It’s likely you will have heard the term OS or operating system in relation to your laptop or smartphone. They operate in similar ways, and the principle is identical. Put simply, a smartphone’s operating system is the software that allows the handset to run its apps, processes and settings. It starts as soon as you turn on your handset and runs in the background, like a gentle and quiet puppets master. The type of operating system your handset uses depends on its manufacturer, with their being three types of smartphone operating system: IOS, Android and Proprietary.


iOS is the name of the operating system Apple uses for its iPhones and iPads, while Mac OS is the operating system found on its Macbooks. The difference comes chiefly in that iOS is based on Mac OS but was built from the ground up to be touch interactive, kind of an essential feature for a smartphone operating system. This means that when you take out a cheap iPhone contract with any major network or MVNO your iPhone handset will run off iOS. Just as Apple’s iPhone packages are some of the most popular smartphone handsets, iOS is by default one of the most popular smartphone operating systems. Once you have an iPhone, you don’t have any options to change your operating system, though Apple updates iOS at intervals of, on average, of once every five weeks.


It is no coincidence that the Android operating system launched in 2008, one year after Apple released the first iPhone. Based on Linux, open source software for desktop computers and laptops, Android OS is the most common operating system outside of Apple’s iPhone. It is managed and developed by the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium that includes Google, HTC and T-Mobile. Manufacturers like Huawei, Samsung and Nokia all use Android OS, though the latter of these dallied with Microsoft’s ultimately doomed Windows Phone operating system before switching back to Android. For years, those with Android smartphone contracts would see their Android OS updates named after sweets or desserts, including Cupcake, Lollipop and Ice Cream Sandwich. Android grew up in 2019 (sadly or rightly, depending on your point of view) and issued updates that would commence sequentially after Android 10. 


A proprietary operating system is an OS that is designed, developed and sold by one particular company. Apple’s iOS is one such example of a proprietary operating system. While Android handsets form the largest market share of phone operating systems (around 82%) and Apple iOS iPhone contracts making up 15%, there are still some proprietary operating systems used by smartphone manufacturers. Nokia experimented with its own OS, Symbian, before it entered into a partnership with Microsoft, which pioneered its own Windows Phone OS. Other examples of proprietary software include Blackberry’s imaginatively named Blackberry OS, Palm OS and KaiOS, developed by KaiOS Technologies based in Hong Kong. 

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