Evolution Of Operating Systems For Handheld Phones Computer Science Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Abstract- This review paper discusses the evolution of the Operating Systems for Handheld/Portable Phones. It discusses a brief history of mobile phones and presents a classification of these mobile phones into different generations based upon the functionality provided by their operating systems. The paper also analyzes the factors that triggered the evolution from one generation to another and the way the OS for such devices transformed from single user - single process OS to single user - multiple processes OS. Moreover, the paper also presents the analysis and comparison of some well known contemporary Operating systems and tries to render the trend, to predict the future enhancements and innovations in OS for mobile phones.


As the hardware technology is taking rapid leaps, the electronic gadget manufacturers keep on bringing new ideas and innovations into their products to increase their market share. On one hand the manufacturers are trying to squeeze more and more hardware into a single product, while on the other they are also constantly improving their OS and the Software features, to give better user experience for their product.

In the final decade of the 20th century the society was invaded by digital electronics and the era of Personal Computers started. With the flooding of the telecommunication devices in the society in the same era, the mobile phones, whose sole purpose at that time was to make calls, started to evolve into palm computers with multimedia players, cameras, GPS devices, etc. all integrated into a single device known as smart phones.

The OS of earlier phones were very simplistic in design possessing the capability to run only a single application at a time due to very small memory and processor with least capabilities. The graphical display of the earlier mobiles had monochrome interface with small number of pixels. Hence, the sole task of the earlier OS was to handle incoming/outgoing calls. As the evolution continued, the smart phones of our current era can run OS with almost as much functionalities as the OS of a general purpose computer. In fact, they are the scaled down version of the OS of general purpose computers.

The section 2 of the review paper states a brief history of the evolution of mobile phones and classifies them into different generations based upon their features and OS. The factors that played a catalyst role in making radical changes and hence changing the shape of the Operating systems altogether are discussed in section 3. Some of the key features of the widely used contemporary operating system are discussed in section 4. The last section predicts the future by presenting an idea, that how the Operating systems of future would look like and what enhancements would be incorporated into them.


In this section we would go through the timeline of mobile phones, and then classify them into generations based upon their features and Operating systems.

At the end of 19th century, Owing to ever growing population and the needs of mankind, the scientists and researchers conceived the necessity for distant wireless communication, so they began working to materialize the idea. The first success in this direction was achieved in 1880 by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainer, when they succeeded in carrying out audio conversations wirelessly over short distances using modulated light beams. But the real breakthrough was made by Marconi in 1895, when he managed to transmit signals over larger distances of approximately 2.5Km. In World War II, the radio technology was widely utilized by both Germans and allied forces. Later on, the concept of two way radios was introduced, when Motorola launched its "walkie-talkie", which is regarded as the pre-evolved shape of today's state of the art mobile phone. The journey of commercial mobile phones which started in 1956 from Stockholm, Sweden with only 8 users, evolved into a total of 5 Billion users in the world, becoming the fastest growing technology of the world. Here, a classification of the mobile phones based upon their OS is given.

1st Generation: OS-less mobile phones

With the dawn of mobile age in early 1970s, the world of electronics was following the analog paradigm. The microprocessor technology was yet in its infancy, so the mobile phone circuitry in that generation was dominated by analog electronics. Due to that, the mobile phones of that age were quite bulky and large in size. They also had large power consumption, hence very small battery time, despite of the fact that their batteries were mammoth in size. Due to the absence of microprocessors, these phones were OS-less and the control logic was hardwired. The mobile phones of that generation had limited user interface, with the state of the art mobile phones of that age had seven segment displays. One classic example of such mobile phone is Motorola's DynaTAC 8000X. Mobile phones of that era only had the capability of making/receiving a phone call.

2nd Generation: Dumb mobile phones

After the era of OS-less phones, came the era of dump phone credited to the advancement in microprocessor technology. The phones of this era had limited capabilities like their predecessors, but their control logic was embedded in the form of firmware. So, such mobile phones were the first phones having limited Operating system. The Operating systems of these mobile phones had the ability to run single application at a time. The applications for these mobile phones were simple games, calculator, calendar, phone book, Alarm, etc. These applications were the part of OS, and hence were embedded in the form of firmware. In fact, there was no distinction between Operating system software and application software. The applications were shipped with the phone and the user never had the flexibility to install new application of choice. These mobile phones had better interface than the earlier ones, in the form of mono-chrome LCD. One typical example of such mobile phones is Nokia's 3310.

3rd Generation: Featured mobile phones

With the rapid growth in the number of mobile phone users due to the exponential decline of their prices, the mobile phone became available to masses from every frame of society, rather than being a status symbol of the elite. Due to this proliferation in society, the mobile phone vendors started targeting the wide band of society by developing applications of wide variety. Hence, the underlying Operating systems of these mobiles changed its shape rapidly, giving birth to the 3rd generation of the mobile phones.

The mobile phones of this generation had either complete or a portion of Operating system on Flash memory. Such mobile phones had the capability to customize the installation of various software on Flash memory. The mobile phones of this genre introduced the concept of external memory in the form of MMC, SD, uSD cards, etc.

The user interfaces for these mobiles were upgraded to color display. These phones were immediate hit in market due to rich multimedia capabilities. These were the first mobiles to decode and run audio and video file formats. So, a race began between vendors to give support of larger and larger external memories, to save a large number of audio and video files.

The Operating system of these mobiles provide limited API's to develop user applications, so most of the applications were developed using Java ME and BREW. Most of the phones of this era did not have the support for 3rd party software development. Hence, the softwares were it self developed by the vendors. Most of the mobile phones in this era had small processing capability, so the Operating systems were able to run single application at a time. Another breakthrough in this type of mobile phones was their large battery time, which was only possible due to the efficient power management features provided by the Operating systems.

4th Generation: Smart mobile phones

With the emergence of 3G mobile networks, having data, voice and video integrated into single service, the Operating systems of mobile phones started evolving into full fledge OS like OS of personal computers. This change gave birth to 4th Generation of mobile phones known as smart phones. As their name suggests, these mobile phones were really smart in handling and processing a large quantity of data. More and more features were embedded into these mobile phones, that include, multi-touch screen, qwerty keyboard, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS receiver, Accelerometer sensor, gyro sensor, digital compass, digital camera and TV.

Due to a large number of sensors and devices embedded into one system, the Operating systems of these mobile have to be state of the art, so that it can handle a large number of inputs in varying formats and protocols. They have powerful processors and a large amount of memory, helping the OS to run multiple applications at the same time.

Due to great hardware capability and scope the operating systems began offering a huge API support for 3rd party software developers to write their own software to best utilize their capabilities.

Smart Phones are also business phones, whose OS give the opportunity to businessmen to synchronize their smart phones with their email address. Due to their 24/7 connectivity, they can communicate with anyone anywhere on the go. They also can install the office softwares like word processors, spreadsheets, presentation developer, etc. and are the best low-weight and portable alternative to laptops.