Digital Signature: Sign documents with your smartphone?

digital signature
Sign documents with your smartphone?

Signing a document with a mobile phone is child’s play – but it has legal pitfalls.

© Antonio Guillem/

It is often more practical to digitally sign documents than to wait for the paper version. This is how it works with the mobile phone signature.

As smartphones become more powerful every year, more and more people work with them. This includes signing one or the other document. This works in different ways, Apple devices can do it from the factory, Android phones need app help. This is how the digital signature ends up under contracts, applications and Co.

Legal Differences

Not all documents stand up to the law with a digital signature. In the case of letters of termination for rental and employment relationships as well as guarantees, only a so-called “qualified digital signature” (QES) replaces the “written signature” on the original document. QES signed documents are legally binding in all member states of the European Union since 2016, when the EU the eIDAS regulation said goodbye

In order to be able to create a QES, users must confirm their identity. There are online procedures and physical options for this, such as identifying yourself at Deutsche Post. To protect it from subsequent changes, it is stored on a smart card or a server. The EU provides an overview available that certifies trustworthy companies – only those should be contacted by people who need a QES.

Signature function only standard on Apple devices

To sign an application or the purchase contract for a mobile phone, however, a freehand signature swung directly onto the smartphone display is sufficient. To do this, the document must be saved as a PDF on the mobile phone, for example by downloading an e-mail attachment.

Apple users have it particularly easy, the iOS devices are factory-equipped with a signature function. To do this, click on the pen symbol in the upper right corner of a PDF and then select an already stored signature or create a new one. The whole thing is very easy to use and can be shared and managed across all Apple devices thanks to the cloud solution.

Diverse alternatives on all platforms

Anyone who owns an Android cell phone, on the other hand, has to decide on one or more apps. The most obvious solution for many users is Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. The most widely used PDF viewer has an integrated sign function. To do this, go to the document you want to sign and then tap the pencil icon in the bottom right corner. The stylized fountain pen leads to the signature options. On top of that, it is possible to photograph his signature or, if it is a file on the cell phone, to import it.

The Adobe solution also works on iOS devices, and numerous other solutions are also available for both operating systems. The most downloaded ones are “PDF Extra – Scan, Edit & Sign” (Android/iOS), “Adobe Fill & Sign” (Android/iOS), “DocuSign” (Android/iOS) and “Signeasy” (Android/iOS). These applications are very similar and do what they are supposed to. Because they are all free on top of that, it is worth taking a closer look for users to find their personal favourites.


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