Not sure what a smartphone mobile phone operating system is, or why you might need one? Unclear on what mobile operating systems are available and which one is most suitable for you? Read our guide below to find out.
What is a mobile phone operating system?
Long gone are the days when mobile phones were just a device to make phone calls and occasional texts. Now they are handheld computers, where we can send emails, play games, watch the news and make video calls to loved ones. More commonly, these are known as 'smartphones'.
We have operating systems to run our desktop computers and laptops, and smartphones use them too, to introduce advanced functions to a mobile phone that were only available on our computers before.
Functionality is a big selling point for the smartphone - there were more than 400 million smartphone worldwide and it's their operating systems that define what functions they can carry out and how the phone manages its memory.
It is also a platform so developers can create applications or 'apps' (software programs developed for smartphones that can carry out specific functions).
There are hundreds of thousands of apps available and they are constantly being developed - each with their own purpose. For instance, you may download a weather app that tells you the current temperature or chances of rain in your city, a news app or widget that sends the latest headlines straight to your device's homescreen, or a game to simply pass the time.
How do I know what operating system my mobile phone has?
Because operating systems are so integrated with the look, feel and function of a mobile phone, many people base their choice of device around which operating system it uses.
If you have already bought your smartphone, the name and version of its software should be detailed in the settings menu. However, if you are buying a new phone, the operating system can be found the handset's specifications information.
What different kinds of smartphone operating systems are there?
Some are open source software, which means there are no restrictions on what you can download on it, or who can develop its software (there are often a 'community' of developers) - it is entirely customisable, whilst others are restricted in the types of software permitted to run on the device.
Some of the best-known mobile operating systems include:
The Apple iOS multi-touch, multi-tasking operating system is what runs the Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
It responds to the user's touch - allowing you to tap on the screen to open a program, pinch your fingers together to minimise or enlarge an image, or swipe your finger across the screen to change pages.
The Apple iOS is not allowed to be used in third party systems, so you will only be able to use it on products made by Apple. It comes with the Safari web browser for internet use, an iPod application for playing music and Apple's Mail for managing your missives.
You can download more than 500,000 applications currently available on the App Store directly to any device running iOS, be it an iPhone or an iPad. These encompass everything from accessing recipes to playing the guitar or working on your documents on the move.
Android OS is owned by Google and powered by the Linux kernel, which can be found on a wide range of devices.
Android is an open source operating system which allows developers to access unlocked hardware and develop new programs as they wish.
This means unlimited access to any anyone who wants to develop apps for the phone and places very little restriction on its licensing, so users benefit from a tonne of free content.
Android is currently the fastest growing smartphone operating system in the market and is expected to become the dominant platform in a few years due to its tremendous traction with a wide spectrum of users.
Some of the best features of Android include the ability to customise multiple homescreens with useful widgets and apps that give you quicker, easier access to the content and functions you most care about. It also has an excellent capacity for multitasking - with the ability to close programs simply swiping them away.
Last but not least, the Android Market, which is the Android equivalent of the Apple App Store is home to more than 370,000 apps, many of which are completely free.
Microsoft released its latest version of the Windows platform for mobiles in late 2010, which has been redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up with a greater emphasis on the user experience. It is recognisable by its tile-based interface - dubbed Metro - which features removable and interchangeable squares sections on the home screen, each with its own purpose and function.
It also has aggregators called 'hubs', that group together all photos from all applications, or all music into one library, meaning your Facebook photos can be found with your camera photos and your documents from different sources grouped together in one, easy to access location.
Windows Phone comes with a mobile-optimised version of the Internet Explorer for accessing the web, and Exchange, which supports secure corporate e-mail accounts with push support.
Symbian is Nokia's own operating system and is now mainly used on mid to low-end handsets since Nokia announced it would be migrating its flagship efforts to Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.
Symbian's strength is in bringing smartphone functionality - including e-mail, apps and multitasking - to handsets at the lower end of the market and in emerging markets.
Like most smartphone operating systems, you can download apps on a Symbian device and customise it to your liking with widgets and shortcuts. You can also get free maps and turn by turn navigation from Nokia and other useful tools installed out of the box, such as a document viewing and editing suite.