Mobile Devices Explained

By Melissa Rudy
Updated: May 15, 2012

Mobile Devices Explained

These days, everyone seems to have at least one mobile device. There are many different types of these portable gadgets, offered by hundreds of models and manufacturers. Mobile devices are battery-powered, typically with a rechargeable battery, and often provide a way to connect with a cellular or Internet network.

What are today’s most commonly used mobile devices? What do they offer, and how do they work? We'll take a look at the electronic gadgets that have become integral, and sometimes indispensable, parts of our lives—and the components that make them tick.

Mobile Operating Systems

Many of the most popular devices require a mobile OS, similar to the operating system that powers your desktop or laptop, to run the applications. The mobile OS is responsible for enabling the features and functions a device uses, such as touch screens, thumb wheels, and manual buttons.

The OS also determines which types of third-party applications, or apps, you can run. For example, Apple's iOS only supports apps made for the Apple platform.

Some of the most popular mobile operating systems include:

  • Apple iOS, for use with devices like the iPhone and iPad
  • Android OS, a free, open-source system from Google
  • BlackBerry OS, a proprietary system for use on BlackBerry devices
  • MeetGo OS, a joint open-source platform used to power Nokia and Intel devices
  • Symbian OS, used for high-level integrated mobile phones
  • Palm OS, the proprietary system for Palm Pilot devices
  • Windows Mobile, for use with Windows-based phones and devices

Cell Phones and Smartphones

The concept of the mobile phone has spread rapidly since its inception, and now millions of people depend on these phones for mobile communication and more.

Cell phones use a cellular network to send and receive radio wave transmissions. These signals are typically sent from cell phone towers, which have been built in nearly every populated area, making it possible to place a call or send a text message using a cell phone from just about anywhere.

Basic cell phones often have built-in features like alarm clocks, calculators, stop watches, calendars, and currency converters. Some may come with games and other applications, and may offer the capacity to connect to the Internet, depending on the mobile service provider.

As mobile technology has advanced, manufacturers have begun offering phones that do more than just make calls and send texts. Smartphones are mobile phones with advanced graphics capabilities and faster processing speeds to browse the Internet, use apps, and play music and videos. Many have additional features such as cameras, touchscreens, and full-sized keyboards.

Most smartphones use the 3G or 4G network to connect to the Internet.

Tablet Computers

Larger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop, tablet PCs combine potential calling capabilities, Internet access, and enhanced processing power to run more complicated applications.

Tablet PCs feature large touchscreens that may be operated through touch, stylus, or digital pen. They have most of the functionality of a PC, often including such features as cameras, webcams, and GPS navigation.

Some of the most popular types of tablet computers are the Apple iPad, the Kindle Fire, and the Samsung Galaxy.

Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)

While smartphones have largely taken over the market for PDAs, which are very similar, some companies still rely on these mobile devices to keep personal and business life separate, and many people still use PDAs—alternately referred to as pocket computers—rather than smartphones.

Most PDAs use touch screen technology and connect to the Internet through a Wi-Fi network. They combine the functions of a mobile phone, web browser, and portable media player, and may have additional features. BlackBerry devices are often considered PDAs. Other types of these devices include the Palm Pilot, the Compaq iPaq, and the Toshiba Pocket PC.

The Benefits of Mobile Devices

There are many advantages to using mobile devices with cellular and Internet capabilities. Access to a compact, portable computer allows people to bring work with them, so they're no longer stuck at the office all the time. Mobile technology has the ability to entertain, educate, enrich, and even help in an emergency. In today’s high-tech age, help is just a phone call or a text away.

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