What is a Mobile Operating System? - Features & Types

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Are you Team iOS or Team Android? In this lesson, we'll explain the basic of mobile operating systems, break down the most popular types and take a look at a few of their most important features.

Picking a Side

If you've ever owned a smartphone, you've likely heard - or even been a part of - the debate about which phone is best. Apple? Android? Something else?

Most of the smartphone debate revolves around each phone
smartphone, mobile operating system, apple, android

It seems like everyone has an opinion in the great 'who-makes-the-best-smartphone' debate. At the heart of this humorous argument, however, isn't the phone itself, but rather the operating systems that powers everything else. The interesting part is that operating system are mostly invisible; they're just the platform upon which everything else runs. Think about the computer you're using to access this lesson. Something has to hold all of your programs and features together, right? That's your computer's operating system. Let's take a closer look at what its mobile counterpart entails.

What is a Mobile Operating System?

Most people don't go to their local wireless store and ask for a particular operating system. They ask for an iPhone, an Android, a Windows phone or a handful of other options. But secretly, it's the operating system that most people prefer. They like how one type handles versus another.

A mobile operating system, sometimes called a mobile OS for short, is an operating system that runs only on mobile devices. Consider it the backbone of all of your favorite applications and programs. It's basically the system on top of which everything else sits. It also is the basis for all of your settings, such as how you connect to the internet, the way you text and how you keep your calendar appointments.

In case it's not already clear, mobile operating systems vary from device to device. Apple has their own system that they call iOS. Samsung phones, for example, use the Android operating system and even Windows gets into the action with their own phones and Windows OS. You can find a mobile operating system on any of your handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Let's examine the most popular operating systems out there right now.

Types of Mobile Operating Systems


Apple's very own operating system, iOS runs the company's iPod, iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch devices. It is only available on Apple products and responds to commands from the user's fingertips. iOS features iTunes for music and the App Store for everything else. One of the benefits of the Apple operating system is its built-in video chatting and Apple Music capabilities.


Android's OS is owned by Google and is considered open-source to Apple's closed system. With an open-source system, software developers can build applications and programs until their heart's content and users reap the benefits of tons of free software.

The Android platform offers enhanced customization options.
android, operating system, samsung, mobile

Most Android lovers cite the operating system's openness, which leads to more personalization options, as the reason they're hardcore devotees.


Microsoft is no stranger to computer operating systems, but is a relative newcomer to mobile OS. Its latest version uses the tiled layout common to its most recent computer OS. These tiles can be rearranged and moved to the user's preferences.

BlackBerry OS

A lesser known, but still used OS is the one designed for BlackBerry devices, common among business users. The BlackBerry operating system is well-liked for its enhanced security and safety measures. It was the phone of choice for former President Barack Obama! BlackBerry has been far more successful with an operating system that requires a trackball (like a computer mouse) and a physical keyboard than a touch screen device like the iPhone.

Mobile OS Features

Regardless of which side you take in the great smartphone debate, all operating systems should have a few important features. While the look and feel of these might differ, the functionality shouldn't.

1. User-friendly design: Let's face it, we just want our mobile phones to work flawlessly and look good. Any OS should focus on giving users a powerful platform that is eye-catching and easy to use.

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