All About: Choosing Your Mobile Operating System

Choosing between your mobile operating system may come down to something as easy as the availability of the phone you would like. Want an iPhone 5? You are guaranteed to be using the latest version of iOS. Want a HTC One? 99% of the time, you will be using Google’s Android operating system. Want a OnePlus One? Now we are into murkier water. Whilst all operating systems offer the same basic package – calls, messaging, internet access if required – there are many subtle differences between the systems that can make a difference to your usage. Here we will explore the traditional options and the burgeoning alternative mobile operating system market in an attempt to help you decide.

The global market for smartphones has continually expanded for the past decade and will continue as the emerging markets in developing countries remain a long way from saturation. The global smartphone market is now dominated by two of the recent technology legends, Apple and Google (some 90% or more), with honourable mentions for Windows, Nokia and a number of open-source mobile operating system (OS) developers. Whilst Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android thoroughly dominate the global markets, they each offer their users a different mobile experience from everything from base UI to the management of their application stores.

Each system, including Windows, Symbian, Sailfish, Cyanogen and the many others have their fanatics who will swear blind their system of choice trumps all others. We believe that there is an operating system out there to suit everyone; it is just a matter of exploring the options available.



We shall begin with the company who really started the smartphone revolution, Apple, and their internally developed operating system, iOS. Exclusive to Apple devices, iOS has been the gold standard of mobile operating systems since its release in 2007. iOS is revered for its simplistic approach to the user interface (UI), its plentiful and well curated App Store (also for popularising app and moving into the common lexicon) and its pioneering usage of touchscreen and accompanying gestures.

Many individuals choose iOS and Apple for their almost seamless integration between desktop, tablet and smartphone, aided by the iCloud storage system. Another major advantage of iOS is the consistency offered by one developer for the entire smartphone environment that should continue for many years to come; updates automatically appear in the device system notifications, applications become backwards compatible with older models and there is consistent support from the makers themselves on multiple levels. If those are not your focus, or the App Store with over 1,000,000 vetted applications, then the mere status symbol of the latest version of an iPhone may draw you in, with numerous anecdotal slithers of evidence illustrating that ‘rich people’ choose iPhones over anything else.

That said, iPhones are notorious for their stringent adherence to locking the user out of the internal workings of the device itself. Want to tinker with more than just your screensaver or lock-screen? You’ll have to Jailbreak your device. Jailbreaking is a legal method of cracking the native software installed on the device to allow access to the root menus and shell options that allow for true customisation. Whilst this is not for everybody, many iOS users swear by it for the freedom it offers on a platform known for its secrecy.



Apple’s closest rival for the smartphone operating system crown in Google’s Android platform, found on more devices than any other. Due to its versatility and open-source development, Android makes its way onto numerous devices up and down the scale, from brand new HTC’s to unbranded Chinese knock-offs. Android has shown time and time again that Google’s domination of the smartphone market is down to its ubiquitous nature, offering a cheap universally accessible platform that is open to any developer around the globe.

Completely opposed to iOS, ‘stock’ Android offers massive amounts of customisation, an exceptionally large selection of devices to choose from and above all a device ecosystem developed with practical users in mind. Android is designed to be utilised entirely by third-party developers and as such, users can install applications from any source they deem trustworthy (Android will warn you of potential pitfalls of installing specific pieces of software to your device. Most importantly, Android enables you to curate the ecosystem of your own device, something that is heavily restricted by Apple) and whilst the Apple operating system offers exceptional integration with similar devices, the open-source nature of Android has enabled its developers to offer an almost seamless cross-platform experience (e.g. paring your Android phone with your iMac shouldn’t be an issue at all).

Finally, it is the small differences that set Android apart from Apple – both positively and negatively. Android boasts support for Near Field Communications (NFC), enabling its users to utilise contactless payment systems with potential to operate a wallet-free existence. Android also receives a higher frequency of updates that reach devices quicker up and down the scale – though critics would point out that far from being consistent upgrades, Android developers frequently uncover security hacks in its core code that need rapidly patching.

