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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 :(

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I really hope the day won't come that I can't put on my socks because they first need a firmware update. – Nzall Feb 4 at 16:34
i don't see anything wrong with "device" – sgroves Feb 4 at 19:12
Alternatively, "Please restart your mobile device or PC" – moonman239 Feb 4 at 23:29
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 Feb 5 at 0:59
Microsoft themselves use the term "device" for, well, Windows 10 devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, Xbox, Surface Hub, Microsoft Band, HoloLens...). – BoltClock Feb 5 at 8:43

19 Answers 19

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.

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@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.) – neminem Feb 4 at 23:36
I don't think laptops are "mobile" nowadays (and wouldn't pay any attention to what english.SE says). – djechlin Feb 5 at 0:27
@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... Feb 8 at 12:00
@J...In the earliest days (Osborne 1) the term "luggable" was quickly adopted. – TripeHound Feb 8 at 12:26
I think "mobile" vs. "portable" comes to differentiate between "can be used while moving" vs. "can be moved anywhere to be used while stationary". – Rotem Feb 8 at 12:42

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.

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+1 for just “restart,” on the grounds of removing unnecessary detail from the statement. – BRPocock Feb 4 at 18:43
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. – joshcomley Feb 4 at 21:40
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. – Steve Jessop Feb 5 at 2:03

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
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+1 I think "this device" removes mostly all confusion possible (with tech illiterate people maybe going and restarting their computer instead of their fridge). – DaboRoss Feb 7 at 22:22

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.

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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 Feb 8 at 14:14
@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. – Goran Radulovic Feb 8 at 15:11
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. – user568458 Feb 8 at 15:18
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. – Goran Radulovic Feb 8 at 15:23
You detect device features, not devices types. – user568458 Feb 8 at 17:01

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.

enter image description here

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.

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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?" – user568458 Feb 5 at 13:54
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. – David Richerby Feb 6 at 7:42

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)
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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. – JordiVilaplana Feb 5 at 8:46
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. – slebetman Feb 5 at 10:09
@slebetman: "No camera available", "You need a camera to use this app", "This game requires a motion sensor to play", "No battery status available", ... – R.. Feb 5 at 14:27
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.) – R.. Feb 5 at 14:29
@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 Feb 8 at 14:20

“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.”

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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 Feb 4 at 18:51
@cybermonkey it's like all of those awful CSI shows that throw in more verbose terminology so they sound more technical. – DasBeasto Feb 4 at 20:45

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

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And erroneous in X years when everybody is using photonic devices rather than electronic ones... ;-) – R.. Feb 5 at 7:02
"electronic device" just sounds too formal and stilted (to me) – Yvonne Aburrow Feb 5 at 14:20

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.

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Please restart your computational apparatus! – LarsH Feb 4 at 22:21
@LarsH Please powercycle your computational apparatus! – Blacklight Shining Feb 5 at 3:49
Please force an unexpected reboot of your computational apparatus! – user568458 Feb 5 at 13:58
you see, it has a steampunky charm all of its own. I think we should call everything an engine. "Please restart your Calculating Engine". – Yvonne Aburrow Feb 5 at 14:18

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.

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boxen? wtf? please just call them devices. – sgroves Feb 4 at 19:12
Yes, box. But this is User Experience, not Geek Experience. – Theraot Feb 5 at 8:52
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. – TOOGAM Feb 5 at 15:05
@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 Feb 6 at 0:36
@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 Feb 6 at 14:19

Aside from Device, you may want to consider System and Machine.

As in: Please restart your System or Please restart your Machine.

The detail with System and Machine is that they are too broad. Also Machine may have the connotation of mechanical machine. Regardless, they are inclusive terms.

For an antecedent consider the use of machine in "virtual machine".

Another alternative is to use the word Computer. Sadly Computer has the connotation of desktop computer. Regardless tablets and similar mobile devices are computers.

Note: Cellphones are not a computer, in the sense that for a device to be a cellphone it is not require for it to be a comptuer (consider first and second generation cellphone). Yet, smartphones are computers.

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Although I do like the word "devices" (as a trendy term, often used when throwing around the phrase "Internet of Things"), I'm also aware of some other terms used by some official specifications.

