We've been wondering for a while what is up with Palm.com domain, and it's looking more and more certain that HP sold the brand and trademarks to Alcatel Onetouch. The first hints of this came from the teaser when the website started redirecting to mynewpalm.com, with a looping video of the Palm logo with the text "coming soon" and "smart move" beneath. "Smart move," as it would be, is the slogan of Chinese smartphone manufacturer Alcatel Onetouch (a brand of Chinese electronics firm TCL). That's not exactly a lot to go off of though, but it was enough to raise suspicions.
That's where webOS Nation Forum member Ederic Eder comes into play. He did a bit of diging and found that on October 31st Palm, Inc (still technically a subsidiary of HP) transferred ownership of the Palm name, trademarks, and logos to Wide Progress Global Limited.
The transfer was executed on the Palm side by Rishi Varma (HP SVP Deputy General Counsel) and Wide Progress Global Limited was represented by Nicolas Zibell. We wouldn't expect either of those names, nor Wide Progress Global Limited to be familiar to you. It doesn't take much research to find that Wide Progress Global Limited is what's called a "shelf company", a corporate entity that's created and the tucked away for the day somebody needs to do something without exposing who's really behind that something. It's different than a shell company in that it was created with no intended purpose — it's "put on a shelf" until it's needed. A quick search revealed that the Palm trademarks are the only trademarks currently held by Wide Progress Global Limited.
Nicolas Zibell is, according to the trademark transfer, a VP at Wide Progress Global Limited. But that's nothing — Nicolas Zibell is also President, Americas and Pacific, of Alcatel Onetouch and TCL. Alcatel Onetouch isn't a huge brand, though they have sold well over 300 million handsets. The company's strongest positions are in Asia, with very little presence or brand recognition in the US.
So we have HP transferring the Palm trademarks to a shelf company that just so happens to be led by the same guy who is in charge of Alcatel Onetouch America. Interesting, no?
We reached out to Alcatel Onetouch and Nicolas Zibell directly, both neither have responded to our requests for comment.
If we assume that the trail of crumbs to this point is correct (and we see very little reason to assume otherwise), then the real question is this: what is Alcatel Onetouch going to do with the Palm brand?
There are a couple of approaches to consider. The most basic is that Alcatel Onetouch has in the past produced phones with a model name of Palm, and they just are working to protect their own branding. Though why that would necessitate a shelf company transfer maneuver, we couldn't tell you.
The more intriguing option is that Alcatel Onetouch plans to use the Palm brand going forward, either as part of a line of phones, or as their own brand. While an Alcatel Onetouch Palm line of smartphones seems like a reasonable proposition, Alcatel Onetouch America rebranding as Palm (or perhaps even all of Alcatel Onetouch) would be a very interesting move.
Like we said, Alcatel Onetouch has very little brand recognition in the US, while the Palm name has significant recognition and customer goodwill. What was probably a few million dollars to buy the Palm trademarks (perhaps several million, though we have no way of knowing right now) brings instant brand recognition that would cost far more in advertising dollars. Of course, Alcatel Onetouch as Palm would still have to follow up with an advertising campaign for "The new Palm" (see the new URL at play there, eh?) as well as delivering quality products.
The most impressive smartphone that Alcatel Onetouch offers right now is the Fierce 2 on T-Mobile. It's a rather unimpressive slate-style Android 4.4-running smartphone with a 5-inch 540x960 display (220ppi — the HP Pre 3 of 2011 had a pixel density of 260), octa-core Samsung Exynos 5 processor, 5MP rear camera, 1GB of RAM, and 4GB internal storage. It doesn't even have LTE. It's primary redeeming factor is its price, at just $126 off contract on T-Mobile (or just $50 on MetroPCS)
Palm was something truly impressive. They pioneered the PDA and the smartphone. Palm webOS revolutionized the way we approached multitouch user interfaces so thoroughly that you can pick up literally any smartphone made in the past few years and find something that was lifted from webOS.
Alcatel Onetouch has carved out out a comfortable little niche for itself serving the lower end of the smartphone market. We hope that if they're truly planning to go full bore with the Palm brand that they start producing hardware that's worthy of the name.
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