What Mobile Operating Systems Can’t Do

Posted on 23 August 2011, Last updated on 23 August 2011 by

I’ve been trying to use mobile operating systems for productive and full-computing scenarios for years and although things are getting better by the day, there are still major issues to be solved. Even the latest tailored hardware and software solutions are littered with unexpected restrictions, bugs, showstoppers and even costs. As I continue to test devices like the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and iPad I am making a list of functions that I can perform on a desktop operating system but not on a consumer or mobile operating system that you might find in a tablet. You’ll find an early ‘issues’ list here.  I’m largely talking about Android or IOS here.

The issues fall into 3 categories.

  • Issues that are a result of hardware. This varies between platforms and is also sometimes dependant on drivers and software. E.g. Bluetooth support. Many of these issues are dropping away as ARM platforms evolve, some of these issues are because of the design requirements (battery, size, heat)
  • Issues that are a result of operating restrictions. Operating systems will evolve but each evolution is taking 6 months to 1 year.
  • Issues that are there simply because the third party software may not have been written yet.

The latter category is one we can ignore. If tablets or other devices based on mobile operating systems are successful, the software will come. Lets look at the other two categories though.

Hardware Issues

  • Video editing software and hardware. While software may exist, the CPU, hardware encoders and possible GPU acceleration may not be in place. The only exception is the ipad2, iphone4 and Ios which use the capabilities of the A4 chip very well. It may be quite a while before generic cross-platform solutions appear.
  • USB host support. In some cases the platform only supports USB client. This affect many devices people commonly use like webcams, printers, video capture cards and many other device you’ll find in the high-street PC store.
  • Keyboards on tablets. Arguable that this isn’t neccesary if you’ve already chosen a tablet but we’ll leave it in the list for discussions sake.
  • High-capacity storage. 100+GB support is often required by those dealing with media.
  • Other interfaces such as serial (often used for control and data collection) pci-express. USB based solutions can solve this if the drivers are built into the operating system.
  • Extendable GPUs through docking stations or modules
  • General processing power (CPU)

Operating system issues

  • Extended languages and keyboard support
  • External screen capability. This includes extended desktop and multiple interface support. Also needed in the OS
  • Drag and drop (of selected text, audio, image, file, video.)
  • Bluetooth stack. Software is generally the issue here and it’s usually an operating system issue.
  • Full web experience including mouse-over support. Some third party software may fix this is mouse or other pointer support is provided by the OS.
  • Multi-user support with associated security mechanisms. Generally a core operating system issue.
  • Extending device support through installable, pluggable drivers.
  • Extended IP stack to support routing, multiple.interfaces and other IP features like file sharing protocols. This can be implemented in third party software.
  • Multiple sound module support for live audio performances with pre-fade. This is also a hardware issue.

3rd party software

For discussions sake, i’ve included a few software issues here.

  • Offline blogging tools. A third party software issue that will get solved in time. (I’m impressed with the progress of Blogsy on the iPad)
  • Office suites. Third party issue although core format support, encryption, media handling, drag and drop / copy paste, synchronization support can be due to operating system. Again, IOS is probably leading the way here.
  • Full feature browsers. (Mouse-over support in the OS could be needed here too)
  • Software development tools. 3rd party issue that also requires keyboard, mouse and often, external / extended screen support too.


Having listed a bunch of items above, we have to now ask ourselves whether they are important and if they are, are they likely to be fixed. Certainly the web browser issues are serious, the CPU power issues are too where the operating system runs on an ARM design and you have to think carefully about multi-user and expansion through third party devices on USB. That’s a big market! Issues like IP stack, multiple audio modules and extended screen are less important. Third party software issues will solve themselves as devices move into different markets and the customer-based there becomes big enough to support the creation and support of the software. As for the hardware issues, don’t expect 500GB storage soon but do look for alternative storage solutions via local or remote wireless connections.

What about that keyboard though? Is it still an issue? For many operations, it’s a barrier. Tablets are popular now but is there still a desire for a keyboard. I’m sitting in front of a tablet writing this post now only because it’s got a full keyboard attached.

My gaps

I want a mobile video editing system with blogging client and full browser capabilities. The video encoding hardware on the iPad has shown breakthrough capabilities in iMovie for the price and size . Keyboard input is important though so I would want a robust keyboard solution. Offline blogging tools are required. Full browser too. The ipad2 + keyboard is getting very close to a usable solution for me but it still has showstoppers. Cabled internet for high-speed video upload, full browser with flash, mouse-over, side-by-side windows for drag and drop, external screen, ability to edit non-iphone videos in iMovie. I’m still a huge proponent of the smartbook and hope that we see more work going into these because that’s where I see most of the gaps being filled for me. Windows 8 could be the stepping stone to an interesting smartbook / convertible / slider design. Like the TX100 perhaps!