When discussion network communications, the term node often has a more specific meaning.

For example, when discussing IP networks, standards indicates that a node, or a (computer) system, is either a router or a host. (The definition of a host is any node which is not a router.) Basically, a host in a TCP connection is something that is a source and/or destination of an IP packet.

Wikipedia's article for "Node" (networking) says that a node of a network can refer to various things, including infrastructure such as a switch. Some devices "are not considered to be Internet nodes or hosts, but as physical network nodes and LAN nodes." (The reason they would not be considered Internet nodes, according to the Internet protocol, is because they don't have an IP address. This distinction would be true of a "dumb switch" with no IP address. A "managed switch", which does have an IP address, would be an Internet node.)

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Again, nice if your audience is geeks, not nice for general users who probably don't even know routers exist, much less what they are. – Yvonne Aburrow Feb 5 at 14:21
@YvonneAburrow Saying "Again" acts like you're being repetitious, but I don't see the prior reference. And why do you determine that a "general user" never heard of a router? Seems like many households have bought a "router" (although many people may not have mastered "packet routing" concepts, they might simply understand that the "DSL/Cable modem thingie that provides Wi-Fi is called a "router"). Based on your other comments (e.g., "too formal"), it seems you're assuming a particular audience when the question is rather general. – TOOGAM Feb 5 at 14:56

The fact is "device" sucks as a word, but for better or worse it is the best word here.

It is totally unambiguous and literally universally used for this situation (at time of writing).

The key insight is that sometimes, as writers, we have to use "words that suck".

Regarding new words which come in to usage, some suck and are annoying. Some are really cool. Unfortunately it's just how it is.

The facts are

  1. it is totally unambiguous

  2. indeed, quite literally, it is the only word used in this situation and the word always used in this situation - you can't really fight it.

In a sense, I interpret your question like this:

"As a writer, I think 'devices' sucks. It's overused, corny, and like being in to disco in the 2000s. It's as horrible a term of today that's around, it annoys me as much as disintermediate or synergy. Is there an alternative to this cheesy word??"

Tragically, the answer is just

No :/

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Unless the context strongly suggests otherwise, a device for me would be a specific part or attachment (such as keyboard,mouse, touchscreen, hard disk, USB stick, webcam - at least anything that can come with what is called a device driver for a reason) of my system. So is system possibly a better word? Smartphone users may not consider their toy a system; and people might confuse this with operating system. But wait, your example sentences

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

match this perfectly well: In the first example, it is probably not necessary to restart the full hardware (cold reboot), but rather a restart of the operating system (or maybe even only of the shell?) should suffice. In the second example, I can imagine that the application is not compatible with one operating system, but is with another operating system on the very same machine.

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I understand you dont want to use the word devide for all.. and we would have to create a new word... 'Device' is the closest and more commonly used term for all such things.. but lets coin a new word, all things have humble beginnings. Its smart and its a device. Lets call this "SmartDee/Smudee".. Or just SMUD.

I like Smud actually...

Any computer, tablet, smart watch, smart glasses, smart dish washer .. is a Smud :-)

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The word medium comes to mind, even though some may consider it somewhat too vague since it can be interpreted as either an electronic device or the way you handle your device (i.e. radiowaves, voice input etc).

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How about "CPU" or simply "Processor"?

"Please restart your processor" makes sense to me whether applied to a small wearable or a large desktop machine.

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Endpoint is another term. This usually appears on IoT articles or other discussions involving swarms of devices.

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I think the word you are looking for is environment. It encompasses both hardware and software and its OS agnostic. Does not overly define any particular characteristic that might leave other items out.

Please restart your environment.

This application is not compatible with your environment.

Your Surface Pro 4 running Windows 10 is an environment is an unsupported environment. Try downgrading your OS to Windows 7.

Your Iphone 4s with ios 7 is a supported environment, but not your Iphone 4 with ios 7.

Best, and sorry about the earlier sarcasm....

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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review – Mayo Feb 8 at 15:40
I hope my new answer gets bumped up a bit or not ignored by OP. As I think this is the closest so far. – Norbert Norris Feb 8 at 19:47

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