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Introduction to Mobile Devices

Today's mobile devices are multi-functional devices capable of hosting a broad range of applications for both business and consumer use.

Today's mobile devices are multifunctional devices capable of hosting a broad range of applications for both business and consumer use. Smartphones and tablets enable people to use their mobile device to access the Internet for email, instant messaging, text messaging and Web browsing, as well as work documents, contact lists and more.

Mobile devices are often seen as an extension to your own PC or laptop, and in some cases newer, more powerful mobile devices can even completely replace PCs. And when the devices are used together, work done remotely on a mobile device can be synchronized with PCs to reflect changes and new information while away from the computer.

Types of Mobile Computing Devices

The term mobile device refers to a wide range of consumer electronics. Mobile device typically is used to describe portable devices that can connect to the Internet. However, some also classify connected digital cameras and standard MP3 players as mobile devices as well. The category of mobile devices includes the following devices, as well as others:

Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)

Sometimes called pocket computers, PDAs are handheld devices that combine elements of computing, telephone/fax, Internet and networking in a single device. A typical PDA can function as a cellular phone, fax sender, Web browser and personal organizer.

Unlike portable computers, most PDAs began as pen-based, using a stylus rather than a keyboard for input. This means that they also incorporated handwriting recognition features. Some PDAs can also react to voice input by using voice recognition technologies. The PDAs of today are available in either a stylus or keyboard version (called a datapad).

PDAs have largely been rendered obsolete by the rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets, but they still retain a presence in niche markets.Examples of PDA devices through the years have included the Palm Pilot, Revo, Sony Clie, Hewlett-Packard Jornado, Casio Cassiopedia, Compaq iPaq and Toshiba Pocket PC.


Smartphones combine a mobile phone and a handheld computer into a single device. Smartphones allow users to access and store information (e.g. e-mail) and install programs (applications) while also being able to use a mobile phone in one device. For example, a smartphone could be a mobile phone with some PDA functions integrated into the device or vice versa.Examples of smartphones over the years have included the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Microsoft and Nokia Lumia, Sony Ericsson, Palm Treo, Blackberry, Nokia T-Mobile Sidekick, Torq, Motorola Q, E-Ten, HP iPaq and I-mate.

Tablet PCs

Tablet PCs are an evolution of the notebook computer with touchscreen LCD screens that can be utilized with your fingertips or with a stylus. The handwriting with a stylus is digitized and can be converted to standard text through handwriting recognition, or it can remain as handwritten text. The stylus can also be used to type on a pen-based key layout where the lettered keys are arranged differently than a QWERTY keyboard. Tablet PCs may also offer a removable keyboard as an additional input option.Examples of tablet PCs have included Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Samsung Nexus, Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Lenovo Yoga.

Mobile Operating Systems (Mobile OS)

Like a computer operating system, a mobile operating system is the software platform for mobile devices on top of which other programs run. When you purchase a mobile device, the manufacturer will have chosen the mobile OS for that specific device. The mobile operating system is responsible for determining the functions and features available on your device, such as thumbwheel, keyboards, WAP, synchronization with applications, e-mail, text messaging and more.

The mobile operating system will also determine which third-party applications can be used on your device. Some of the more common and well-known mobile operating systems include the following:

Apple iOS

Apple's iOS mobile operating system powers the company's line of mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV.  Apple iOS was originally called the iPhone OS but was renamed in 2010 to reflect the operating system's evolving support for additional Apple devices. Apple updated iOS to iOS 9 in 2015 in conjunction with the company's OS X El Capitan operating system release.

Google Android

Google Android is a mobile operating system based on Linux that has quickly become the biggest competitor to Apple iOS in the mobile device market. Google originally released Android's source code under open source licenses, and today the company continues to develop the mobile OS privately prior to major update releases that are made available to OEMs and the public.Manufacturers of Android-powered smartphone and tablet devices include Samsung, Sony, Asus, Amazon, HTC and LG, as well as Google itself.

Windows Phone

Originally called the Windows Mobile platform and then Windows Phone, Microsoft's mobile OS is available on a variety of devices from a variety of wireless operators. You will find Windows Phone on Microsoft hardware devices as well as Nokia, Dell, HP, Motorola, Palm and i-mate products. Microsoft unveiled the latest release of its mobile operating system, Windows 10 Mobile, in late 2015 as part of the Windows 10 family of operating systems.

Early Mobile OS

While not as frequently encountered in today's market, some of the earlier generation mobile OSes have included:

Palm OS

Since the introduction of the first Palm Pilot in 1996, the Palm OS platform has provided mobile devices with essential business tools, as well as capability to access the Internet or a central corporate database via a wireless connection.Link: Palm OS Web site

Symbian OS

Symbian OS has become a standard operating system for smartphones, and is licensed by more than 85 percent of the world's handset manufacturers. The Symbian OS is designed for the specific requirements of 2.5G and 3G mobile phones.


The first company to launch phones with Linux as its OS was Motorola in 2003. Linux has been seen as a suitable option for higher-end phones with powerful processors and larger amounts of memory.


MXI is a universal mobile operating system that allows existing full-fledged desktop and mobile applications written for Windows, Linux, Java and Palm to be enabled immediately on mobile devices without any redevelopment. MXI allows for interoperability between various platforms, networks, software and hardware components.MXI Web site.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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