If Palm were for sale today, the deal would probably be a lot more interesting
HP acquired Palm last April for $1.2 billion, winning a bake-off that also included RIM, Apple, and Google, according to my reporting last summer.
A lot has changed since then — both at HP and in the mobile industry — and it’s interesting to think about how the deal may have gone differently if it had happened this year and not last year.
RIM may have been a stronger bidder. While RIM’s current problems go back more than a year, it looks much worse today than it did a year ago. Palm’s WebOS seems better designed all-around than the QNX platform that RIM is betting on. RIM seems less arrogant today than a year ago, and may be more willing to spend now.
Facebook and Amazon may have been serious bidders. Facebook and Amazon are both tinkering with Google Android, but are both big and ambitious enough that they could be in the market for their own mobile platform.
HTC and Nokia probably also would have taken a good look. HTC is getting huge and needs more intellectual property. (And maybe someday could successfully run its own platform.) Nokia has settled on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 for now, but is probably better off owning its own platform long-term.
Apple and Google may have been even more interested in acquiring Palm’s intellectual property, as the smartphone patent wars have gotten rougher. (Microsoft, too.) Palm was one of the first mobile device companies, so its patents are probably worth something. But just as last year, a company buying Palm for its IP probably wouldn’t want to spend as much as a company that actually wants to buy Palm to do something with it, the way HP did.
HP has survived the Mark Hurd scandal, but that was a big distraction. Todd Bradley, the guy who used to run Palm, is still at HP. And it would still be a top candidate to acquire a mobile platform company, with which to move further away from Microsoft and Windows. But who’s to know if current CEO Léo Apotheker would have pushed as hard to acquire Palm as Hurd did? Would he have gotten as good of a deal today?
This is a purely academic exercise, as it’s unlikely that Palm would have gone another year on its own. But even considering its unremarkable progress over the past year, it wouldn’t be surprising if Palm could have fetched a higher price today — or at least gone to a totally different buyer.