Palm’s Acquisition Prospects Bleak

Apparently the handicapping on Palm’s fate has begun, though I have no idea whether bookies are taking bets, online or in the physical world.

My view is that Palm is beyond saving, that it will continue its downward spiral until it eventually ceases to exist. Some see a money-bags acquirer somehow paying more for Palm than it’s worth, but why would anybody sane do that? The company had its run, Elevation Partners pumped it full of funds and brought in new management to effect a turnaround, but the resurrection proved quixotic and short-lived.

Still, there are those who hope an acquisition will happen. Some of them have vested interests, and others, for various reasons, just enjoy seeing deals done.

Some of the Palm acquisition scenarios envisioned by Colin Gibbs at GigaOM seem only remote possibilities. Gibbs, for example, lists Dell and HP as potential acquirers of Palm. In my view, Dell shouldn’t take that plunge, and HP definitely won’t do it.

HP might get back into the handset space, if it can figure out how to tie the effort to web-based photo services and printing, but it’s unlikely to want to want Palm. If you’ve been watching HP lately, you’ll see that it’s been making a concerted effort to get closer to Microsoft. HP and Microsoft have something in common: fear of and loathing toward Cisco.

If HP gets into the mobile-phone market, it will probably have an Asian contract design/manufacturer provide the hardware while using Microsoft’s Windows Phone as the software. At this point, HP needs Microsoft as an ally across a range of products and markets. I can’t see HP risking the relationship with a Palm acquisition, nor can I see HP wanting to take a speculative flyer on a mobile operating system. Mark Hurd’s philosophical approach to business involves risk mitigation and relentless cost controls. I just don’t see today’s HP rolling the dice on Palm.

Dell shouldn’t buy Palm. Dell just made a major acquisition of Perot, and it ought to be following an acquisition strategy that adds to and deepens the software-based value it can bring to enterprise customers and hosting providers. It isn’t exceptionally adept at consumer products or consumer marketing, so it’s difficult to understand what Dell could do with Palm that Palm’s current management hasn’t already done to make the company viable.

At Silicon Alley Insider, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry mentions other potential acquirers of Palm: RIM, Nokia, Microsoft, and Google.

It would be shockingly out of character for RIM to buy Palm. If one examines RIM’s history and corporate culture, one sees that RIM prefers to develop products and key technologies organically. It’s made acquisitions, yes, but they’ve always involved very small companies and been highly targeted, aimed at capabilities they had tried and failed to deliver on their own.

I just cannot envision RIM scrapping its own mobile operating system for WebOS, nor can I imagine RIM believing the Palm brand is worth more than its own brand. Besides, RIM — at least for now — is more than holding its own in the smartphone market. It’s not desperate enough to roll the dice on a Palm acquisition.

Nokia could make a run at Palm — the company is a past master at poorly conceived and wretchedly executed acquisitions — but I think a sober sense of restraint now inhibits the company’s M&A adventurism. Nokia will try to go its own way on the operating-system front, and its brand is strong enough globally — though perhaps not so great in the U.S. — for the company to remain relevant on its own merits.

Microsoft? Not bloody likely. It’s buried Windows Mobile, and it’s spinning the wheel of fortune with Windows Phone Series 7. I’m skeptical as to whether Microsoft finally has gotten the formula right with its latest mobile operating system, but the software giant seems confident that it has discovered a belated homegrown edge. It will see where that leads.

As for Google, why on earth would they do such a thing? There have been some bumps in the road, but Google is off to a reasonably good start with Android. What it needs now is more commitment to and focus on the horse it already has in its barn, not an ambitious but misguided attempt to assimilate new technologies into the mix. Such a move would engender gratuitous technology-integration challenges and unnecessary brand-identity issues. Google does not need the distractions Palm would bring.

In the end, Palm’s unwinding will be an anticlimax. On that score, I agree with former Jean-Louis Gassee, former founder of Be Inc. and now a general partner at venture-capital firm Allegis Capital. He doesn’t see a white knight with a bag of money riding to Palm’s rescue, either.


One response to “Palm’s Acquisition Prospects Bleak

  1. I will preempt the 20/20-hindsignt brigade by admitting I was wrong about HP. It wanted to get back into the mobile space, as I though it might, but it wants to do it with its own operating system instead of with Microsoft’s.

    The HP-Microsoft relationship could fracture on multiple fronts.

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