A mobile operating system is an operating system for mobile phones, tablets, smartwatches, 2-in-1 PCs, smart speakers, or other mobile devices. While computers such as typical laptops are ‘mobile’, the operating systems used on them are generally not considered mobile ones, as they were originally designed for desktop computers that historically did not have or need specific mobile features. This distinction is becoming blurred in some newer operating systems that are hybrids made for both uses.
Mobile operating systems combine features of a personal computer operating system with other features useful for mobile or handheld use, and usually including a wireless inbuilt modem and SIM tray for telephony and data connection. Android alone is more popular than the popular desktop operating system Microsoft Windows, and in general smartphone use (even without tablets) outnumbers desktop use.
Mobile devices, with mobile communications abilities (e.g., smartphones), contain two mobile operating systems – the main user-facing software platform is supplemented by a second low-level proprietary real-time operating system which operates the radio and other hardware. Research has shown that these low-level systems may contain a range of security vulnerabilities permitting malicious base stations to gain high levels of control over the mobile device.
Mobile operating systems have majority use since 2017 (measured by web use); with even only the smartphones running them (excluding tablets) having majority use, more used than any other kind of device. Thus traditional desktop OS is now a minority-used kind of OS; see usage share of operating systems. However, variations occur in popularity by regions, while desktop-minority also applies on some days in countries such as United States and United Kingdom.