Palm is Dead; Long Live Palm

Palm, Inc. has one of the strangest corporate stories . . . ever. Let’s see if you can follow this timeline:

  • 1992 – Palm founded by Jeff Hawkins, Ed Colligen, and Donna Dubinsky. The Pilot handheld PDA becomes a big success in the subsequent years.
  • 1995 – Palm is acquired by US Robotics Corp.
  • 1997 – US Robotics (and Palm) are acquired by 3Com.
  • 1998 – Palm’s founders, unhappy with 3Com’s direction for the company, leave and form a new company called Handspring.
  • 2000 – 3Com spins the Palm subsidiary off into an independent company with an IPO on Nasdaq.
  • 2002 – Palm creates an independent subsidiary, named PalmSource, to manage and license the Palm OS operating system and renames itself, the device maker, to PalmOne. PalmOne spins PalmSource off into a separate, independent company.
  • 2003 – PalmOne buys Handspring, bringing the founders back into the company.
  • 2005 – PalmOne buys the rights to the ‘Palm’ name, jointly held by PalmOne and PalmSource, and renames itself back to Palm, Inc. PalmSource, meanwhile, is bought by Access, Ltd. PalmSource/Access struggles to create a worthy successor to the badly aging Palm OS operating system (it never does).
  • 2007 – Equity firm Elevation Partners buys a 25 percent stake in Palm, Inc., giving them a badly needed lifeline.
  • 2009 – Palm finally announces its own home-grown mobile operating system, WebOS, and a new ‘Pre’ smartphone. The system is well regarded, but doesn’t sell especially well.
  • 2010 – Palm, Inc. is acquired by Hewlett-Packard.

Obviously, this timeline had a lot of wrong turns. The splitting of Palm into two companies will likely go down in business history as one of the dumbest things a technology company has ever done, and PalmSource’s failure to deliver a worthy successor to the old Palm OS for so many years is a blight on their record and seriously hurt Palm[One]’s ability to compete in the market. While WebOS is still, in my humble opinion, the absolute best mobile operating system available, Palm has struggled to produce competitive hardware at a fast enough pace to compete with the Apple, Google, and RIM juggernauts.

This week—perhaps as early as tomorrow—Palm, Inc. will cease to exist. It will become part of venerable Hewlett-Packard, Inc. (HP). The expectation is that Palm won’t be a subsidiary (as it was under US Robotics and 3Com), but will become an internal unit at HP. It’s unknown at this time if the Palm name will live on, but it looks like Palm, as we loyal customers have known and loved it for so many years, will be gone.

The good news, however, is that with HP’s backing there’s a good chance that WebOS will land on better and better hardware in the months and years to come, and that HP/Palm/whatever it’s called will live on and regain its former standing in the mobile market. Long-time fans like myself are cautiously optimistic. Palm is dead; long live Palm.

Update: It’s official; Palm no longer exists as an independent company as of this morning (7/1), and is being de-listed from Nasdaq. In other news, stole my post title! :-) At least in the near term, Palm is being labeled as a subsidiary of HP but it’s unclear if this is a temporary or more-permanent arrangement.

Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.