10 Things Palm's Buyers Must Do to Save the Company

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-04-12

10 Things Palm's Buyers Must Do to Save the Company

After attempting to thrive in the mobile market against the iPhone juggernaut, reports now claim that Palm has enlisted the help of major investment banks to help it find a company that's willing to acquire it.

So far, Palm hasn't confirmed that it's on the market, but based on the company's performance over the past few years, it's certainly believable. The embattled firm's Pre has proven to be a failure and so far, it has been unable to find a way to crack the mobile market. Things just aren't looking up for Palm.

It's a sad story. Years ago, Palm's Treo was on top of the mobile market and Palm OS was widely regarded as a viable alternative to Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform. But as the years wore on, Palm didn't see that the market was changing and companies such as Apple and Google revolutionized the space. It was only after the iPhone enjoyed such success that Palm attempted to stage a comeback. But as recent sales figures have shown, it has failed.

So, we arrive at a sale. Just how much Palm is worth and whether or not a competitor will acquire it is unknown. But that won't stop us from giving Palm's future owners a cheatsheet to help them see a positive return on their investment.

1. Dump WebOS (for now)

WebOS might have sounded like a great idea at first, but it has proven to be disastrous. Developers have found WebOS difficult to work with and since other mobile operating systems are more popular, it lacks support from ISVs. It's a real problem for Palm. Although the company's WebOS does have some value, any firm that acquires it will need to dump the operating system. It's not that the software is awful; it just doesn't fit in today's marketplace.

2. Say good-bye to Sprint

One of the first things an acquiring company should do with Palm is eliminate its partnership with Sprint. Palm's relationship with Sprint ensured from the beginning that the Pre wouldn't make it against the iPhone. Any company that acquires Palm needs to make the company fully carrier-agnostic. Unless a company has an apple for a logo, playing nice with just one or two carriers is a major mistake in the mobile market.

3. Keep the Pre's design

The Palm Pre might get a bad wrap sometimes, but it's a good design. The device is easy to hold, fits perfectly in a pocket and delivers a viable design alternative to the iPhone. Now, that doesn't mean that the acquiring company should stick with the Pre and hope for the best, but it does mean that any future iterations of Palm devices should take their inspiration from the Pre.

4. Go Android

After ditching WebOS, the next thing to do is to strike up a partnership with Google. What better way for it to re-emerge in the marketplace than to offer an operating system that's based on open-source technology? Plus, Android is becoming increasingly popular in the marketplace as more consumers view it as a nice alternative to the iPhone. If Palm survives an acquisition, it will be due to its partnership with Google.

Palm Needs to Get Back to Its Roots

5. Double-down on an app store

One of Palm's biggest issues right now is its lack of an app store. The company that acquires Palm will need to get to work on building an online app store immediately (especially if it opts against Android). Applications are becoming a must-have in today's mobile marketplace and it's the single place where Palm falls entirely flat. If the new owner decides they want to stick with WebOS (a big mistake), it needs to find a way to attract developers to the platform. If it doesn't, there will be little it can do to resurrect the hobbled company.

6. Stay true to the company's history

Palm's loyal following has helped it survive this long. Palm has enjoyed a long history of delivering products that, at times, pushed the mobile space forward. The Palm Pilot was a groundbreaking device. Palm OS was widely considered a fine mobile operating system for its time. All the while, the company has attempted to stay true to its core values that made it a success in the first place. Unfortunately for Palm, those core values aren't as relevant today as they once were and customers are going elsewhere for mobile products. But Palm's take on mobile products is valuable. It just needs to be managed more efficiently.

7. Look beyond mobile phones

For years, Palm has believed that mobile phones are its bread and butter. But as its profits have slid and its devices have stayed on store shelves, the company hasn't adapted to the changing marketplace. The company's new owner will need to look beyond mobile phones to produce a positive return on the investment. A good place to start is the tablet market. Yes, it's another space where Apple will likely dominate, but it's also the future in mobile computing. If Palm isn't prepared for that and it doesn't try its best to carve out a portion of that market, there will be little it can do going forward.

8. Focus on the enterprise

RIM has been extremely successful focusing almost all of its efforts on the enterprise market. All the while, Apple and Google have done little to break out of the consumer space and specifically target the corporate world. Palm's new owner might find an opportunity there. Corporate users made the Palm Pilot a business standard in the late 1990s. Many of those users stayed loyal to Palm products until the advent of the iPhone and the RIM BlackBerry. To revive Palm, the new owner must find a way to develop new applications and features that enterprise users will covet. Admittedly, Palm now faces much more competition in that space now from RIM and many others. But that will keep Palm close to its roots and perhaps allow it win back some of the users it has lost in recent years.

9. Stop trying to be Apple

When Palm announced the Pre, most pundits said that the company was trying to take on Apple in a market where mimicking the leader usually ensures failure. Unfortunately for Palm, it didn't heed those warnings. When it's acquired by a new owner, the last thing it should do is continue Palm's "Follow-Apple" strategy. It's understandable that Palm wants to achieve the kind of success Apple has, but attempting to do what Steve Jobs does is not a smart move. The future Palm owner needs to find a way to differentiate the company in the market. Mimicking Apple just won't cut it.

10. Remember the patents

A significant portion of Palm's market value is its patents. The company holds several highly sought-after patents on mobile technology that have helped it in the past. When a company finally acquires Palm, it needs to ensure that those patents are part of its strategy. Whether it wants to hold on to the patents for future investment or start selling them off, having control over Palm's many patents is a good position to be in.

It's trying to turn the company around that puts its new owners in an unenviable position.

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