Mobile-Device Email Signatures: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know

Overthinking and overexplaining the variations people use on "Sent from my iPhone"

Sent from a toaster (Alexis Madrigal).

Here is a list of devices from which you, dear readers, claim to send emails: Commodore 64, carrier pigeon, homing pigeon, courier pigeon, fountain pen, rotary phone, hammer and chisel, tin can via the string network, typewriter, abacus, Apollo Guidance Computer, Atari, car phone, shoe phone, 1984 Samsung car phone, difference engine, Game Boy Color, IBM Selectric, pocket rocket, Remington SL3, souped-up TV remote, steam powered digital telegraph, TI-83 Plus, TI-89, toaster, UNIVAC, Coleco Adam computer, Moleskine notebook, Pony Express, Skynet, space age phonograph, and smoke signals.

Phew. That's a lot of retro. And a lot of Wikipediaing for the uninitiated.

This data derives, of course, from our request yesterday that you send in your favorite edits to that line of text that phone companies so gauchely added to mobile emails: "Sent from my iPhone," etc.

I know I promised you a best-of list, BUT...

Instead, I wrote you an essay breaking down the data! (Bum trade, sorry.) What really caught my attention is that people saw a basic grammar to iPhone signature witticisms. You put a single line of text in front of millions of people, and they start to -- en masse -- decompose it into playable components. Here's the general form of the message (explicit stuff is in brackets):

Apology/Location/Status [Communication] from [My] [Device]

The surface content of the message is that you're receiving a message from a device. But the type of device conveys an implicit status message, while the presence of the line provides an in-advance apology for any errors as well as an indication you're mobile out there in the world (or at least not at your computer).

Using this general form, we can create a loose taxonomy of the signature edits. (Yes, I know I'm taking this too seriously. Sent from a nerd in data heaven. Expect overthinking.)

Sent from a rotary phone (Alexis Madrigal).

Look, you can check for yourself (I've scrubbed the names and backstories):

Most people only played with one of the elements. Obviously, the list at the top of this post shows people toying with the idea of the device itself, which (unintentionally or not) also changes the status message that gets delivered. They get all the other benefits of the line, but get to associate with a device that's "more them."

Others liked to highlight the device's deviceness, as in Nathan Tsoi's "I typed my text above on a smallish quadrilateral of aluminosilicate glass, a task that would have been unimaginable to most people even a few short years ago. Mistakes are inevitable" or Marcus Himmel's "Sent from a toy that has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969 when it sent two astronauts to the moon" or Don D in Peoria's, "Sent from the first great invention of the 21st century."

The other popular way to personalize the signature was to play with the implicit apology. These come in two flavors. The first is to actually apologize with words:

  • Typed with big thumbs on small phone
  • iPhone. iTypos. iApologize.
  • Sorry to be terse: my phone has little keys and I have fat fingers.
  • Sent from my iPhone. Forgive the brevity, the typos and the lack of nuance.
  • Sent from my iPhone; spelling might vary because I have fat fingers.
  • Sent from my iPhone, please embrace the typos
  • Sent from mobile device, all error self inflicted
  • Sent from a not-so-smartphone. Anything written herein that you find misspelled, objectionable, incoherent, dim-witted, plagiarized or legally actionable should be attributed to the phone manufacturer, Chinese hackers, or PRISM.
  • sent from a magical device that lives in my pocket. please excuse typos.
  • Does this email sound weird? That's because it's sent from my iPhone.
  • *brevity and errors aided and abetted by my beloved iPhone*

The second is to intentionally misspell the signature so that you know that I know that you know that I'm sending an implicit apology.

  • Sent from iPhone; kindly excuse tyops.
  • my iPhern. Sory fer eny typeos.
  • My iPhone can't spell for carp.
  • Snet fmor ym iPnohe, lulz

Another easy play was to invert the possession of the device: "Sent from your iPhone." Or the more florid: "Sent from your iPhone. Yes, that's right. Check your back pocket; I took your wallet, too." Or even more specific: "Sent from the iPhone you left in Starbucks."

Sent from a typewriter (Alexis Madrigal).

Emily Hopkins sent in the signature, "I have a standing desk." I puzzled over that one for a while, but then I read the backstory. It's a play on the status part of the message, "People with standing desks are always telling you they have a standing desk, too," she wrote, "like iPhone emailers telling you they have iPhones. (btw, I myself have a standing desk.)"

