Sit back and enjoy this time-lapse of the world’s biggest mobile operating systems. Can you guess who’s on top today?

When you read the words ‘mobile operating system’, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s Android or iOS? In today’s world of mobile phones these are the two that spring to mind, but believe it or not, there was a world full of operating systems before these were even invented.

[OC] Most Popular Mobile Operating Systems 2000 - 2020, thanks for the valuable feedback of my last post! from r/dataisbeautiful

A Reddit user u/PieChartPirate has devised a cool and engaging pie chart that takes us through the most popular mobile operating systems over the years (Reddit chart is now above!)

We thought we would join in on this journey and even delve a little deeper. We’ve taken a lookback at the most memorable features of past operating systems, assessing the possible reason for their downfall. So, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Talk to the hand: Palm OS (1996 - 2009)

If you’ve never heard of the Palm OS, don’t beat yourself up. Developed in 1996 by an American named Jeff Hawkins, it was one of the very first mobile operating systems, designed for the Palm series of handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs).

A photo of Jeff Hawkins holding a Palm device.
Jeff Hawkins the man behind Palm OS.

It didn’t take long before the system was booming and as we can see on the Reddit chart below, Palm OS was hugely popular back in the year 2000, with an impressive nine-year reign before being discontinued in 2009.

So, why did people favour it this long you ask? Well, with practical features such as an address book, a to-do-list and a calculator – it’s clear to see why this system was popular 20 years ago. With its main competitor being Windows, Palm OS prided itself on being anything but Windows.

Many people found that Palm OS was simple to get to grip with and easy to use – which in the year 2000 is all people wanted from their PDAs.

Windows was known back then for being super techy and complex which gave Palm the upper hand to swoop in and become the operating system that everyone wanted.

Palm did bring something special to the table though, differentiating themselves from other systems with their unique touch-screen technology.

A photo of someone holding the Palm Treo 750.
The Palm Treo 750 showing off its touch-screen technology.

What they did was give their customers a taste of the future – while keeping their impressive usability. It was an OS that made it simple to move through menus and options without a million complex steps in between.

So, looking at the Reddit chart, we can see that the Palm OS literally fell off the face of the earth in 2009 and with all these positives it raises the question – what lead to its fall?

Multi-tasking on your phone is easy in 2020, with technology that lets us do a million things at once, but it hasn’t always been like this. The Palm OS didn’t allow for multitasking, which was a huge con for many people.

It was a single-tasking model meaning you’d struggle to send a text while listening to a song in the background.

The security side of things was also a downfall for some, with everything you stored on Palm being out in the open unless encrypted – which many people didn’t do.

In a bid to be simpler some people felt that the Palm OS was too behind the times. And with Symbian OS creeping in, the competition grew.

A successful failure: Symbian (1998 - 2014)

Symbian OS quickly became the favourite operating system, overtaking Palm OS and Windows Mobile.

Described by some as the most “successful failure” in technology history – let’s explore what made this operating system sell like hot cakes before burning out.

For many years, Symbian OS ruled the world of mobile technology reaching its peak in mid-2007, where it dominated the market. With 65% of people favouring it – we’re just dying to know what made it so popular.

This OS was loved for many reasons, one of them being its battery. Symbian helped optimise performance for a stunning battery life, letting people enjoy their phones all day.

Unlike its competitor at the time, Palm OS, Symbian OS had fully encrypted security, meaning people felt that their personal files and data were kept safe and secure and I don’t know about you, but this feels like a pretty important feature to support.

So where did it all go wrong for Symbian? Well, Nokia was always Symbian’s biggest fan, with some of the absolute classics sporting Symbian. The Nokia 3650 for example, a phone that in today’s world would look like something from a low-budget 80s sci-fi movie. Feeling nostalgic yet?  

A photo of the Nokia 3650.
The Nokia 3650 in all its glory.

Having Nokia on their side seemed all well and good until 2007 when Apple released the first iPhone, completely changing the game with iOS.

Symbian was what we would describe as old-school. It was a hugely complex OS with an unfriendly code system. What did this mean for its users? Symbian was struggling to keep up with the mobile times.

It simply became an unmanageable OS and the release of the iPhone only accelerated its downfall. Symbian found itself in a battle to the death with Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.

Sadly, Symbian was fighting a losing battle and with people dropping simple feature phones and favouring smartphones, it comes as no surprise that Symbian OS came to a brutal end.

Last curtain call for Windows (2000 - 2010)

Windows Mobile was a user-friendly operating system dating back to as early as 2000, originally called Pocket PC 2000. Now, whether the original name rolled off the tongue or not is another question entirely, but it was later renamed to Windows Mobile in 2003.

A photo of three mobile handsets that all use the Windows operating system.
The mighty Windows Mobile.

It acted as major competition for Palm and Symbian OS, with an array of features that made it extremely popular among its users.

Windows Mobile came equipped with Internet Explorer Mobile, making it a breeze for users to browse the internet at their own leisure and to accompany this – the multitasking feature gave users something they’d never experienced with other operating systems.

With Windows Media Player being the default media programme, users could play digital media until their heart’s content – not quite the Netflix binge session you’d get on today’s smartphones, but nevertheless it was a big step up from the systems that came before.

Alas, the Reddit chart reveals that in 2012 people stopped favouring Windows Mobile and opted for other operating systems such as Android, iOS and even BlackBerry. In 2015 the last iteration of Windows Mobile was released after it was announced that the platform would no longer receive new features.

