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What are the Different Types of Mobile Phone Operating Systems?

J.L. Drede
J.L. Drede

There are many different types of mobile phone operating system, and the speed with which the field changes means that the options available at one precise date aren’t necessarily the same choices a consumer will have five or ten years later. In general, though, the mobile space is dominated by two main categories. Brand-specific systems like BlackBerry® OS, Windows Mobile®, and Apple®’s iOS work only on devices made for and owned by the system’s creator, or else on devices that have been specifically authorized to run the system. Open source platforms like Symbian and Linux, on the other hand, tend to be much freer and more flexible.


The Android logo represents Android, which is a popular type of smartphone operating system.
The Android logo represents Android, which is a popular type of smartphone operating system.

The proprietary BlackBerry® OS was one of the first types of mobile phone operating systems, and is the only system that will work on BlackBerry® devices. Though it has adapted to include some media and entertainment features, it is designed primarily for business applications. Messaging, e-mail, and communication tools tend to be this system’s strengths, and it is often described as functional more than personal or appearance-driven.


Apple's Steve Jobs was a major force behind the development of the iPhone.
Apple's Steve Jobs was a major force behind the development of the iPhone.

Apple® also uses a unique operating system, known as iOS, on its devices including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The system was designed and implemented by the company’s former president and chief executive officer, Steve Jobs. It is entirely closed-source, and Apple® acts as the final decision maker when it comes to the sorts of software the platform will and will not support. Most mobile applications, or “apps,” were originally designed for the iOS system, though, and Apple® product owners often have some of the most robust choices when it comes to paid downloads and add-ons.

Windows Mobile®

Apple's iPhone uses the iOS operating system.
Apple's iPhone uses the iOS operating system.

Windows Mobile®, also known as Windows Phone®, is the mobile phone version of Microsoft®'s core operating system. It is easily compatible with many Windows® programs such as Microsoft Office®, and as a result it is a popular choice for businesspeople. Windows Mobile was originally designed for Microsoft®'s line of Pocket PCs before being adapted for use in phones.

BlackBerry phones, which have a reputation of being addictive, run on BlackBerry OS.
BlackBerry phones, which have a reputation of being addictive, run on BlackBerry OS.

The Microsoft® operating system is usually seen as one of the most flexible in the closed-source family simply because it is available on several types of phones. Unlike the BlackBerry® and Apple® software that typically only come installed on phones also made by those brands, Microsoft® sells its Windows® OS to a number of different hardware manufacturers. As such, many brands and styles of phone run it.

Other Proprietary Models

While BlackBerry®, Apple®, and Microsoft® are widely regarded as industry leaders in the mobile space, they are by no means the only players. A number of different phones run on other closed, brand-specific systems. Palm®'s webOS, bada® from Samsung®, and Nokia®'s Maemo® are just a few examples. Given the ever-changing nature of the technology industry, even more are bound to show up in time.

Open Source Platforms

An operating system that is based on “open source” software is one that is generally free for anyone to use, change, or modify. The basic model here is one of unhindered innovation. Anyone can develop apps for an OS in this category, and any company can release a phone using it. Linux is one of the most popular open source systems and it is used in a number of mobile settings, perhaps most notably as the base for Google®’s Android® phone.

Symbian is another example. Nokia® brand phones were some of the first to adapt and make wide use of Symbian technology, but phones by Sharp®, Fujitsu®, Sony® and other companies have the operating system installed as well. Though it is used by companies around the world, it is not traditionally considered to be particularly advanced. As such it is often best suited for more “standard” devices, which is to say, not full-featured smart phones.

Industry Changes

Mobile development seems to change every few years, if not every few months. The technology fueling these shifts and evolutions necessarily adapts, as well. The general distinctions of “brand based” and “open source” are likely to remain the primary drivers of operating systems going forward, but what those systems will look like, how they will work, and what they will be capable of as time goes by remains to be seen.

Discussion Comments


Among the different mobile OS platforms on the market, I always stick to Android. I own an xperia phone and it works well for me. Android is just ruling the world of mobile OS platforms with enormous and distinct features in it. It can be mentioned here that Android is holding the top position in US market share.


I worked with people for about the past year or so who have Android, iPhones and Windows phones. I didn't have a smart phone at that time, but I was able to mess around with their phones for a while.

When it came time to get my first smart phone a few months ago, the place was packed and my wait time was about an hour, so it gave me the opportunity to mess with the phones one last time.

I went with the Windows phone and have not regretted the decision. This phone has large tiles on the home screen which are sharp looking, easy to navigate and because I am an XBOX gamer, my xbox stats are right on the start screen. The phone is amazing and yes, there are not as many apps but let's be real: how many apps are really that useful? About 70 percent of the apps out there are useless to me, so that isn't even an issue, but it comes down to personal preference.


My brother works for Microsoft, and the company provided him with a phone that has Windows Mobile on it. It is a pretty cool phone but I don't think I would ever go out and buy this system for myself.

I like using an operating system that is more widely used. He is the only person I know that has a phone with this type of operating system.


I have had a BlackBerry phone for several years and really love it. I have looked at other systems, but stick with the BlackBerry OS. I think one of the biggest reasons is because I am so used to it and I don't have to learn something new. I am not that great at learning new technology, so it is a lot easier for me to keep using the system that is working for me.


My husband got a smart phone before I did, and he went with an Android phone. I fooled around with it when he brought it home but didn't feel like it was very user friendly. He loves it and feels like there is a lot more personalization he can do with apps than he can with an iOS system.

I think it all comes down to personal preference. It seems like most of the employees at the Verizon store recommend the Android system. They sell both Android and Apple phones there so it is easy to get some feedback and to compare the two of them.

The first time I ever used an iOS system I loved it. I felt like it was much easier to understand and figure out. Every system has their advantages and disadvantages and you just have to decide which features are most important to you.


I just got my first smart phone a few months ago and absolutely love it. I wish I had gotten one a long time ago. I had a hard time deciding between an Android or a iOS operating system. Because this was my first smart phone I really didn't have anything to compare it to, and probably would have been happy with any of them.

I decided to go with an Apple iOS because I already had an iPad and figured the learning curve would be easier. I also liked the idea that I could sync everything between my tablet and phone.


@ Highlighter- I heard that there are a couple of solid builds so you can port Android OS to your phone. I personally find that Android is the lightest and best operating system on the market anyway, so you should look into it. The download is free; you just have to search the web for it. It's always a bummer when you were promised something just for a sale, then find out it was never true.


I have an HTC HD2 that I bought with the hopes of upgrading to windows mobile 7 when it is released later this year. The phone is amazing, but the OS (WinMo 6.5) is a little buggy. I was frustrated to hear recently that Microsoft will not be supporting the HD2 on WinMo 7 when it is released. I almost feel like going back to the store where I got my phone and telling them I want a replacement since I was sold on the phone because it would get a free upgrade to WinMo 7.

I find it ridiculous that Microsoft is not supporting the phone. The phone is fully capable, the only thing I heard was they dropped it from being supported because of its button configuration. My understanding was that HTC designed the phone to the specs for WinMo 7 and Microsoft changed the specs after the phone was released. Frustrating! That's why Microsoft is behind in the phone game.

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