John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Who Will Buy Palm? If Not HTC, How About HP?

Well, this is a bit ironic, coming as it does on the heels of Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein’s “I believe Palm can survive as an independent company” proclamation Thursday: HTC has reportedly declined to bid on the company, which is said to be shopping itself around.

Evidently the Taiwanese hardware manufacturer took one look at Palm’s (PALM) books and decided an acquisition isn’t worth the trouble. “There just weren’t enough synergies to take the deal forward,” a source close to talks between the two companies told Reuters.

And so speculation about a potential acquirer is turning elsewhere. Lenovo seems to be the leading candidate at the moment. The company has big aspirations in China’s mobile market and a penchant for making big foreign acquisitions. It purchased IBM’s (IBM) ThinkPad business a few years back and tried to buy Packard Bell, so why not Palm?

Well, for one thing, Palm’s market share is too small to be of real benefit to Lenovo. For another, the company is already committed to Google’s (GOOG) Android for the OS to run on its soon-to-debut Lephone.

Finally, Palm’s asking price is said to be around $1.3 billion. Lenovo had about $2.4 billion in net cash reserves on hand the end of 2009. Would Lenovo really spend more than half of that on Palm, a company whose books frightened off HTC? As Larry Dignan writes at ZDNet, it’s hard to make the case that it should.

So if not Lenovo, then who?

How about Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)? With handheld sales that fell by more than half year-over-year in its first quarter, HP is surely looking for a way to revive them and capture a larger portion of the important mobile market. Acquiring Palm could be a good way to do it. Here’s why:

  • Yes, HP is a Windows shop with, no doubt, big plans for Windows Phone 7, but that OS will likely figure in devices aimed at the enterprise market. With Palm’s assets, HP could target the consumer space as well.
  • Palm’s webOS is scalable. HP could use it in other devices–tablets, for example–differentiating them from those of competitors using open-source operating systems like Android.
  • In Palm, HP would gain a turnkey smartphone division–a venture with a slick smartphone OS, a deep mobile patent portfolio, a talented R&D team, the beginnings of an app ecosystem and established carrier relationships.
  • Palm and HP both call Silicon Valley home, and former Palm exec Todd Bradley currently heads up HP’s Personal Systems Group. Obviously, there would still be integration risks, but there are clear synergies in culture and location that would at least temper them a bit.
  • HP has some $14 billion in cash on hand, more than enough to cover Palm’s rumored $1.3 billion asking price with plenty left over.

That seems to me to be a pretty compelling case. Has it been made inside HP? I can’t say for sure, though we may find out in the weeks ahead.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald