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Analysis: Where does Palm go from here?

Outlook bleak after gloomy smartphone forecast

Smartphone industry pundits wonder whether Palm can survive another year, given Palm's announcement that its new smartphone sales failed to meet expectations.

Palm revenues for the year will be "well below" a previous forecast, the company said, because adoption of its Palm webOS smartphones, the Palm Pre and the Pixi, first announced in early 2009, is taking longer than anticipated.

The news caused Palm's stock price to plunge 17 percent initially, and the question is being raised whether Palm can survive in its current form beyond the 2010 year-end Christmas shopping season.

Five analysts suggested that several things could happen to Palm by year's end. It could be bought; it could go private; it could raise more funds from Elevation Partners, an investment firm which has infused more than $400m (about £260m) in Palm since 2007; and, finally, it could focus heavily on expanding the number of carriers selling its smartphones, especially abroad.

Looking for a buyer

The possibility of Palm being sold to another company has been raised many times in recent years, but one analyst today questioned why anyone would buy it.

"The best candidates to buy Palm might be a Chinese or Japanese company wanting to get in the smartphone market, but realistically what would they buy?" asked Jack Gold, an analyst at J Gold Associates. "The odds Palm can last another year are no better than 50-50 right now, unless it builds momentum and makes money."

Because potential buyers of Palm aren't evident, Gold said it's even possible that Palm "could just fold up and go away if it runs out of cash".

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said Palm "needs to be acquired" and suggested Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, would benefit from buying Palm and its talented engineers.

Dulaney refused to speculate on Palm's future in a year, but Gartner researchers have projected that Palm's smartphones will have only 1.4 percent of the smartphone market in 2012, which Dulaney called a "very difficult survival strategy."

Tough competition

In the last year, Palm has been up against tough competitors, including Apple, Google, Motorola, Samsung and Nokia, that are "monsters in a tough, tough smartphone market", Dulaney said. "Palm is a Silicon Valley icon, and I don't want to see it go," he added.

On the other hand, Will Stofega, an analyst at IDC, predicted Palm will certainly be around in a year, since the company has a great mobile operating system but has not had the help from carrier partners that it needs. He suggested Palm could go private, and could certainly start aggressively marketing its products abroad, partnering with carriers from other countries.

Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI, said Palm has "very solid devices and a well-done OS, but its problem is lacking scale" against enormous competitors. "Could it ride this trouble out with a lot more wireless operators? Yes, but there's already so much competition from iPhone, Android and even Windows Phone 7 coming," Burden said. "It doesn't have the scale to compete today, and the big guys are getting bigger."

Next: Can Palm survive by expanding carrier relationships? >>

See also:

Palm lowers smartphone revenue expectations

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