HTC, Nokia, Motorola Among Possible Palm Suitors: Analysts

The Palm Pre and Pixi are likable enough smartphones, but it's their platform, webOS, that's Palm's real carrot to dangle in getting buyers to bite. Nokia has been named as alternately a likely and not likely prospect, while Morgan Stanley believes Motorola, RIM and HTC are also good options.

Palm, the struggling creator of the Pre and Pixi smartphones and their well-liked mobile platform, webOS, is looking for someone to purchase it, Reuters reported April 11. Since then, the name of just about every handset manufacturer and PC maker has been mentioned as a possible fit. What analysts seem to agree on, however, is that webOS is Palm's one real carrot to dangle.
Morgan Stanley named Nokia and Motorola as being among the phone makers who could most benefit from acquiring Palm, according to an April 13 report cited by Bloomberg. Taiwan-based HTC and BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion were also mentioned as each being a possible "strategic fit."
"We believe the potential ownership of webOS would create a more defendable and viable long-term mobile devices business" for Motorola, Morgan Stanley wrote, according to Bloomberg. The financial services firm said that the benefit for Nokia would be the option of offering both webOS- and Symbian-based handsets.
HTC, however, which Taiwan's Economic Daily news has reported to be interested in talks with Palm, would benefit more from Palm's patent portfolio, Morgan Stanley added.
The latter perhaps answers a question posed by analyst Jack Gold, of J. Gold Associates, who wrote in an April 13 report: "What does Palm bring to the table that HTC doesn't have?"
Gold continued, "Palm has limited channels (carriers), limited international presence outside of North America, a diminishing customer base, and has lost most of its momentum after it launched the webOS and Pre/Pixi with lukewarm support from its carrier partners..."
(HTC is currently being sued by Apple, which alleges that HTC smartphones infringe on Apple patents.)
More likely suitors for Palm, wrote Gold, would be Chinese manufacturers ZTE or Huawei, which could "leverage both the Palm brand and its technology for both domestic and international market expansion." A Softbank or Access could also benefit from by licensing out webOS to OEMs.
Lenovo could be still another possibility, Gold wrote, though the timing likely isn't right, and Sony Ericsson, which has been losing market share, needs a great device and has "some very rich parents," was a possible "dark horse," though not terribly likely.
Gold entirely ruled out RIM and Nokia, though added that should Palm be purchased and successfully resuscitated, it's Nokia that has the most to lose.
"With Palm acquired and decent financial and marketing backing, it could impact on Nokia's smartphone business more than any other company," Gold wrote. "I don't think iPhone would be damaged in the short term, nor would BlackBerry. WebOS is a good, modern OS, and it could be a strong competitor to Android-based devices given a proper level of marketing investment, especially in the home markets of the acquirer."
Samsung and Nokia declined to comment on any interest, but LG Electronics told Bloomberg that it had no interested in purchasing Palm.