What Is a Mobile Operating System?

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

Three people hold and use smartphones
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Every computer has an operating system (OS) installed on it. Windows, OS X, macOS, Unix, and Linux are traditional operating systems. Even if your computer is a laptop — and therefore mobile — it still runs one of these traditional operating systems. However, this distinction is becoming blurred as the capabilities of tablets begin to resemble those of laptop computers.

Mobile operating systems are those that are designed specifically to power smartphones, tablets, and wearables, the mobile devices we take with us wherever we go. The top popular mobile operating systems are Android and iOS, but others include BlackBerry OS, webOS, and watchOS. 

What Does a Mobile Operating System Do?

When you first start up a mobile device, you typically see a screen of icons or tiles. They are placed there by the operating system. Without an OS, the device wouldn't even start.

The mobile operating system is a set of data and programs that runs on a mobile device. It manages the hardware and makes it possible for smartphones, tablets, and wearables to run apps.

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

Most operating systems are not interchangeable among devices. If you have an Apple iOS phone, you can't load the Android OS on it and vice versa.

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 your mobile devices upgraded to the most current version of their operating systems.