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Select the right OS for IoT devices

IoT OSes are designed to support devices with minimal power and storage resources. Learn about the sector's available OSes and how they might best suit your devices and use cases.

IoT OSes enable devices and apps to communicate with each other and with cloud services within the tight constraints of limited processing power and memory bandwidth. They manage the resources necessary to transmit, collect and store data, so designers must choose the right OS for optimized product performance, security and management.

IoT OSes control smart meters, ATMs, elevators, traffic lights, digital televisions, point-of-sale (POS) terminals and airplane controls.

An OS that controls IoT devices and enables data transfer differs from the typical server or desktop OS, such as macOS or Windows. Desktop OSes carry out the primary functions, such as user interaction and resource management. IoT OSes, on the other hand, are designed specifically to work reliably for IoT use cases, including cellular connectivity, mobility and interoperability.

Get IoT OS selection right

IoT devices have less power, memory and processing capabilities than mobile devices and desktop computers. These factors make it important for developers to select the IoT OS that fits a device's capabilities and meets functionality requirements.

The IoT OS must support all the application, hardware and connectivity requirements of the product once it is off the manufacturing line and in use. For example, the real-time performance of the OS and the processing power should match the device's expected needs.

Designers must automatically build security into the IoT device -- and the OS is a key component. Because different IoT OSes offer different security features, admins should consider what security features their device requires. These include encryption, certification, multilayer defense and compartmentalization.

In cases where the parameters of the IoT product will change, developers must select an IoT OS that can scale to accommodate any functionality -- such as data transmission or UX updates -- without any effects to the device's performance.

Available IoT OSes

Regarding IoT OS selection, look at more than one to select an effective option that works for any IoT requirements. Options on the market include the following.


Contiki is an open source IoT OS built with the C language. It suits low-power IoT devices, such as wireless sensors, networking devices and microcontrollers, and uses the internet standards IPv6 and IPv4. It is released under the 3-Clause BSD license and is based on protothreads to maximize memory efficiency. Contiki use cases include street lighting, radiation monitoring, alarms and sound monitoring for smart cities.


A real-time OS for embedded devices, FreeRTOS makes it easy to connect to small IoT devices. Amazon maintains this OS for the FreeRTOS community. Mostly programmed with C, FreeRTOS supports industrial use cases, consumer products and B2B commercial products. Its main features include book and reference manuals, coroutine support, a small memory footprint and low technical overhead. It is released under the MIT license.

Arm Mbed OS

Arm Mbed OS includes features to build smart, connected IoT products on Arm Cortex-M-based hardware, such as security, a real-time OS kernel, drivers for sensors and I/O devices, machine learning capabilities and connectivity stacks. This OS uses the Apache 2.0 license and supports connectivity options such as Wi-Fi, RFID, cellular, near-field communication and Bluetooth. Arm Mbed OS is used in industrial, commercial and consumer products.


Tizen is a Linux-based free, open source IoT OS. Hosted by The Linux Foundation and developed by Samsung Electronics, this OS connects everything, including wearable devices, smartphones, smart TVs and wearable IoT devices. Tizen supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Matter and Thread protocols. Admins can use HTML5, C and C++ programming languages and Arm, Arm64, x86 and x86-64 platforms for IoT device development.

Windows IoT

Windows IoT is a component of the Microsoft Windows 10 OS and works with IoT devices that run on Arm and x86/x64 devices -- with or without a display. Windows IoT OS comes in two editions: Core and Enterprise.

Windows IoT Core supports small, embedded devices. It supports use cases for digital signage, smart homes and buildings, IoT gateways and wearables.

Windows IoT Enterprise supports industrial use cases, including digital signage, retail POS products, industry tablets, kiosks, ATMs, thin clients, medical devices and manufacturing devices.

Microsoft offers Windows IoT Enterprise in Windows 10 and Windows 11. Windows IoT 10 is more suited for devices designed for long-term hardware that doesn't require many updates. Windows IoT 11 supports annual upgrades, making it more ideal for more devices that will change feature sets over time.

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