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HP Buys Palm for $1.2 Billion: What it Means

by Andrew Brown | Apr 28, 2010

The smartphone market just took another surprising turn in a year where the battleground around mobile operating systems has become more intense than it has ever been, as HP acquired Palm for $1.2 Billion.

It has been well documented that Palm’s innovative WebOS has struggled to gain a sufficient foothold in the market, and sell-through has lagged because carrier promotion has been limited. Recently Palm has essentially been shipping a 6 month old device  with limited differentiation along with suffering from mounting channel inventory issues at key carriers such as Verizon and Sprint. Outside North America, sales have also been significantly lower than expected.

While both companies had a proud history in the PDA market (including the iconic Palm V and iPaq), both companies have struggled to gain a serious foothold in the smartphone market.

 

 

Whilst $1.2B seems a high price on the face of it, there is clearly and  it makes sense as there are clear synergies, and almost as importantly, a cultural fit, with various ex-Palm employees such as Todd Bradley and Satjiv Chahil present in HP’s PSG team.

  • HP lacks presence and a clear direction in its smartphone business. The acquisition of Palm offers great mobile operating system IP as well as product development. It builds out the missing mobile part of the HP jigsaw.
  • Palm lacks the channel distribution, efficient supply chain and reach. It lacked the funds to accelerate its product launches and refresh cycles. HP offers Palm the ability to resolve these issues and extend its reach in carrier channels, as well as opening up new channel opportunities.
  • HP has spent years optimizing its supply chain capabilities, something that Palm has found a constant challenge.
  • HP could potentially be acquiring Palm as a proactive move to prevent competitors getting hold of valuable IP in WebOS. It also warns competitors away from attacking Palm with patent infringements.
  • The move would allow HP will offer the valuable WebOS to licensees, potentially creating a rival to Android? Palm’s perceived value is more closely linked to its software and platform development than specifically to its devices. Under one parent, platform fragmentation could be kept to a minimum. It is unclear if there is an intention to take this path at the moment.
  • HP could potentially be acquiring Palm as a proactive move to prevent competitors getting hold of valuable IP in WebOS. It also warns competitors away from attacking Palm with patent infringements.
  • The acquisition offers HP the ability to scale, WebOS for an emerging tablet and larger device business, where it is a leader and where Microsoft’s Windows Operating System is not the answer.
  • The forthcoming Windows Phone 7 Series looks likely to offer little in the way of customisation for mobile operators. Clearly the acquisition of Palm allows HP to put something differentiated into the market.
  • HP now has a mobile piece with which to integrate its enterprise software offerings and target the mobile worker, supported by its global services business.

More details of the deal will obviously emerge in the coming days, but what is certain is that HP will increase investment in WebOS, which it perceives to be the leading mobile platform which will offer a serious and credible mobile string to the bow of a formidable, global, tech giant. Interesting (and competitive) times for the mobile devices market indeed!

Andrew Brown

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