The short list
The "wouldn't it be nice" list
- HTC. We've pretty much said our piece on why this should go down -- it's a good fit for a variety of calculable reasons. Palm's enviable patent portfolio is going to come into play with any possible acquisition, but it plays a particularly prominent role for HTC in light of its upcoming legal battle royale against Apple... and as we've said, HTC could really use a platform to call its own. Killer hardware, software that's ahead of its time -- what could possibly go wrong?
- RIM. As far as we can tell, this one's more of an analysts' pipe dream right now than a substantiated rumor, and for good reason: though BlackBerry remains an enterprise favorite, there's no true next-gen platform in sight, which is exactly what Palm could offer in this relationship. RIM brings the rabid user base, Palm brings the fresh ideas. On the flipside, RIM's famously set in its ways, and buying a creative company like Palm is no guarantee that Mike Lazaridis and company would actually entrust the boys and girls in Sunnyvale with BlackBerry's future.
- Lenovo. Lenovo is high on the list of companies that seem like they should have a burgeoning global smartphone presence, but inexplicably don't; heck, IBM should've planted the seeds for that in its PC business before Lenovo even took the helm. Be that as it may, Lenovo is stuck here in 2010 without a shred of smartphone credibility outside its native China, and buying Palm would be an awfully quick way to jump-start that effort -- which is probably why the company is allegedly sniffing around. Thing is, we kinda want to see where this LePhone thing goes without Palm getting involved. Given enough time, Lenovo might still be able to build the business on its own -- It's really just a question of whether it wants to.
The dark horse candidates
- HP. Hewlett-Packard inexplicably let the legendary iPAQ brand wither on the vine after years of success -- seriously, these guys (and Compaq before them) practically owned the Microsoft-powered handheld market once upon a time, only to sit back and watch as everyone ate their lunch. Maybe more offensive, though, is the fact that they haven't just discontinued the line altogether -- instead, they've been half-assing their way between releases for the past several years. Buying Palm would be a quick way for HP to get back into the game, and a history of blockbuster acquisitions (Compaq and EDS to name a couple) plus a huge war chest automatically make the company a possible suitor.
- Microsoft. Picture a debt-free Palm with an unlimited budget thanks to another division that practically prints money. What do you want to bet a company like that would have six different devices running webOS on four different US carriers by now? Yeah, well, that's the kind of magic that could happen if Microsoft were to scoop 'em up. Obviously, that's a bit of a pipe dream in light of Redmond's well-thought-out story behind Windows Phone 7 -- but in a not-too-distant world where WinMo 6.5.3 was the best thing they had going, it would've made a whole lot of sense.
- Google. You could argue that webOS brings a certain elegance to the table that Android, in its current form, does not -- and Google would barely feel the hit on its balance sheet. What's more, we're certain Google will eventually be dragged into the Apple / HTC lawsuit, and Palm's patent portfolio would dramatically change that equation. Then again, we still think that Andy Rubin has a master plan, and bringing in Palm to mix things up might be too big of a pill for the dude to swallow.
- Apple. Let's be honest: Palm's chic industrial design and polished operating system mean diddly squat to Apple. But don't you think they'd just love to take that patent portfolio off the market? And let's not even get started on whether Steve Jobs would acquire Palm just to fire Jon Rubinstein -- those kind of fireworks would probably be worth the cost of admission alone.
- Nintendo. This one's been rumored for about a week, although it seems a bit strange. But hey, if you believe the hype that we're entering a Brave New World where all portable devices are all-in-ones capable of making phone calls, organizing your life, and serving up the best gaming experience you've ever encountered, then you might also believe that it makes sense for one of the traditional console companies to invest in a phone maker. Bonus points for a phone maker with an established gaming ecosystem. And hey, if Nintendo can buy a major league baseball team, it can certainly buy Palm, right?
- Dell. Dell's been an on-again, off-again suitor of Palm for a couple years now. Granted, they're seemingly in the "off" phase of that cycle right now since they're finally in the heat of kicking off their own phone line for reals, and word is the company has already passed on the acquisition -- but considering the lukewarm critical reception the Mini 3 has gotten so far, there's no reason to think Mikey D. couldn't still reverse course and just buy someone who knows how to do this right.
- Motorola. It's been years since a Motorola-Palm tie-up was rumored; since then, Moto's been rejuvenated thanks to a fairly well-executed push into Android territory. Moto's no stranger to being a multi-platform company, and there's no reason they couldn't do it again, but we'd rate the odds of this one happening at slim to none. It's not like Moto's swimming in cash right now, and picking up Palm creates more problems than it would solve.
- Nokia. Nokia has been rumored to be buying virtually every company on the face of the planet at one point or another, and Palm's certainly been mentioned in there once or twice. There are countless people who believe that Nokia could benefit from an entirely new operating system not borne of the company's traditional philosophies -- but like RIM, Espoo is probably too proud to give it much consideration. And besides, integration into the company -- both technically and culturally -- would be a nightmare.
- Sony. Another one that's more of a fanboy dream than a potential reality. Like Nintendo, Sony needs to come up with a cohesive convergence strategy that trades on its strength in gaming, and Palm's sitting right there with a gaming-ready platform. And let's be honest, Sony's never done as well with software as it has with hardware -- webOS would radically improve things, and put the company right back into the mobile game. We'd sort of love to see this one happen, but Sony's got enough problems making the PlayStation division play nice with Sony Ericsson -- adding Palm to the mix will just push its efforts back even farther.
So, there's the abridged version. Assuming this all goes down, who would you like to see win the spoils? Who's the best fit for a company that has more talent, history, and bright ideas than it has cash and customers? And more importantly, can Palm's spirit live on in the face of a sale? It looks like we're going to find out, and soon.