Your Gaps

What are the ‘gaps’ that you see between a full computing solution and a consumer mobile OS solution.

21 Comments For This Post

  1. turn_self_off says:

    There is a whole bunch of “huh”s in those lists.

  2. turn_self_off says:

    btw while there may not be 500GB coming any time soon, that do promise a 250GB HDD version of their next gen of tablets.

  3. aftermath says:

    Could you please choose words better?

    Windows 7, Linux, and Mac OS X are all mobile operating systems. They are all loaded onto computers which can be taken just about anywhere and run for hours and hours with all of their functionality in place. Do you really not think that a laptop, notebook, or netbook is a mobile computer? That’s silly. In fact, this website is called UMPC Portal, where I think the “M” stands for mobile, and the PC operating system of relevance was Windows. I think you “want to mean” “handheld operating systems”, which is just an over abstraction of “phone derived operating systems”. However, if you’re getting technical, what you are talking about is EMBEDDED operating systems, which is exactly what iOS and Android are: embedded operating systems foisted on to consumers in ways that they were never intended to be and which make no sense, just so vendors can leverage benefits of vertical integration against the consumer.

    In reality, you’ve made a nice list of complaints about trying to use an embedded operating system for consumer and professional applications. It reads a little like a review of a hat as if it was supposed to be sandwich.

  4. Chippy says:

    There are lots of people thinking they can eat a hat!

  5. Leppi says:

    mobile OS = vertical OS

    NONE of the desktop OS’s can be used in the vertical market very elegantly. the only machines they operate correctly on (desktop, laptops, netbooks) are not vertical devices.

  6. Phil M. says:

    You don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of an UMPC, it is an official class of devices. It refers to devices roughly the size of a phone(although almost bulkier)that can run a full desktop operating system. Having something pocketable adds a whole new level of portability.There are allot of people who would like a computer where carrying something around is not practical or possible and something being pocketable is the only option. It is not a “phone derived operating system” like you said, but rather comming from the other direction of taking a full no compromise desktop operating system and putting it on a phone sized device. This idea was around before ios and android, and the gap between desktops and feature phones was much bigger than. Meanwhile, phone OSes have become much more sophisticated to the point where some people are calling a UMPC no longer relevant. Chippy here is just showing where they still fall short and need to improve to be on the same level.

  7. ArchiMark says:

    Perfect timing with this article, Chippy! as I just posted my thoughts this morning over at Pocketables forum on what I feel is the current dismal state of the mobile computing market….


    Would be very interested to know whether or not you share any of my points?

    Meanwhile, I’ve gone ‘retro’ as I’m typing this on my nice lil’ tweaked OQO 02….works great all in all….if there w

  8. ArchiMark says:

    Perfect timing with this article, Chippy! as I just posted my thoughts this morning over at Pocketables forum on what I feel is the current dismal state of the mobile computing market….


    Would be very interested to know whether or not you share any of my points?

    Meanwhile, I’ve gone ‘retro’ as I’m typing this on my nice lil’ tweaked OQO 02….works great all in all….if there was either a new OQO 03 or a UMID SE with swivel screen design, think I’d be quite happy….

  9. ArchiMark says:


    I posted here at the new forum about this topic and included a poll….

    Please check this out and make your voice heard with your vote and comments if you like too…..



    PS. Sorry, Chippy, for the double posts above…accidentally hit return key on the first one before finished…and then hit back button on browser hoping to catch it in time….can you please delete the first post?

  10. Joern Pachl says:

    I share your points completely. Up to know, I’ve not yet seen a single tablet device that beats a traditional netbook from the viewpoint of productivity. In the late 1990s, my preferred handheld device was a Psion Series 5. I still very regret that this promising concept of how a handheld computer should look like was killed by tabletmania.

  11. Mike Cane says:

    I don’t understand the mouse-over support, but couldn’t even that be solved by press and hold and adding “Mimic Mouseover” to a Lookup/Copy/Cut/Paste palette?

    I understand what you want to do with a setup, so I really have no other question than that one.

  12. Mike Cane says:

    Of course, only *after* typing that do I remember that I use mouseover a lot on Twitter to expand shortened links to see if they are worth clicking on. DUH! Still, even that could be solved with an Expand Link choice in a Twitter client or even their own website.

