Remember Palm? A Chinese Company Is Resurrecting the Brand

China's TCL Is Buying the Retro Tech Brand

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Palm's new homepage.
Palm's new homepage.
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Old-school tech has been making a comeback lately, from podcasts to email newsletters. But is it going too far to think that Palm -- the brand that created the PalmPilot -- might still have some life left in it?

Maybe not: A Chinese company, TCL Communication, is buying the U.S. brand. TCL, which sells smartphones under the TCL and Alcatel Onetouch brands, called Palm a "pioneer of mobile technologies."

"Now is the time to revive and bring back this pioneer spirit," TCL said in a statement.

The Chinese company didn't reveal exactly what it plans for Palm, which has been owned by Hewlett-Packard since 2010 (though HP retired it quickly after buying it.) And it's not clear whether TCL was getting any assets beyond the brand name, since HP already sold off Palm's software to Korean electronics giant LG.

So why buy Palm?
Chinese companies are going global fast -- three of the world's top smartphone brands, Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo, are from China.

Still, many Chinese companies have had trouble establishing strong international brand names as they go global, and TCL probably hopes the Palm name can give it a boost in markets where Palm was once big.

Another Chinese electronics company just made a similar move with a past-its-prime American tech company. When Lenovo purchased Motorola's handset unit from Google last year for $2.91 billion, it said one attraction was the brand's strength in North America and Latin America. TCL didn't disclose a sale price for the retired Palm brand.

"I guess it could come back in the way vinyl and Atari have," Mark Tanner, the Shanghai-based founder and managing director of China Skinny, a marketing and research agency, said.

"I can imagine they picked it up very cheap, which will give them some good-value PR in the massive American market. [It] would have been a lot more expensive if they'd tried to do it through good old-fashioned marketing," he said. "There is a lot of value in the Palm brand from way back, with nostalgia from those who'll remember back to when gadgets weren't constantly binging with social media updates, and selfie wasn't even a word."

Research firm Canalys said on Twitter that the move was "another big win for Chinese companies shopping for global mobile assets," and that brand competition was ratcheting up among Chinese companies.

The new Palm Inc. will remain "a truly Californian, Silicon Valley-based company leveraging on the talents and partnerships of the area," TCL said. Several Chinese tech companies, including e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba and search giant Baidu, have a presence in Silicon Valley.

TCL also said it would get Palm's "community" involved in rebuilding it, "making it the largest scale crowd-sourced project ever seen in the industry." That raises a few questions -- chiefly, does a "Palm community" still exist?

TCL Communications is part of TCL Corp., well-known in some markets for its TVs. Strategy Analytics said in October that it's one of a few "key emerging challengers in mobile phones worldwide."

The Motorola smartphone brand was also in the news. Next month Lenovo plans to bring Motorola back to China, the world's largest smartphone market, after several years' absence here.