Mobile Operating System

What Does Mobile Operating System Mean?

A mobile operating system (mobile OS) is an OS built exclusively for a mobile device, such as a smartphone, personal digital assistant (PDA), tablet or other embedded mobile OS. Popular mobile operating systems are Android, Symbian, iOS, BlackBerry OS and Windows Mobile.


A mobile OS is responsible for identifying and defining mobile device features and functions, including keypads, application synchronization, email, thumbwheel and text messaging. A mobile OS is similar to a standard OS (like Windows, Linux, and Mac) but is relatively simple and light and primarily manages the wireless variations of local and broadband connections, mobile multimedia and various input methods.

Techopedia Explains Mobile Operating System

To adapt to inherent mobile device environments, a mobile OS runs on limited resources emphasizing communication, such as random access memory (RAM), storage and central processing unit (CPU) speed.

Below is an example describing how text messaging works on a mobile OS:

  • A mobile application allows a user to read and write a message for delivery to a mobile device through radio signal waves. After the device receives the message signals, the device notifies the mobile OS, which stores the message and notifies the messaging application.
  • The user reads the message and responds with a reply message.
  • The OS uses the hardware antennae to transmit the message.

With the exception of Android (developed by Google), mobile operating systems are developed by different mobile phone manufacturers, including Nokia (Symbian, MeeGo, Maemo); Apple (Apple iOS); Research In Motion (RIM) (BlackBerry OS); Microsoft (Windows Mobile, Windows Phone) and Samsung (Palm WebOS and bada). Android, LiMo, Maemo, Openmoko and Qt Extended (Qtopia) are based on the Linux open-source OS.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.