  13. alkarl says:

    mobile operating systems are way too shabby for savvy users,
    let’s not waste our times waiting 10 years for hardware upgrades or software implemention or game porting let us just switch to better habits,

    ARM will never reach X86 apps heights at least not as long as i am interested in this petty race for dominance, only intel can make the difference within the upcoming 5 years sweeping all that noisy ARM competition,

    things became clear to me waaay back that there is some secret consortium that fights the releases of smartphone capable of “video out” + “harware keyboard” + “separate power connector” in one and same device,
    because this will make a full fledged pocketable web browser or office editor which makes 98% of what people do with a real x86 computer, (not savvy users of course but we are minority lets face it),

    following your thought on 3d hardware capability on mobile devices, it would be a much more efficeint way to make 3D accelerated monitors or TVs for the sake of weaker devices, its clear that the GPU market is facing a deflation, 2009 graphic cards are wayy powerfull to play even upcoming 2012 games,

    it’s simple 3d isnt that obvious with smaller screens and resolutions but it becomes more evident when plugin in video out of a small deveice into a bigger one, that will releave us from waiting another 5 years for nvidia or amd to make graphic chips tha will go allong with intel moorestown or for what comes next ,

    so please postpone that chip miniaturisation race a little cause we know that the Li-Ion is the bottleneck and alien materials arent going to sprout from nowhehere replacing that, and put a bulky and cheap graphic card in a monitor so we can have gpu backup for weak devices which range from smartphone to even some weak 15″ laptops,

    an “ARM”istice isnt going to happen as long as apple is in the race comoooon INTEL we arent getting any younger…..

  14. rik says:

    I still don’t know why anyone would even pay so much money for any currently available tablet. Android and iOS tablets may be snappy but they do the same thing as smart phones (ie. severely limited) but with a bigger screen. Tablets running Windows or desktop Linux distros are on the other end where they’re not that limited in terms of features but they’re slow and awkward to use.

  15. davetweed says:

    What I’d like is some thought about input entry for mobile devices that tries ideas “outside the box” of the current thinking:

    1. Put an some form of software keyboard on the screen. Despite all the clever adaptive software, the screen surface is a poor medium for even moderate amounts of typing due to it’s lack of tactile response and the fact its on the same surface as the one you want angled to be able to read what’s happening.

    2. External keyboards that assume the answer to needing to be small to be portable is to take a standard keyboard layout and shrink it so it’s very difficult to use purely physically.

    I know there are some attempts at different keyboards such as the frogpad, but it’d be nice to see a wider set of options, particularly since we’re supposedly creating a new paradigm that doesn’t need “backward compatibility” with the IBM PC and it’s descendants.

  16. Jan says:

    I really love my iPad, but noticed that for productivity I still don’t use it as much as I want. The biggest gap for me is a good program to edit source code on the iPad. Problem: lots of text selecting, lots of special characters to enter. I want an onscreen keyboard, because I don’t like to take a big external keyboard with the iPad, (I should buy a MacBook Air if I wanted that setup) but the software keyboard that excels at editing source code still needs to be invented.
    I really DO use the iPad for writing pretty long mails, and other normal text stuff. If it really really gets long, I prefer a hardware keyboard and screen and I use the Mac instead of the iPad. But the reason for that is ergonomics, mostly to keep my neck in a comfortable position.
    I don’t think that that problem can be solved by improving the device, the cause is more that the human body is not suited for mobile computing and more suited for an ergonomic desktop solution.

  17. levine says:

    I can see the argument which chippy is trying to make.. I suppose one ideal solution would have been to have a tablet of the same weight factor as the Macbook air minus the keyboard. whilst I am not a fan of appl I simply believe that so many people are after apple products like zombies without knowing what’s really under the hoods of the devices. Motorola has made a decent effort of explaining why its XOOM tablet is far superior than the Ipad2. Actually,unless anyone is planning on usinga tablet in espionnage business or other ‘James Bond situation, most of us actually use our pc’s mostly for email and word processing inclusive of Excel and Power point etc. In fact there are some good third party software for tablets available which allo us to do almost the same thing on the tablet than what we would have done on a pc. Since these can also be saved in the appropriate formats, further refinements can then be undertaken over a pc by transffering the files over. (Dropbox!!).

  18. Maetchu says:

    One solution to the neck craning thing would be a projector in the side/top of the tablet. Type on the surface, watch what’s projected on the wall. Might also be able to help with screen real-estate. Still the feedback of a keyboard is nice to have. Other options are speech to text. If I remember right there were a few programs that could do this back in like the 90’s. There’ve been other options as well. Stick Typing for instance, using analog joystics. Heck there’s stick on joysticks for the ipad, couldn’t that be a solution for the typing? Might have to learn the new interface, but if you want the same old interface, go back to the same old equipment.

