The other day when the news was announced that PumaTech is buying Starfish from Motorola, I perked up a bit because of my interest in SyncML and Philippe's old company. But it seemed to be a run-of-the mill purchase, so I didn't get too excited.
Well there's a bit more to it... thanks to PMN giving out some of their analysis, we get to see a bit more in depth into the deal:
PMN Analysis: Motorola is thought to have paid 'several hundred million dollars' for Starfish in 1998. Pumatech, with a market capitalisation of just over USD 100m, will have paid nothing like that for this acquisition.
At the time, with Palm and HotSync very much in the ascendency and Microsoft starting to rollout its Pocket PC and ActiveSync platform, it represented a strategic acquisition for Motorola. There was even talk of Motorola buying Palm and integrating TrueSync, fuelled by Motorola's acquisition of a minority interest in the PDA manufacturer prior to its IPO.
However, it is a sign of how much perceptions of user needs have changed that Motorola now considers Starfish a non-core business, to be sold off at a considerable loss. Motorola has realised that, for the forseeable future, there simply won't be a mass-market for 'PC extension' mobile devices. Of course, that's not to say the PDA industry is going to dissappear, but the figures show that growth is slowing and the market is confined to professional and enterprise users.
For Pumatech, this is primarily about patents. With the addition of Starfish's synchronisation patents, it should be able to expand its relatively successful business of licensing technology solutions to service providers. It has already signed up some big names from the web community - AOL and Microsoft - and will be hoping that it can build on this success in the telecoms business.
PMN believes Pumatech will struggle to gain traction in this market. It has been trying unsuccessfully to land big telecom clients for some time and, as Motorola has identified, network operators have little interest in this technology at the moment. Operators are focused on mass-market opportunities, e.g. transparent back-up and restore of numbers in phonebook, not operating an Outlook synchronisation service.
I added the bold at the end, because I almost missed it. Now that seems nuts to me. I understand that "mass market" consumers probably don't use Outlook and don't care about it, but the higher-end business consumers do! And that's exactly who Microsoft is targeting with their Pocket PC based offerings including the Windows Powered Smartphone.
Motorola had all these patents and a syncing company in its hands, but let it go. Well, maybe they still have some rights to it, who knows, but the idea is that it's not all theirs now. I'm not running a multinational technology company like the guys at Motorola, so you have assume they've got a clue and I'm an idiot, but this sems crazy to me. I get the idea that Moto finally gave up after trying to pitch the idea for a while to the telecoms. But telecoms are bozos! They're not innovators. If I were Motorola, I would have sat on the tech for a while to see what happens when the business market starts buying smartphones up in droves.
You have to wonder about Motorola... I'm pulling for them out of national pride I guess (one of the few mobile companies in the U.S.) but they just don't seem to be making the right plays. When you read about Nokia's plans, you have this native "yeah, that's interesting" feeling in your head. Even if it's nutty as the N-Gage, you still see what they're trying to do. Motorola's all over the board. They've got phones in every OS on the earth and weave from being a consumer oriented company (HelloMoto) to a business oriented one (iDEN/NextTel).
Wacky. We'll see what PumaTech does with Starfish... hopefully they'll change their name. PumaTech? Ugh.