Handicapping the future of Palm (or the lack of one)

The news (or at least the leaks and rumors) surrounding Palm seem to be only getting worse. Today, reports have emerged that Asian wireless companies HTC and Huawei declined to bid on Palm. The speculation now is that Chinese PC maker Lenovo is the front runner.

At the same time, Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein insisted the company could remain independent. In an interview with the Financial Times, Rubinstein suggested Palm might license its WebOS, the mobile operating system that runs the Palm Pre and Pixi, to other companies. But how much would you pay to license an OS from a company that seems caught in a death spiral?

No, it seems a sale of some sort is more likely. When you start blaming your partners for your troubles, as Rubinstein did in the FT piece, things aren’t likely to improve any time soon. Palm has Goldman Sachs and Frank Quattrone’s Qatalyst Partners on the case to find a buyer. And I have to believe there has to be a price at which Palm would be valuable to someone.

After all, Palm has a solid mobile operating system, although it’s struggled to attract developers to match the applications ecosystems of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android platform. But I’m guessing in part that developers are reluctant to jump in with two feet and create things for a company with such an uncertain future. A sale to someone with deep pockets could turn that around.

Here are my thoughts about who is left in the running, or should be:

Dell: I liked the idea of the PC maker buying Dell. But now that Dell has leaked details of Windows and Android based smartphones and tablets, it seems the company is getting its mobile act together. I think they move down the list, if not right off.

Hewlett-Packard: They’re digesting a lot, with the mega-merger of EDS and more recently 3Com still settling. But, HP has tons o’ cash. And the company has shown its chops at pulling off successful mergers to transform HP. It’s got an HP tablet coming later this year. But it could use a more robust smartphone offering.

Nokia: Once the king of mobile, the company is still the worldwide leader in handset sales. But in terms of mindshare and smartphone leadership, it’s badly behind. Nokia’s earnings report earlier this week exposed just how much it’s strugggling against the iPhone and the BlackBerry. Could Palm offer a quick way to boost momentum and get back on top of its game?

Cisco Systems: This remains my favorite darkhorse. The entire company has been built on an endless stream of acquisitions. CEO John Chambers can make just about anything work. And the company has been pushing into the consumer space, with acquisitions like Pure Digital Technologies, maker of the Flip video cameras. Now that HP is pushing deeper into the networking space, I wonder if Cisco needs to push back into other pieces of HP’s territory with smartphones, tablets and even by buying a PC maker?

That’s my list. Who do you like? Or is Palm headed to the grave?


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  • webOSprogrammerz

    From the sound of Palm’s CEO’s last statement, they’re unlikely going to sell out to any company you’ve listed. Palm is confident that sales are starting to look better after Verizon has improved sales and have slashed their prices to very affordable prices for a solid smartphone. Their new ventures into Europe are also finally getting traction as developers will soon receive additional earnings through international app distribution points.

    And that’s all positive news. I’ve got the best SQL-based app available for the webOS platform and it’s only going to get better. You should begin to see many more applications in the next coming months available for the Palm Pre as well as an overwhelming number of 3D gaming apps are ported and produced by Electronic Arts and Gameloft.

    In fact, a large number of webOS developers are in extremely heavy competition as we speak to earn a piece of the $1,000,000 cash prize award being offered by Palm. I suspect once the announcement of winners have been revealed after June, the rate of webOS application numbers will continue to spike off the charts where they left off.

  • Gieson Cacho

    Apparently, HP is acquiring Palm for $1.2 billion