What Is a Mobile Operating System?

A mobile OS powers your smartphone, tablet, and smart wearables

Three people hold and use smartphones
Leren Lu / Getty Images

Every computer or mobile device has an operating system (OS) installed on it. Windows, OS X (now macOS), Unix, Linux, Android, and iOS are all operating systems.

Whether it's a laptop, desktop computer, smartphone, tablet, or smart watch, operating systems serve as graphical software overlays for controlling the device's internal hardware. The difference between OS reflect the different needs and purposes of the device. Mobile operating systems like Android and iOS, for example, are specifically designed to power smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

What Does a Mobile Operating System Do?

Most mobile OS present as a graphical display of buttons, icons, windows, and tiles that you can touch or interact with to perform various tasks. This visual architecture is the backbone of the operating system. Without the OS, the device would be a series of command prompts and inscrutable computer code.

The mobile operating system manages the hardware and makes it possible for smartphones, tablets, and wearables to run apps and other programs in a user-friendly way.

A mobile OS also manages mobile multimedia functions, mobile and internet connectivity, touch screen controls, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS navigation, cameras, speech recognition, and more.

Most operating systems are not interchangeable. For example, if you have a Samsung phone, which runs the Android OS, you cannot use it to run Apple iOS, which is the operating system used to run iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.

Upgrades to a Mobile Device

When you talk about upgrading a smartphone or other mobile device, you are really talking about upgrading its operating system. Regular upgrades are generated to improve the device's capabilities and to close security vulnerabilities. It is a good idea to keep all of your mobile devices upgraded to the most current version.

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