A further issue with Android is the Google Play Store, the main app repository for Android devices. Appearing to be brimming with unlimited choice and thousands of amazing applications, on closer inspection many users realise that there are countless clones of open-source coding with malicious titbits added, or that due to the sometimes lackadaisical curation of the store the average quality of applications is lacking when compared to Apple’s App Store.

So, can anything compete with the two behemoths of mobile operating systems? There is a small but not insignificant market of perennial runners-up, seemingly riding on the coat-tails of the big two, headed up by Microsoft’s Windows Phone.


Windows Phone

Whilst the Windows Phone operating system is not as glamorous as iOS, or does not come with universal accessibility of Android, many smartphone critics identify the Windows Phone OS as a solid choice for mid-range devices. Microsoft recently announced a collaborative effort with Swedish device manufacturer, Nokia, who in turn were down-scaling development on their own mobile operating system, Symbian, offering Windows Phone OS the chance to expand in the market.

Windows Phone OS integrate with other Microsoft devices exceedingly well: think your PC, your laptop and perhaps your Xbox 360/One. As well as this, the devices feature native support for Xbox Music, a digital streaming service making waves for its massive library and relatively speedy streaming.

Windows Phone bridges the gap between iOS and Android: there are not millions of apps, but what there is usually well designed and has been vetted. You can customise various aspects of the device, but only to a certain extent. There is integrated support for Microsoft’s SkyDrive, so backup to the cloud can be an instantaneous feature throughout your day.

Many consider the integration of Microsoft software functions with Nokia design aesthetics is a winning combination. Certainly the eye catching ‘Metro’ style of Windows Phone OS has enticed a generation of users used to interacting with tile based systems across multiple devices. Finally, some purchase the OS and the associated devices as a declaration of independence from the supposed monotony of iOS and Android devices – we will let you decide!


Everyone’s favourite business device, right? The connotations of Blackberry swiftly morphed following the 2011 UK riots where it emerged as the choice of communication for those committing a number of offences. The Blackberry platform was already in decline before this time; the surge in popularity of iOS and Android devices had curtailed Blackberry’s mass appeal with many business people – the devices main platform for many years – making the switch to devices with larger capacity, enhanced integration and an overall improved aesthetic.

Blackberry attempted to reintroduce themselves to the market with their Blackberry 10 OS, but with severely limited app store options and a populace already attuned to the beat of iOS or Android, many consumers have shunned the potential offerings from the former mobile phone powerhouse. The OS itself featured outstanding multitasking facilities through its Unix based code, controlled extensively through gestures that were developed as a standout feature for the platform. As such, it is possible to navigate through the entire Blackberry 10 OS without ever touching the physical navigation buttons – though this is also possible with many Android and iOS devices with the right applications.

Another outstanding feature was Blackberry Balance, a system that enabled consumers to operate two profiles on the same device for work and play. Users can navigate between the two seamlessly whilst ensuring all data remains secure in a marked partition on the device memory. Finally, with the realisation that many users had jumped ship to the Android OS, Blackberry 10 OS included integrated Android app support for applications developed up to Android 4.2.2.

Blackberry is certainly not dead in the water but up against outstanding competition in increasingly saturated marketplaces, their time may be moving ever closer. /p>


The Rest

If you are not a mobile phone aficionado then many, if not all of these alternative mobile OS will flow over your head. As mentioned above, the marketplace for smartphones is extremely saturated with many consumers refusing to take a chance on a new device – in many cases, the alternative options are prohibitively expensive, whilst consumers are frequently disparaged at the thought of switching allegiances (especially in situations where iOS has been the one and all since 2007) to a system where everything is new, shiny and entirely unknown.



The Sailfish OS, developed by Finnish company, Jolla, is the brainchild of several former Nokia employees. Built utilising a Linux-based system, Sailfish OS uses a number of open-source graphics and audio drivers to power its functionality, as well as incorporating support for a number of mainstream operating systems – Android, iOS, Linux 32 and 64-bit versions) and OS X to name a few.

