What Is a Mobile Phone Operating System?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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A mobile phone Operating System (OS) is a type of software that performs the basic operations required by a modern phone. The operating system, for example, is essential for basic functions such as text messages, phone calls and accessing the Internet. It also is used for running additional applications, commonly referred to as apps, and interpreting user input. Examples of a mobile phone OS include the Google Android™, the Apple® iOS® and the Microsoft® Windows® Phone OS.

Modern mobile phones are similar in design and function to computers, which is why the devices need sophisticated operating systems. An OS provides the basic functions for the electronic device, such as recognizing input and displaying the user interface on the screen. The operating system also affects how fast the system runs and its reliability.

A mobile phone operating system is essential for a device to perform tasks, such as making phone calls, sending text messages and accessing emails. Advanced operating systems also can run additional programs, commonly known as apps. The type of app that will run on a particular mobile phone is limited by the operating system used on the phone, because most apps are designed specifically for a certain OS.


Aside from performing standard tasks, a mobile phone OS also must be capable of recognizing the various types of input. Operating systems on touch-screen phones, for example, need to be able to recognize and interpret when the user touches the screen. Other examples of input devices include trackballs, full keyboards and even voice input.

Mobile phone operating systems once were designed specifically for a certain model or range of phone. In the late 2000s, however, there are a number of operating systems that are used on many different phones and are able to adapt to the various requirements of mobile devices. The Google Android™ operating system, for example, is thought to power around one-third of mobile phones in 2011 from a variety of brands. This standardization means apps designed for one OS can run on a wide range of phones.

There are a number of other types of mobile phone operating system, but only a few are used on a large number of phones. Symbian OS™, for example, is commonly used on Nokia® phones. Other operating systems include the Microsoft® Windows® Phone OS and the Apple® iOS®, which is only found on Apple® devices.


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Discuss this Article

Post 6

I just bought a blackberry phone, but whenever I call a number from my contact list, it always has a country code of America, but I am in Africa. What can I do?

Also my bluetooth on my Blackberry cannot detect other devices.

Post 5

With suppliers offering phones with 4.0 OS I was wondering if there was a way to identify the difference between a 4.0 OS and a 2.3 OS.

Is there an ID plate somewhere on the phone to check on this?

Post 4

Does anyone here have any suggestions for the best phone operating system for a kids mobile phone?

My son is entering junior high and is starting to get more involved in sports and after school activities. I think it would be nice for him to have a phone that he could use to call home for rides after practice or in emergencies.

I think it would be nice to get a smartphone so that he could download games and other apps. I know a lot of parents could argue against this, but I am confident he is responsible enough not to let it get in the way of school or homework.

I have heard the most about Android and Apple phones. Are these the best? Where do Windows mobile phones fall?

Post 3

@TreeMan - From my experience, I would say it's really up to you what you want to do. Like the article mentions, some apps may only work with one specific operating system, but since it sounds like you are limited in your app use and haven't had any problems yet, you should be fine for a while. Apps you download in the future may cause a problem, though.

While the new download shouldn't hurt anything, I have known people with Blackberries whose apps have stopped working correctly on a new operating system, and they had to reinstall them.

Finally, make sure the operating system is intended for your phone model. If you try to put a new OS on a phone that is not designed to handle it, it can completely overpower the processor. I have known many people that ran into this problem.

Post 2

What happens when a smartphone operating system is upgraded? I just got a new Blackberry phone a few months ago, and now I got a message saying that a new operating system is available.

I don't really do as much with my phone as some people do. I usually just use it to check my emails, send text messages, and sometimes look up information on the internet. I have a few games and other apps, but I don't use them all the time.

The phone seems to work just fine, and I haven't noticed it going slower or anything. Will the new OS improve the performance, or should I just ignore it?

Post 1

Do cell phone operating systems exist on all phones or just smartphones that can connect to the internet and download apps?

The article sounds like all phones would have some type of operating system. I have an older phone that can only connect to the internet and display HTML text. Are there ever new operating system release for these phones that can improve performance, or do new operating systems only come out for smartphones? If there are new versions, where would I be able to find them and download them, and would it even be worth the hassle?

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