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What is a Smartphone Emulator?

John Lister
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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A smartphone emulator is a tool used on a full-size computer to mimic the behavior of a cell phone. Its main purpose is for testing websites to make sure they are compatible with the way mobile devices access the Internet. It can also be used for testing mobile applications.

There are a variety of smartphone technologies which can be emulated on a computer. The most simple is Wireless Access Protocol, or WAP, which is a very basic web browser system found mainly on older or more basic cell phones. This requires web pages to be specially designed, with the network of such pages known as the mobile web.

A smartphone emulator can also be used to show how standard web pages appear on the operating systems used by more advanced devices. These include the iPhone operating system, Windows® Mobile, Google’s Android™, Palm OS® and Symbian. Some emulators will also display how a page will appear on the special mobile editions of browsers such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer®, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera.

There are a range of differences in the way web pages appear on mobile devices as opposed to full-size computers. For example, pages may be automatically resized to fit the smaller screens. If developers do not allow for this, some of their navigation design such as sidebars and menus may not be as effective as they intended. There are also some issues with multimedia content such as the Flash® video system used for sites such as YouTube or in online adverts.

Another use of a smartphone emulator is for testing applications. These are standalone programs designed to be run on cell phones, usually distributed through services such as the iPhone app store, Android™ app store and Windows® Marketplace for Mobile. The emulator will usually be available as part of a software development toolkit, a package of free tools which the company behind a mobile operating system makes available to help ensure independently made applications work properly on the relevant handsets.

The phrase "smartphone emulator" can also refer to applications for smartphones which emulate a particular computer or, more often, a games console, usually from the 1980s or 1990s. These applications then run special files which simulate the original games from that machine. They can work particularly well as modern smartphones often have a computing power equal to or greater than the original computer or console. The small screen on smartphones means emulation arguably works best for games which were originally on portable consoles such as the Nintendo® Game Boy. It’s important to note that using such files could potentially breach copyright, though some users believe it is morally acceptable if the games are no longer commercially available.

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John Lister
By John Lister
John Lister, an experienced freelance writer, excels in crafting compelling copy, web content, articles, and more. With a relevant degree, John brings a keen eye for detail, a strong understanding of content strategy, and an ability to adapt to different writing styles and formats to ensure that his work meets the highest standards.
Discussion Comments
By AlanJ — On Apr 24, 2011

You can get some great emulators for a smartphone, but since I got one without a hardware keyboard, some of the games can be a bit tricky to play on just a touchscreen.

John Lister
John Lister
John Lister, an experienced freelance writer, excels in crafting compelling copy, web content, articles, and more. With...
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