Mobile Operating Systems


Mobile Platforms; Operating Systems


Mobile operating systems (OSs) are installed on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and portable media players. Mobile OSs differ from ordinary computer OSs in that they must manage cellular connections and are configured to support touch screens and simplified input methods. Mobile OSs tend to have sophisticated power management features as well, since they are usually not connected to a power source during use.


The mobile computing market is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the technology field. Its growing popularity began in the late 1990s with the release of the Palm Pilot 1000, a personal digital assistant (PDA). The Pilot 1000 introduced Palm OS, an early mobile operating system (OS). The Palm OS was later extended to smartphones. Smartphones combined the features of PDAs, personal computers (PCs), and cell phones. Prior to smartphones, many people had cell phones but their functionality was extremely limited, and many people owned both a PDA and cell phone. The Ericsson R380, released in 2000, was the first cell phone marketed as a smartphone. The Ericsson R380 ran on Symbian. Symbian was the dominant mobile OS in the early smartphone market.

The arrival of the iPhone in 2007 changed this. The sleek, simple design of Apple's mobile OS, called iOS, gave the device an intuitive user interface. In addition to the iOS, the iPhone has a baseband processor that runs a real-time operating system (RTOS). All smartphones have an RTOS in addition to the manufacturer's mobile OS. In a smartphone, the RTOS communicates with the cellular network, enabling the phone to exchange data with the network. Despite the success of the iPhone, some felt that Apple devices and its App Store were too locked down. Apple does not allow users to make certain changes to the iOS or to install apps from unofficial sources. In response, a community of iPhone hackers began releasing software that could be used to jailbreak Apple devices. Jailbreaking removes some of the restrictions that are built into the

Operating systems on mobile devices have multiple limitations; however, the data input hardware and software can vary greatly, even within one device. One requirement of a good mobile operating system.

Operating systems on mobile devices have multiple limitations; however, the data input hardware and software can vary greatly, even within one device. One requirement of a good mobile operating system is that it be able to efficiently respond to a variety of data input methods.
EBSCO illustration.

Google released a mobile OS called Android in 2008. Unlike Apple's iOS, Android's source code is open source. Open-source software is created using publicly available source code. The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) develops modified versions of the Android OS using the open-source code. Android's status as an open system means there is no need to jailbreak. Android quickly became the dominant OS worldwide. However, Apple's iOS accounts for slightly more than half of mobile OS market in the United States and Canada.


Mobile OSs share many similarities with desktop and laptop OSs. However, mobile OSs are more closely integrated with touch-screen technology. Mobile OSs also typically feature Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, global positioning system (GPS) navigation, and speech recognition. Furthermore, many new smartphones are equipped with hardware that supports near-field communication (NFC). NFC allows two devices to exchange information when they are placed close to one another. NFC uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to enable wireless data transfers. A major benefit of NFC is its low power usage, which is particularly critical to mobile devices. Mobile technology such as NFC facilitates numerous business transactions, including mobile payment systems at the point of sale.

Although there remain some significant differences between desktop OSs and mobile OSs, they are rapidly converging. Cloud computing enables users to share and sync data across devices, further narrowing the differences between smartphones and PCs.


Features such as NFC and Bluetooth come with privacy and security concerns. Many of the mobile OS features that make smartphones so convenient also make them vulnerable to access by unauthorized users. For example, hackers have been able to sweep up many users' private information by scanning large crowds for mobile devices with unsecured Bluetooth connections. The ability to capture private data so easily creates major vulnerabilities for identity theft. To combat this threat, mobile OSs have incorporated various forms of security to help make sure that the private data they contain can only be accessed by an authorized user. For example, Apple has integrated fingerprint recognition into its iOS and newer versions of the iPhone.

Both Android and iOS now include features that help a user to locate and recover a mobile device that has been lost or stolen. Mobile owners can go online to geographically locate the device using its GPS data. The owner can also remotely lock the device to prevent its use by anyone else. It can even cause the device to emit a loud alarm to alert those nearby to its presence.


Mobile OSs and the apps that run on them have revolutionized the way in which people conduct their daily lives. Thanks to mobile OSs, users can track personal health data, transfer funds, connect with social media, receive GPS and weather data, and even produce and edit photo and audiovisual files, among other activities. As the popularity of mobile devices (and, by extension, mobile OSs) has increased, many have questioned the future of the PC. For now, PCs and desktop OSs continue to dominant the business sector, however.

—Scott Zimmer, JD

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