Palm should sell to a bigger company, says former manager

March 30, 2007, 9:49 AM UTC

Gibu Thomas, founder and CEO of Sharpcast, has a column about Palm (PALM) posted on VentureBeat. He writes that Palm’s best chance of survival is to sell to a bigger phone maker, and give up hope of becoming the next Apple (AAPL).

He makes a cogent argument, and doesn’t pull punches.

For a company that Fortune magazine once (in)famously predicted would challenge Nokia for leadership in the cell phone handset business, as of late, Palm has been waging a losing battle against cruel market forces. The challenges Palm face as a standalone company are deeply structural, things that are more tied to fundamental industry dynamics than what any financial investor or good management can control or fix for the long-term. There was a point in Palm’s history two or three years ago when Palm could have doubled-down on the success of the Treo — introduced new form factors and price points and built fences around the experience with compelling services that are sticky to the device, similar to what Apple did with the iPod — but that time is long past, with umpteen new competitors diluting the Treo mystique with slicker form factors, improved usability and lower costs.

Full column here.

Chief among those competitors is Apple. Whether you like the touch-screen implementation on Apple’s iPhone or not (and it’s hard to judge either way without carrying one around for a few days), it’s the most innovative phone interface in a long time. Why? Apple’s multi-touch technology potentially makes the touch screen experience more flexible and responsive than the other phones on the market.

Even though it’s not immediately evident, the iPhone’s allure is more about software than hardware – and that’s another reason Palm is in trouble. While Apple readies the iPhone, Microsoft (MSFT) is testing out new cell phone interfaces through Deepfish and ZenZui, and Mozilla’s working the mobile browser side with Minimo (Windows Mobile only). Meanwhile, Palm’s hardware and software efforts have been mostly running in place technology-wise for the past couple of years; incremental improvements, but nothing to call home about.