It comes as no surprise then that in October 2017, it was confirmed that due to low-market share and lack of development Microsoft would no longer sell or manufacture new Windows 10 Mobile devices – meaning goodbye Windows Mobile.

Slice of BlackBerry pie, anyone? (1999 - 2013)

So, now it’s time to mention the OS that once upon a time thrived as one of the best. BlackBerry OS was the bees’ knees, reaching its prime in 2009. It was adored by many and for many reasons.

A photo of someone holding the BlackBerry Curve 8520 in their hand.
The famous BlackBerry Curve 8520.

The big rave now is WhatsApp but believe it or not BlackBerry thought of this one first. One thing that users loved was BlackBerry Messenger, commonly known as BBM.

Now, BBM was a messenger service pre-installed on the BlackBerry devices and today the features you know such as read receipts and statuses were locked down by BlackBerry all the way back in 2005.

BBM is a huge part of what made BlackBerry OS so popular. As one of BlackBerry’s huge selling points, they made sure that the features of this free messenger service were endless.

BBM offered its users PINs instead of usernames ensuring that security and privacy methods were full proof. Another key feature of BBM was the option to Broadcast messages to all contacts, although I personally see that as a one-way trip into chain-message hell.

However, for some, this was a huge plus allowing alerts to be sent to an entire contact list or giving you the ease to send out broadcast messages to search for new contacts.

Despite the undeniable popularity of BlackBerry OS and its BBM, BlackBerry unfortunately lost its mojo. In 2016, they announced that no more devices would be made. People have questioned this failure, but many argue that BlackBerry’s sheer stubbornness to eliminate their QWERTY keyboard is one of the key reasons.

The truth of the matter is, with the impressive technology put forward by iOS and Android, BlackBerry never really stood a chance if we’re being honest.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away: iOS (2007- present)

iOS joined the party late in 2007 as the first iPhone was released. But unlike the iPhones that you know today, the very first edition didn’t support 3G, multitasking, 3rd party apps or MMS. You couldn’t copy and paste text or attach files to email or customise your home screen.

A photo of Steve Jobs holding the first ever iPhone.
Steve Jobs showing off the first iPhone back in 2007.

Despite these missing features, iOS knocked its competition out the park. You can see on the Reddit chart that the introduction of iOS lead to the downfall of some of its main competitors. Apple focused on speed and consistency all while making sure the features they did make, were better than anything else available in 2007.

iOS reinvented the touchscreen. Everyone wanted a taste of Apple and what this new revolutionary operating system had to offer.

You could say that when Apple made touch the primary interaction with iOS, they carved the pathway for the smartphones of the future. So, what was it about iOS that had people going crazy?

The introduction of its Mobile Safari web browser gave users the chance to surf the internet with the same ease that they would get when using a desktop browser. Safari presented features that were simply unmatched at the time, giving users the ultimate browsing experience.

On top of this, iOS brought Google Maps, Visual Voicemail, iTunes Sync and so much more. The impressive thing? This was just the first edition of iOS. Unlike its rivals, iOS has continued to grow and grow and as seen in the Reddit chart, it still holds a position as the favourite of 14.6% of people, 13 years after its initial release.

So, what are the drawbacks of iOS? The main disadvantage of this operating system is the costly repairs. If you do find that you need to take your device into Apple, you might be subjected to quite the bill.

Now, the other thing that you might find to be a disadvantage is the ever-famous iOS vs Android debate. There’s been an ongoing feud between iOS and Android users since Android appeared onto the mobile market in 2008 and with Android developing new technologies rapidly, iOS has the battle of trying to keep up.

First past the post: Android (2008 - present)

Developed by Google, Android made its debut in 2008 with the first Android 1.0. It all started with the very basics like Google Mail, Maps, Calendar and YouTube. As shown on the Reddit chart, Android became hugely popular in such a short matter of time.

A photo of the T-Mobile G1.
The T-Mobile G1 - Android's first ever phone. 

Android have held their position as the world’s favourite operating system over the past 12 years. In January 2020, Android had a whopping 85.4% of the popularity votes.

Android is generally the more popular operating system in developing countries with large populations, where mobile phones are manufactured at lower costs and are more accessible on a tighter budget, hence why they have such a large share of the overall market.

The main advantage that Android has over iOS is the fact that Android is available for a variety of manufacturers whereas iOS is restricted to the iPhone. Android is compatible with Samsung, Huawei (up until 2020), Sony, Google, Nokia any just about any other manufacturer that you can think of outside of Apple.

A key selling point of Android is the huge screens that they bring you, often with lower price points than Apple’s more premium range of iPhone devices. They pride themselves on being the perfect entertainment phones – and with screens like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, it’s clear to see why.

Android has the Google Play Store – another amazing advantage. With almost 3 million apps available, (compared with roughly 1 million in Apple’s AppStore), there’s everything you could possibly need. Games, cooking, fitness, organisation and so on.

With all these apps, you’ll want to multitask. What’s the use in having them if you can’t run them at the same time? Android have ensured that their operating system allows for multitasking – another thing that makes them so popular.

Users can browse social media while listening to their favourite song or quickly reply to a text while their video still plays in the background.

Today’s mobile market might only favour iOS and Android, but there was a whole world of operating systems before those two were born.

We’ve explored Palm and Symbian, Windows and Blackberry, eventually reaching the two top runners of the operating system world. What the future holds for operating systems who knows but for now the famous iOS vs Android feud continues.