John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Analyst: Palm's Special Sauce Is Finger Lickin' Good

palm_special_sauceNow that Palm has finally realized there’s no longevity in forever shipping incremental improvements to the Palm Pilot, the company got quite a future ahead of it.

Never mind that it faces some particularly long, historic odds. That it has launched a new bet-the-company product in the worst economy we’ve seen in 50 years, for example. That with the Pre, it is challenging Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, one of the most successful mobile phones in history. That it’s competing in a market crowded by the likes of Research in Motion (RIMM) and Nokia (NOK), which shipped an astonishing 468 million phones in calendar 2008.

Never mind all that. Because, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky, Palm (PALM) has the “special sauce”–the means of orchestrating a second act, perhaps even one of Jobsian proportions.

“Following a period of decline and facing oblivion, we believe Palm has the potential for a remarkable smartphone turnaround,” Abramsky writes in a lengthy research note on the wireless industry that I mentioned here yesterday as well. “With its new strategy, WebOS product line and under the direction of a new management team headed by ex-Apple executive Jon Rubinstein, Palm (like RIM and Apple) is, in our opinion, well-positioned for smartphone leadership.”

Abramsky sees a promising future: “Our outlook calls for Palm to quickly recover, growing from an estimated 1.3 percent data-centric smartphone shipment market share (0.2 percent TAM) or 2.2 million units in calendar 2009 to 3.6 percent share (1.3 percent of TAM) or 18.2 million units in calendar 2012. Targeting the PIM-centric segment of the Palm legacy, Palm in our view faces near-term risks, but has the ‘special sauce.’” (Click on table below to enlarge.)

rbc_palm

And what, exactly, is that? The stuff that goes between the two all-beef patties and the lettuce and cheese?

Not quite. Abramsky’s idea of special sauce includes vertical integration, “controlling the end-to-end smartphone software and hardware platform, a ground-up developed smartphone OS platform with unique innovations like multitasking, Synergy (user data integration), developer-friendly SDK, and compelling and clever hardware/software designs [that] all combine to offer a unique, iconic smartphone experience, differentiated from incumbent vendors.”

A hell of an ingredient list. But it’s one that the Pre and Palm’s webOS largely deliver on–despite some drawbacks. And if Palm can improve on that list, the company should have little trouble wooing back disenfranchised users and winning new ones.

Abramsky, again: “The huge positive reception to the launch of Palm’s Pre, its first WebOS device–despite the already broad awareness of iPhone–illustrates pent-up demand for innovative, non-intimidating smartphone user experiences. The accolades for Pre also show Palm has the potential to provide that rare iconic smartphone experience, above competitors, some incumbents and in the company of RIM and Apple.”

Which is pretty much what Palm has set out to do, as CEO Jon Rubinstein noted in the company’s last earnings call. “There is room for three to five players in this space,” he said. “We don’t have to beat one another to prosper.”

You do have to execute, though. And execution hasn’t historically been one of Palm’s strong suits. Perhaps it will improve with the addition of that special sauce Abramsky’s talking about.

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