44 Comments

Summary:

The list of potential bidders and partners for Palm is dwindling each day. With the recent rise of mobile social networking activities, perhaps Palm needs to consider a non-traditional partnership by turning its webOS handsets into Facebook phones.

Another day and another potential buyer of Palm has been crossed off the list — HTC is reportedly passing on the opportunity to purchase the troubled smartphone maker. Which means all signs are now pointing to Lenovo making a bid, especially in light of its recent decision to jump back into the smartphone market. But at this point, I don’t see Lenovo — or any other handset maker, for that matter — spending the billion or so dollars some expect Palm would fetch, for I think it’s too late for its webOS to compete against the platforms of Apple and Google.

With application developers focusing the lions’ share of their attention on creating titles for iPhone and Android handsets, any company considering involvement with Palm faces a limited ecosystem for software as compared to larger rivals. As a former Palm Pre owner, webOS was a joy to use, but it never truly gained the attention of developers, and so without a vast library of high-quality apps to choose from, I jumped ship.

Multitasking is good, but not enough

To be sure, I’ve owned or used phones from every platform and can say unequivocally that Palm’s webOS handsets do multitasking better than any other smartphone device, thanks to their innovative card system. But it’s not enough of a differentiator; if it were, consumers would shun Apple’s iPhone, which offers limited multitasking for native Apple software.

And Lenovo has already started to build atop of the multitasking Android OS; it introduced the world to its Android-powered Lephone in February. Its decision was an easy one to understand: The operating system doesn’t cost the company anything and it can leverage the growing popularity of Google’s platform in the process.

Why not a Facebook phone?

So given that Lenovo’s already made its support for the Android platform clear, who’s left to save Palm? Maybe it’s time to step outside the box and consider a less traditional option: Facebook. The webOS Synergy feature can already be used to link a Palm phone with a Facebook profile for easier contact management. In light of the social networking site’s plan to make the entire web social, that’s just the tip of the potential iceberg.

Imagine that Facebook partners with and pays Palm to rebrand its handsets as Facebook phones. Due to ineffective marketing, consumers don’t know about webOS, but they do know what Facebook is. The rebrand alone could vault Palm’s handset line into the spotlight. With the right hooks between Facebook and webOS, the devices would be dedicated social networking mobile phones, the number of which is steadily increasing due to the rise in social activities on smartphones. Palm could use the huge Facebook ecosystem as a carrot to dangle in front of mobile app developers, and Facebook would gain control over a mobile platform.

Perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong question about Palm all along. It’s not which carrier does Palm need, it’s which company Palm should partner with to save itself?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Could Games Redeem Windows Mobile and Palm’s webOS?

To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers

Image courtesy of Palm

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. I own a Palm Pre and there’s nothing more I’d like to see than the company and their products (especially WebOS) survive.

    That said, I really hope Facebook does NOT buy Palm. Given Facebook’s privacy breaches, a Facebook Phone would make me very nervous: they love mining users’ data to make money, they have a habit of sharing massive amounts of user data with other businesses without asking, they have a tendency to set new privacy “features” as open as possible by default.

    I would feel very wary about them knowing EVERYTHING about me, where I travel to (my GPS in the phone) who I call and when, all of my text messages back and forth, what apps I download, etc. Do people really want to break up with their girl/boyfriend and immediately see ads for a dating service?

    Yes I realize Palm and Verizon now have much of this information, and Facebook knows some of the rest… but I prefer many companies knowing a little bit about me than one company knowing everything about me.

  2. Palm could consider putting a WebOS skin on Android (much like HTC has done with Sense). This would:

    1. differentiate their Android smartphones from other vendors.
    2. eliminate the cost associated with keeping WebOS on par with iPhone OS, Android, WinMo 7, etc.
    3. eliminate the lack of apps issue. Their users would have access to the entire Android market.
    4. allow them to focus on creating great devices (smartphones, tablets, …).
    1. There’s an article on Techcrunch saying old mgnt is out, new blood coming in. IMO, they should seriously consider your suggestion. Ditch the h/w, develop a skin for Android, and maybe partner with HTC. I’d take a look.

    2. Sure. At a time like this Palm can definitely afford to flush all the R&D money that went into webOS and spend more to skin Android.

      There was some kind of rumor about this a month or so ago and Palm engineers literally laughed it off.

  3. Brian S Hall Friday, April 23, 2010

    Hard to think of anything worse for Facebook to do. We are at the birth of what I term the ‘smart social mobile web.’ The Facebook social ecosystem continues to grow by leaps and bounds and they have very effective apps for smartphones (the ones that matter).

    Taking ownership of a specific mobile OS/handset would needlessly have Facebook focus on that one particular OS. Their ability to thrive across multiple smartphone OS’s is a critical value. Can’t imagine Facebook would even consider this.

  4. Wayne Schulz Friday, April 23, 2010

    Interesting. I’d be concerned that the appeal of a Facebook phone at present would mainly be to younger people. The type of buyers who probably can’t afford the expensive required data plans.

    Maybe Google could buy them and rebrand it a Google Phone. Oh, wait… Nevermind.

  5. marcospolanco Friday, April 23, 2010

    Brilliant. Palm cannot think of itself within its existing business model, which is shot. The key is delivering tactility to someone else’s. Marshall McLuhan says “The medium is the message.” People, the medium is touch and if brands such as Amazon, Facebook, New York Times and Hollywood allow third parties (e.g. Apple) to interpose themselves in their customer relationships, they deserve to lose their franchises. It’s about exclusive content relationships, if you are to have a prayer against Apple.

  6. Nice. We like the idea of Facebook buying Palm too! Here’s why:

    http://www.petapixel.com/2010/04/12/why-facebook-should-buy-palm/

    Haha.

  7. Maybe I am missing something, but what would be the benefit for Facebook? I see only cons: FB has universal appeal across devices, why risking to become a niche on mobile devices by getting the other device vendors angry and potentially losing all the pre-loaded deals, going into a low gross margin business, distracting management by trying to turnaround a subscale hw business they have no experience with. While it might be a good idea for Palm, very bad idea for Facebook

  8. “This might just be crazy enough to work…”

  9. Facebook + Palm = The FacePalm 3G

  10. Could Facebook Buy Palm? Friday, April 23, 2010

    [...] I saw two posts suggesting that Facebook needs a mobile operating system and one suggesting Facebook could buy Palm. So could an acquisition of Palm by Facebook at this critical juncture take [...]

Comments have been disabled for this post