Definition

mobile operating system

Contributor(s): Colin Steele

A mobile operating system (OS) is software that allows smartphones, tablet PCs and other devices to run applications and programs.

A mobile OS typically starts up when a device powers on, presenting a screen with icons or tiles that present information and provide application access. Mobile operating systems also manage cellular and wireless network connectivity, as well as phone access.

Examples of mobile device operating systems include Apple iOS, Google Android, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS, Nokia’s Symbian, Hewlett-Packard’s webOS (formerly Palm OS) and Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS. Some, such as Microsoft’s Windows 8, function as both a traditional desktop OS and a mobile operating system.

Most mobile operating systems are tied to specific hardware, with little flexibility. Users can jailbreak or root some devices, however, which allows them to install another mobile OS or unlock restricted applications.

This was last updated in December 2011

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