What sets Jolla and the Sailfish OS apart from other potential innovators is The Other Half, a smartphone cover that transforms the entire ecosystem of the device. For instance, the latest addition to The Other Half roster is Aloe, providing a number of soothing and relaxing thematic changes. Spring for the Poppy Red cover and your device is transformed into a brimming pit of fire and passion. Jolla may not escalate to the heady heights of Apple or Google, but it shows innovation is alive within the sector.



Firefox OS is another option for those wanting to utilise something outside the traditional smartphone box. The developer, revered for its Mozilla Firefox web browser, has major ambitions for the smartphone market and as such has developed an OS that integrates well with an overall Mozilla web identity – very similar to the Google Chromebook tie-in – where the overall OS is deemed less important the experience you receive.

The devices themselves have received very mixed reviews. Built on a Linux-system, the devices are Android compatible and Mozilla have developed their own application store, whilst the devices themselves are available in multiple marketplaces around the globe with numerous offerings up and down the smartphone power and size scale. By shifting the focus of the device to the maintenance of a web identity that can be constantly transported with a user, Mozilla may have potential for cracking a difficult market. Understanding how many users relate to the content they interact with is an intelligent move; we no longer utilise just one device for our content, so why should identity be similarly limited?



Onto our final challenger for the smartphone crown. CyanogenMod OS began life as an Android ROM – that is a modification for Android accessed by rooting the device (similar to Jailbreaking an iOS device) – though has received such wide ranging praise, the mod has mutated into its own standalone operating system. Cyanogen OS is currently associated with anything new, first featuring on the Oppo N1 (an acclaimed Chinese smartphone), then shifting to the extremely sought after, extremely difficult to purchase, OnePlus One.

CyanogenMod OS rose to fame for introducing an alternative ecosystem for Android devices, offering a stripped back, cleaner operating system that in turn massively boosted the capabilities and speeds of the devices it was installed upon. CyanogenMod, before turning moving toward producing its own OS, was and still is a community support effort developed by tens of people over several years. That this community project has come so far to be a major selling feature of a new range of smartphones illustrates the versatility of Android as an open-source platform for developers to build from the ground up.

The smartphone has become the ubiquitous symbol of ultimate mobility in our society. Choosing the correct device for your usage should never be an issue and in many cases, your local store will be able to advise you on the best options. But just for a moment, consider utilising one of the lesser known brands for a pleasant surprise and an entirely new experience.


Smartphone Terminology

Some additional smartphone terminology you may encounter:

  • Kernel: A management system for processes and provider of drivers for smartphone hardware.
  • Middleware: As we have seen in other articles, Middleware provides communication libraries between smartphone applications, ensuring each aspect is operating correctly.
  • Application Execution Environment: (AEE). Application programming interfaces, which developers to create their own programmes.
  • User Interface Framework: Graphical interface for user interactions with the device.
  • Application Suite: OEM packaged applications for users (e.g. messaging service, calendars, home screen designs, packaged games).
  • App: Abbreviation of application, the programs designed to run on smartphones. They range from office assistance word processors to picture modification applications that make your face appear fat.
  • Caps/Capping: Part of the monthly or pay-as-you-go contract required to run a smartphone. Capping refers to a limit placed on your usage of minutes, SMS and increasingly, data.
  • HPSA: High Speed Packet Access. Describes the process of sending and receiving data packets through the national networks, using the same technology as 3G to deliver high speed content.
  • 2G: First iteration of digital mobile network. Adequate for digital calls and messaging.
  • 3G: Third generation of mobile technology, second entirely digital. Users able to browse internet sites, stream music and video and engage with direct video chat.
  • 4G: Next generation, or fourth generation of mobile networking. Vastly increased speeds.
  • LTE: Long Term Evolution. Part of the 4G mobile spectrum enabling speeds between 15-100 times faster than the current 3G network.
  • Megapixel: The pixel capacity of the smartphone camera.
  • UI: User interface. The interactive screen users utilise to navigate their device.


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