Ever since the decline of its original Palm line heralded the end of the true “PDA”, the various properties that once made up Palm have been the digital equivalent of hot potatoes. Consider Peanut Press, which started out as an independent e-bookstore, was owned by Palm for a while under the name “Palm Digital Media”, was spun off to NetLibrary and renamed “eReader”, and was eventually bought by competitor Fictionwise—which was then bought by Barnes & Noble to form the basis of its Nook e-readers.
Now the latest anonymous rumor has it that the remnants of Palm itself, currently in the hands of Hewlett-Packard, might end up with Barnes & Noble’s bitterest rival. VentureBeat reports hearing from a “well-placed source” that HP is looking to sell Palm, and Amazon is the likeliest of several contenders to buy the company.
Might Amazon want to move away from its (all-but-unrecognizable) Android derivative and use WebOS instead? Amazon does have the advantage of being primarily a content company—the exact opposite of Apple, whose business is solely hardware. It’s made its e-reader app available for every mobile OS it could, including WebOS. The whole reason Amazon is subsidizing each Fire by an estimated $50 per unit is to get hardware capable of viewing its content in the hands of as many people as possible, so all those people have a reason to buy from its store.
In a way, Amazon could well look upon the spate of $99 TouchPads as a sort of precursor to its own Fire launch in that respect: Cheap hardware, Kindle app, many hands. (Of course, I don’t think there’s a WebOS client for Amazon’s streaming video services yet, as there will be for the Fire, but who knows what the future might hold?)
So, from Amazon’s point of view, it shouldn’t matter what the cheap hardware has under the hood. It’s already committed to supporting as many platforms as widely as possible. Android, WebOS, iOS, Windows Phone, partridge-in-a-pear-tree—as long as the device can read Kindle e-books (and presumably, at some point, watch Amazon Prime movies), everything’s golden. And given all the patent turbulence around Android lately (why, again, is Samsung paying Microsoft royalties for using a Google OS?), perhaps Amazon is looking for a safe harbor in case it has to ditch Android altogether due to IP considerations.
Of course, it might not even be the WebOS operating system Amazon wants. Slashgear speculates Amazon might be more interested in the tablet hardware designs that had been in the pipeline until the TouchPad’s unceremonious flop. Amazon has already shown itself capable of repurposing one failed hardware design, given that the Fire is essentially a rebranded BlackBerry PlayBook. Why not scoop up more fire-sale bargains? It’s also not outside the realm of possibility that Amazon might be interested in Palm’s patent portfolio, given that Palm essentially single-handedly invented the PDA (though surely most of its original patents would be past or near their expiration dates).
But even after all that speculation, we should still bear in mind that this is based on an anonymously-sourced rumor—and even if the rumor is true at this moment, business deals we never even hear about fall through all the time. Perhaps the best thing to take from this is that Amazon is not going to rest on its laurels but will keep looking for new ways to improve its product and service offerings. But then, we already knew that.