need a camera to use this app", "This game requires a motion sensor to play", "No battery status available", ...

    And for @JordiVilaplana's examples: "Insufficient memory to run/play X. You need at least X GB free bla bla bla." (Memory is the only hard constraint that should keep these apps from being able to run at all; anything else is just a matter of quality of UX, but the worst UX of all is refusing to run when the user would be happy for any use at all, even degraded.)

    A UI built to this kind of advice is going to really frustrate people who are knowledgeable about their devices and want to know why something's not working.

    @R.. Your answer makes a good point, but I think it'd be much stronger if you add in some examples like those in your comments. Right now it's a "Don't do X" answer without a corresponding "Solve the problem better by doing Y". I didn't appreciate the point you were making until I read your comments and thought about it for a bit.

    @user568458: Thanks for the tips. I've updated my answer based on your comment.

  • If the application you are using is connecting to a server you can use the term Client to describe all of these personal computers and devices.

    A client is a piece of computer hardware or software that accesses a service made available by a server.

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    Note: I'll be the first to admit this is a somewhat flimsy definition, I carefully nitpicked for a definition that fit my agenda. A lot of places will define the client as only the software running on the device and they have to be in a client-server architecture. Also laymans may confuse it with business clients. I just wanted to give a possible alternative.

    Arrrrghhhh, don't do this unless your users are techies familiar with this usage. Otherwise they'll think you mean the *normal* everyday usage of "client" and will get very confused. "Hi Brian, this is Jim from BankCorp. I'm just calling because my auditing software advised me to check my client is connected before proceeding. I trust you're not having any internet access problems?"

    No. "Client" sounds much more like the software than the hardware. If you tell me to restart my client, I'm going to close the software and open it again, not reboot my computer/phone/tablet/whatever.

  • “Device” is shorthand for “[computing] device.” You don’t have to use the shorthand:

    “Please restart your computing device.”

    “This application is not compatible with your computing device.”

    I might mention that if I saw the term `computing device` instead of `device` in an application, it'd bug the hell out of me.

    @cybermonkey it's like all of those awful CSI shows that throw in more verbose terminology so they sound more technical.

  • Electronic Device

    The term 'electronic device' is an overarching term which includes everything which has a piece of electronics to build some kind of intelligence. Electronic device includes washing machines, printers, speakers, 3D printers, quadcopter etc.

    Smart glasses, smart watches, smart socks etc are wearable electronic devices. Phones, tablets etc are handheld/portable electronic devices.

    In usage: Please restart your electronic device

    And erroneous in X years when everybody is using photonic devices rather than electronic ones... ;-)

    "electronic device" just sounds too formal and stilted (to me)

  • I just googled for synonyms for device:

    device [n] 1. a thing made or adapted for a particular purpose, especially a piece of mechanical or electronic equipment, e.g. "a measuring device"

    synonyms: implement, gadget, utensil, tool, appliance, piece of equipment, apparatus, piece of apparatus, piece of hardware, instrument, machine, mechanism, contrivance, contraption, invention, convenience, amenity, aid; informal: gizmo, widget, mod con

    Out of all of those, I like gadget and possibly even gizmo if you were writing in an informal style. The trouble is, their meaning isn't necessarily restricted to laptop / mobile / tablet / desktop PC either.

    If writing in a formal style, I suppose we are stuck with device, but as you said, it isn't a good catch-all term. Then there is apparatus - which might work.

    Please restart your computational apparatus!

    @LarsH Please _powercycle_ your computational apparatus!

    Please force an unexpected reboot of your computational apparatus!

    you see, it has a steampunky charm all of its own. I think we should call everything an engine. "Please restart your Calculating Engine".

  • The two answers that any geek would instantly endorse (but no one else would) are box (and it's plural boxen) and endpoint.

    Box speaks to the abstract nature of any machine which is turing complete, whereas endpoint speaks of the nature of network connections. Neither connotation would necessarily impinge on the understanding of the typical user.

    the current best practice is to follow Simon White's advice and use device for the reasons he gives.

    Gadget is also limited in that it tends to speak to single purpose constructs with a physical interface, namely everything in your list except computers (desktop, laptop or server), phones and tablets. Machine is limited in the opposite way, it speaks to serious computers and is often thought of as similar to box (although less geeky) and again tends to exclude phones and tablets.

    This disconnect that you are seeing between the language and the technology is because the technology is changing faster than the language. In the long term we need a new word.

    boxen? wtf? please just call them devices.

    Yes, box. But this is User Experience, not Geek Experience.

    Wasn't Boxen a fictional country dreamed up by CS Lewis as a child?

    boxen... ha ha. That is just trying to mimic the word "ox" and its plural, "oxen". English clearly has an established plural word for "box", which is "boxes", and that's the term I've actually encountered more often. The term "boxen" may be appreciated by a certain crowd, though may be less quickly grasped. @Theraot As a person who can identify with "geek" culture, I object to the implication that I am never a user.

    @Theraot Geeks are users too!

    @DerFlatulator User don't imply geek.

    @Theraot No, but Geek heavily implies user.

    @DerFlatulator Why are we arguing this? Is the question intended only for geeks? By narrowing it to geeks you are providing a poor experience to rest of the users.

    @Theraot I agree. Perhaps my jest was misinterpreted. Though, I do think software that treats expert users as incompetent is bad design. But that's hardly an issue here.

    People refer to anything smaller than a desktop computer as a "box"?

    @DavidRicherby, No, If anything it would be biased to the larger machines, like 'a Cray box' or 'three UNIX boxen in a replication cluster' but there is lots of mention of 'Windows boxes' (less geeky crowd) and 'DOS boxes'. I have even seen reference to a 'CP/M box' (8 bit operating system, I have seen graphing calculators with more computing power), but I have not yet seen anyone refer to a handheld device as a box (I don't know why).

    @hildred So, what you're saying is that "box" doesn't answer the question.

    @DavidRicherby, what I am say is that there is no better answer than device, and box although in second place leaves much to be desired mostly due to small community though not scope.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM