Disconnected at Palm

Contact: Brenon Daly, Chris Hazelton

Palm Inc has lost a key set of hands. In an SEC filing Friday, the troubled company said that the head of its software and services, Michael Abbott, will be cleaning out his desk by the end of this week. (No word yet if he’ll also have to give back his smartphone.) The departure is significant because Abbott was responsible for building third-party developer support for Palm’s smartphone platform, which has lagged well behind the developer communities for Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS. It also underscores one of the key problems at Palm, which we explored in more depth in a recent report.

Specifically, Palm has precious little to show for its efforts to stay relevant in the mobile world. Here’s our back-of-the-envelope math: the company will spend in the neighborhood of $300m on sales and marketing and another $200m on R&D for the current fiscal year, which ends next month. (The levels are basically annualized totals from the first three quarters of the current fiscal year.) We would also add that they are significantly higher than spending levels at rival vendors. For instance, Palm spends 2.5 times more on R&D (as a percentage of revenue) than Blackberry maker Research In Motion.

Adding together sales and marketing plus R&D spending at Palm, we get about $500m, compared to projected revenue of about $1.1bn. And what does the company have to show for that half-billion-dollar outlay? Palm’s already tiny slice of the smartphone market actually got smaller this fiscal year. And yet, despite that dismal return on investment – not to mention a key executive departure – speculation continues to swirl that Palm will get snapped up. Most often, HTC, Lenovo or even Motorola are named as suitors for Palm. However, in our report, we note key reasons why those vendors wouldn’t be interested. For our money, Dell still seems the most-logical buyer of Palm.