mobile operating system

How does a mobile OS work?

In This Article, you’ll be introduced to how a mobile operating system (OS) works.

The most fundamental software for any mobile device is its OS. An OS is designed to coordinate communications that occur between the hardware and apps of mobile devices. Popular platforms such as Android and iOS provide a wide range of applications in addition to the built-in OS.

Mobile operating systems

A mobile OS typically starts up when a device powers on, displaying different application icons and user interface (UI) elements to users. The overall experience of the application and swiping or tapping is managed by the mobile OS.

Mobile Operating system

The function of mobile operating systems

The major function of mobile operating systems is to allow smartphones, tablets, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other handheld devices to run applications. The OS provides a channel with which applications can access device resources such as the processor, memory, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more. Most of the mobile operating systems in the market are based on open (Android) or closed source (iOS) software.

Popular mobile operating systems

Two of the most popular mobile operating systems are Android and iOS.


Android is a mobile OS that was released in 2008. You’ll likely find that it is the base OS of most phones and tablets worldwide.

Android OS is based on a modified version of the Linux kernel, which is the foundation of the Linux computer OS and other open-source software. This is software that anyone can use or modify. The Android OS is built primarily for smartphones, Chromebook, Android TV, Android Auto, as well as wearables such as smartwatches.

Android gives users a multitouch experience, which implies that all user input is via touch gesturing. Through several actions such as swiping, pulling and tapping, users can seamlessly interact with the screen. With built-in sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers, Android devices allow users to switch between the orientations of applications when tilting the devices.


iOS is Apple’s proprietary OS that runs on the iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices. iOS gives users a multitouch feel, meaning that all user input is via touch gesturing. Similar to Android, through several actions such as swiping, pulling and tapping, users can seamlessly interact with the screen. With built-in sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers, Apple devices allow users to switch between the orientations of applications when tilting the devices.

With the rise in popularity of iOS, developers now have more controls and access to its features. After the release of iPhone 2.0, a software development kit (SDK) was introduced. This is a set of tools that allows developers to build apps for the OS. Due to huge improvements with iPhone OS 3.0, developers were then given more power with core location and push notifications. Finally, multitasking was introduced in iOS 4.0.

Android platforms – Chromebook, Android TV, Android Auto and Wear OS

You learned that Google’s Android platform has become one of the most preferred operating systems (OS) around the world. Although this open-source OS has conveniently powered millions of mobile devices and counting, it is not restricted to just phones and tablets. In fact, its openness has allowed it to power other devices too, including laptops, TVs, smartwatches and even cars! In this reading, you will explore how Android is used to power some of these devices.

Android platforms


Chromebooks are portable laptops that have support for running Android apps, which gives them more features beyond that of a conventional laptop in the market. Notably, Chromebooks operate on Google’s ChromeOS. 

Building apps for this type of OS is not difficult. Imagine, for example, that you want to deploy an existing app designed for phones and tablets on ChromeOS. There are ways that you can tailor your experience towards this laptop and use convertible form factors so that you do not necessarily need to build the app from scratch.

HP Chromebook 11a

  • MediaTek MT8183 Processor 

HP Chromebook 14a

  • Intel Celeron N4500

Android TV

Android TV is designed to bring the mobile experience you enjoy on your smartphone right to your TV.

Whilst it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to take calls via your TV or read through emails, it’s more about making your TV smart and creating the ease of navigating through your favorite apps, accessing entertainment and more. 

The voice control feature of the TV allows you to have complete control over your devices such as your Android phone or WearOS watch.

Android Auto

Every year, car manufacturers roll out new cars with improved features. This is because, once a car model has been launched, it becomes difficult for manufacturers to keep up with future improvements in navigation and entertainment systems. As a result, drivers are likely to use their phones instead.

To solve this problem, Google developed a technology powered by Android, called Android Auto. It allows you to connect your phone to your car display. In turn, it automatically shows your apps on your car display and makes it possible for you to get driving directions and  navigate seamlessly. 

Android Auto is made to help you stay focused on the road. Just plug in and go!


WearOS is Google’s Android OS that is specifically designed to power smartwatches and other wearables.

In the same way apps for Android phones and TV are downloaded from Google Play Store, apps on WearOS are now downloaded from the Play Store directly from your smartwatch. The early release of WearOS allowed watch owners to install WearOS apps through their mobile phones.

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