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Symbian CEO takes aim at unconnected generation

Nigel Clifford's riding high on the current Net-savvy generation, but thinks there's quite a future for bringing the world's unconnected population onto the Internet through mobile phones.

LAS VEGAS--Nigel Clifford, CEO of smartphone OS provider Symbian, is well aware that everyone's looking at this industry with hungry eyes.

"No fixed Internet brand can afford to ignore the mobile marketplace," he said in a wide-ranging interview on the sidelines of CTIA 2008, where Symbian is hosting the Smartphone Summit a day before things officially get started.

As Google and Apple have shown over the last year, everybody wants a part of the mobile world. Symbian dominates this world at present, with well over 60 percent market share in the smartphone industry. But it's facing challenges from all sides, as Apple goes after its consumers, Google goes after its developers, and Microsoft and Research In Motion continue to court businesspeople.

In a way, however, Clifford sees the competition as wider than just the phone market. "There's 3 billion (mobile phone) subscribers in the world, and 3 billion who are not. I can see a whole generation experiencing the Internet for the first time on the mobile device," he said.

Of course, the PC industry wants to get those people inside its big tent as well. This means that mobile phones are going to have to get smarter, and embrace the Internet that's already in place for PC users around the world.

"There just has to be one Internet that you access, and we as hardware and software suppliers have to find a way to do that," Clifford said. The era of the mobile Internet seems to be officially dead as smartphone companies go after bringing the full Internet experience to their customers.

Apple has certainly made that a centerpiece of its pitch for the iPhone. Clifford recognizes that the PC industry is going to have to start doing iPhone-like things into the future. "No fixed Internet brand can afford to ignore the mobile marketplace. The PC is going to be capped in the marketplace. They're coming, and they're bringing some of their smarts with them."

I'll post much more of the interview with Clifford after I have a chance to transcribe it later in the day.