  19. tt2emu says:

    Hope combine Windows and Windows phone in new OS. We hope to use computer and surf web anywhere. Why we use windows mobile again. It lack of application program, limited function…
    There should be noly one OS for PC, phone, MID and PDA in the future, the next OS can run windows program on different platform. http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/fi-FI/msrconferencexpclient/thread/d7c80021-ac61-4dea-b1e7-e1532b247b08

  20. D T says:

    I agree with pretty much everything in this article, but I think the subject is also rhetorical, if not obvious. The answer to that question is simply a laptop running a full desktop OS that makes these hardware, OS and software requirement fulfilled. If size matters, then it’s a matter of shrinking the laptop to a size that can still work, but not compromising too much on the performance.

    As to form factor, I just don’t see for example, how one could use a UMPC or a MID to run Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro (not to mention other editors and tools) without have accessed to a more traditional pointing device and a keyboard! Or do you expect Adobe to release a touch friendly version of the same app, but just as full featured, and functional? May be on less complex software, but I don’t think so on that kind of level.

    So as a UMPC / MID centric website, what exactly is this article requesting? We currently have somewhat doable performance on shrunk (Honey I shrunk the laptop!) “portable computing devices”, and yet how suitable are they to this kind of power user task, given a choice?

    To me, if I were to do heavy duty work, such as video editing (I had used Premiere), then I’d do it on a desktop if the situation allows, and a power laptop, if it’s a compromise. I don’t think I’ll use anything that is netbook size or ultraportable size unless I want to ruin my eyesight. Those small devices are simply convenience devices, to do some simply task, and for fun.

    So even if you can have a quad core performance in a Samsung Q1 form factor UMPC, I don’t think it really answers anything.

    Going on the flip side, it’s also difficult to expect that the mobile platforms to grow to adapt as many things, such as I/O, peripherals, drivers, performance, and apps, as full as Windows had. Even desktop OSes are not all equaled, only Windows has achieved the most of everything, over the years. So it’s just hard to compare.

    I think the idealists in some of us, would dream about one perfect device that can do everything. But for me, I don’t think there ever will be one, and if there will be one, it’s probably designed by NASA, and will cost $10 million each!

    As long as the major desktop OS platforms are designed for mouse and keyboard, the most natural input will be with mouse and keyboard. Forcing something else on it, will decrease its usability. It’s just hard to merge the two.

    More and more end user apps are now available for mobile platforms, so to me, it’s good enough. But to some (like the author), it’s probably not. If I can get 90% of what I use on a desktop, to have those available on a mobile platform / device, I’m happy enough. I am happy about the compromise because it’s better than to carry my desktop with me on the street!

    There will never be just one OS platforms, there will always be more. There were more in the 80’s and then many died out, and only few remains, but now with the mobile platforms, we are seeing the bloom again, just like back in the 8-bit 80’s.

    Anyone remembers GEOS?

  21. infantilo says:

    it seem’s funny to me, that wm6 was the last mobile OS with OnDeviceProgramming (at leat basic4ppc). To develope for mobile OS you need windows/Linux/Mac. This makes mobile OS dependent.
    I don’t see the monitor problem, as e.g. archos tablet have an HDMI output. Also usb host drivers are partly available on most mobile OS…shure….mostly on hacked/rooted devices. (one more circumstance i don’t understand)
    It’s curious to me, why google and co. don’t work with all their power to get the things, iphone/ipad user enjoy: e.g. video editing. Current Devices work with processor speed above 1GHz, this should be more than enough to do “clever” video editing. The final rendering process may take longer, but who cares?

Recommended Reading

Top Ultra Mobile PCs

Dell Latitude E7440
14.0" Intel Core i5-4200U
Viliv S5
4.8" Intel Atom (Silverthorne)
Acer Aspire Switch 10
10.1" Intel Atom Z3745
GPD Win 2
6.0" Intel m3 7Y30
GPD Pocket 2
7.0" Intel Core m3-8100Y
HP Elitebook 820 G2
12.5" Intel Core i5 5300U
Acer Aspire E11 ES1
11.6" Intel Celeron N2840
Microsoft Surface Go
10.0" Intel Pentium 4415Y
Dell Latitude E7450
14.0" Intel Core i5 5200U
Lenovo Ideapad Flex 10
10.1" Intel Celeron N2806