Wo Ist Mein Handy? Knowing the German Mobile User

Apparently, whether you say cell phone or smart phone is a giveaway about your age in the US (heavens forbid what clipping the thing to your belt says about you). I’ve been spending a lot of time in Germany recently, so I decided to find out what Germans call their mobile phones. Without a doubt, seemingly regardless of age, they call it a handy.

The origin of the term handy is open to debate, though it has been around for a while. Is it Denglish, a loan word, or even Kiezdeutsch? Stephen Fry certainly likes to get a good laugh out of it!

Anyhoo, does it matter what these things are called? Not from from a device usage perspective, though when localizing any message about it you really do need to speak the language of the user, so yes on that score.

For mobile app development though, addressing such local user experience is vital. This goes beyond language. Researching the app’s context of use and taking into account the end users and other stakeholders and their environment is required.

For example, all very well that most German workers are now contactable out of hours on mobile, but there might be labor agreements to be respected about doing so. At Volkswagen‘s six German manufacturing plants, for example, contacting employees out of hours on their BlackBerry devices is no more.

Similarly, any mobile app in Germany that shows comparative employee data and performance cannot be rolled out in a company without agreements with the local works council, the Betriebsrat, and other data protection and privacy requirements may also apply.

In all, the message is clear for mobile apps developers and localizers: know your market!

You may have other insights into handy and the German usage of mobile devices and apps. If so, find the comments.

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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