A Chronology of Mobile Operating Systems

The last line of Charles Darwin’s book, On The Origin of Species goes like this, “…from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” This is true in the case of mobile operating systems too. With its roots in simple embedded systems, the operating systems that power mobile devices have grown complex and have come a long way. The development and evolution of mobile operating systems run parallel with hardware developments. As the microprocessor’s fabrication improved, mobile devices were able to pack work horses within the hand held devices. With every new feature that was added, the need for operating systems to harness the power came along. This has lead to the creation of a new industry that now generates billions of dollars in revenue. Apart from the big names in computation, open source and community based groups have also successfully developed mobile operating systems. Let’s take a look at the mobile operating systems in a chronological order.

We can trace the roots of modern mobile operating systems to the late 70s and early 80s. This was the time when embedded technology was in its infant stages. There were loads of homebrew computer clubs and businesses that were developing operating systems that could be embedded into the silicon chips. Then, with the development of printed circuit boards and surface mounted devices, the size of electronic devices shrank and this made the production of portable devices, dubbed hand held! Although the PDAs and cellular phones have been around for a while, the operating systems that powered those devices were primitive and driving the hardware was what it was designed for.

Datalight ROM-DOS: Released in 1993, this can be considered as the primordial mobile operating system. This particular operating system was used on IBM’s Simon. The Simon had a pretty huge form factor when compared to the modern smartphones. IBM reworked the command line interface of the ROM-DOS so that it could be used on the touch screen. The phone retailed at $2999 and was discontinued a year later.

Palm OS: Developed in the mid 90s and first released in 1996, the Palm OS was Palm Inc’s brain child. The company had invested a pretty huge sum and put the best engineers to develop an operating system that could be used on the personal digital assistants that it was developing. The Palm OS was optimized for the touch screen interface and could be controlled using a stylus. The latest stable release of Palm OS is called Garnet OS 5.5, which is currently being used on Nokia’s Internet Tablets.

Newton OS: Although the development of Newton OS began in 1987, Apple began taking it seriously only after the success of the personal digital assistants that Palm Inc had developed. Although the Newton Message Pads were not a commercial hit, it should be noted that the concept of developer tool kits was conceived with Newton OS. The development kit was called Newton Toolkit and it allowed independent developers and businesses to create applications for Newton OS. This concept was later used by the company during the development of iOS.

Windows CE: This was a mobile operating system developed by Microsoft and released in the year 1996. Just like the mobile operating systems of the time, it was optimized for touch screens and was the stripped down counterpart of the desktop version. It was targeted at the enterprise market and it was well received. Later, when Microsoft started work on the development of other mobile operating systems, Windows CE was renamed as Windows Embedded Compact and released under the open source license.

Nokia’s S40: First released in 1999, the S40 paved the way for Nokia’s success and it is one of the most widely used mobile operating systems. Since its release in 1999, Nokia has continuously worked to improve the functionality of the S40, this mobile operating system is still used by Nokia on its mid range phones. More than 1.5 billion phones powered by S40 have been sold so far.

Symbian OS: This is an operating system that was designed to exclusively run on ARM processors. The first phone to be powered by Symbian was released in 2000. Mobile device manufacturers like Nokia and Ericsson used the Symbian OS. The Symbian OS was developed by Symbian Ltd and is currently released under the open source license. Since Nokia adopted Windows for its smartphones, Accenture takes care of Symbian’s development. This mobile operating system has been a huge success as it allowed developers to create applications and games at a very reasonable cost.

Windows Mobile: Again, first released in 2000, Windows Mobile was Windows Embedded Compact’s successor. This mobile operating system was designed to work on Pocket PCs and smartphones. Microsoft continued development on this platform for a good 12 years. The last stable version of this operating system was called Windows Mobile 6.5. Like Windows CE and Pocket PC, Windows Mobile too was targeted at enterprises and business users.

BlackBerry OS: This operating system was developed by the Canadian company, Research In Motion. BlackBerry OS was first released in 2002 and was one of the most successful smartphone operating systems. The platform had native support for exchange servers and was embraced by corporates and enterprise users.

Apple’s iOS: It was originally called as the iPhone OS and was first released in the year 2007. The iOS is a stripped down version of OS X and it has been a huge success among both, developers and consumers. The latest version of this mobile operating system is called iOS 6 and it runs on iPhones, iPads and on the iPod Touch.

Android: This is an operating system that was developed by Android Inc. Google acquired Android Inc and created the Open Handset Alliance. The first version of Android was released in 2007 and it has been a huge success. Android is now one of the most widely used platforms and the latest version is called Jelly Bean.

Windows Phone: Microsoft made a move from enterprise and decided to target the consumer market. The first version of Windows Phone was released in 2010 and Nokia has used it on most of its top tier phones.

This is a chronological list of mobile operating systems and we can say with a straight face that a lot more platforms have been, and are being developed.

This is a guest post by Jake Anderson of fastinternetdeals.com, a site that offers savings and current information on att internet as well as att.com services.