Have I told you guys I have a standing desk, too? Well, I do. Sitting kills. OK, anyway.

Godon Speckhard delivered another subtle variation that I sorta love. His signature? "I have an iPhone." Why? "What truly mattered, and the reason I changed my signature, was that I HAVE AN iPHONE!!!!!!" I take those exclamation points to be ironic.

The most common status variation had to do with giving yourself a version of the iPhone that does not exist yet. The iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Prototype or even the iPhone 7. Or "Sent from my 16GB Turbo iPad 5. The one with the six-week waiting list." Or from 30 Rock, "Sent from one of my 4 iPads." And finally, playing on the Cult of Mac, "Sent from the my iDol."

And then things start to get a little weird.


Altering the presumed location of the sender generated some strange variations on the theme. Arrom Azam uses "Sent from a hole in the ground," inspired by the Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit, "who was kept, literally, in a hole in the ground for five years. Niklas Holmberg went the opposite direction: "Sent from above," which he recommends for "people who are very tall or actually believe they are God."

We also got, "Sent from an outhouse on Mars," and several other literal potty jokes (e.g. "Sent from my iPhone while pooping." Ah COME ON MAN) as well as some plays on the idea that the sender is right near you (1. "Sent from directly behind you" 2. "Sent from...Look behind you...Boo!").

There were odder variations, too. A physicist suggested, "Sent from one of the impossibly small curved dimensions of spacetime responsible for gravity" and a Star Trek nerd used "Sent from my Holodeck" and a Star Wars fan uses, "Sent from a galaxy far, far away."

I have two favorites in this category. The first from a photographer who was tired of explaining his unavailability: "Sent from my iPhone during a knife fight in a crashing helicopter above the Nicaraguan rainforest. So please excuse any curt responses." And the second from writer David Dobbs, who admits to stealing the dada gem from someone else: "Sent from my horse." Who doesn't like to imagine their friends on horses? (Nice breeches, Dobbs.)

People who wanted to emphasize the communication aspect of the message to the exclusion of all else tended to give interesting, detailed rationales:

  • "Sent by your iDad." ("Sent to my daughter when she emailed me first time from her iPad and highlighted the sign off. I dispensed some fatherly advice about how to change Apple's guerrilla advertising." -- Matthew Stuttard)
  • sent by me ("We have to take responsibility instead of pointing the finger at our mobile device.")
  • "Sent from the bottom of my heart." ("Bursting with emotions. That's me.")
  • "Me. From me to you. Who cares about the source or means." ("object from which we communicate. Did letters or correspondence ever say "sent from a person driving a truck with the steering wheel on the wrong side, who then delivered it to a person to sort and then give to another person who put it into a box. Then it went into another truck with the steering wheel on the wrong side and was placed into your mailbox.")
Sent from an outhouse on Mars

Last, we get to the people who completely broke form. There are the people who deleted the message entirely, of course, usually for variations on Jonny Rodin's reasoning: "It is completely irrelevant what device I'm using to send it, so I've deleted the signature altogether."

Like, what to do with this one? "You look nice today." Its creator, who provided the handle The Festive Archaeologist, notes, "It creeps EVERYONE out. Particularly those you live with." Indeed.

Or this one: "Adrift in the Dirac Sea." What is the Dirac Sea? "The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles with negative energy -- think of it as a sea of email. I'm a science-fiction writer," explains Eileen Gunn.

Or: "A Rich Brain-Child" ("My brain has babies.")

Or: "Email courtesy of my Idea Pipe" ("'Mobile phone' is so dull and doesn't really capture what pocket computers mean. 'Idea Pipe' is a bit more evocative, no?")

Or: "Info mule"

Or: "Sent by a tiny Japanese Bear" (Sadly, we do know what's up with this one: "My eccentric, absolute loon of a friend Lisa. Her phone case is a, well, Japanese bear. Of course since she lived in DC and I was in New York, I didn't know this for months until she visited, demystifying what I thought was simply adorable randomness." I prefer to imagine a tiny Japanese bear tapping out messages.)

And finally: "written in smoke, translated by warlocks, sent from my palms," which BJG simply calls, the "logical recreation of the email process."  That's probably a good place to end the investigation.

Sent from my MacBook Air.