Somebody Please Buy Palm (cough, cough Nokia)

The Dawn of Smartphones (the iPhone)
Throughout all of this smartphone revolution of the past 3 years (starting with the iPhone, as smartphone before then were just pretenders), it has been interesting to see the battleground.  Once might players like Microsoft and Palm were relegated to the bench as new players emerged (Apple), and evolved (RIM).  
Palm creates an impressive smartphone OS
The only independent handset maker that has done an impressive job creating a new smartphone OS is Palm.  For all of their speed issues, the WebOS they created is visually elegant, easy to use, and cohesive, things you can’t say about any of Nokia’s Symbian phones. 

A year and a half ago I wrote about how RIM is the next Palm, about how RIM was over-hyped and due for the same fall that Palm faced a decade ago.  Now RIM is trading about about a third of what it was then, and it’s clear they have an uphill battle.  But for all of Palm’s faults and original fall from grace, they have done an amazing job on the platform, creating an enviable operating system and a solid initial portfolio of phones.  
A buying opportunity
But their stock has taken a beating, largely due to execution and market share issues.  They are currently trading at 3.76, for a market cap of $634M.  That is a pittance, close to a 7-year low (not far from the 2008 world meltdown low):

At that price, it would be a steal for a large company looking to re-establish their own brand and independence (away from the hegemony that Android could easily become).  
Who should buy Palm?
Nokia is the buyer with most to gain.  Their smartphone efforts have been dismal, stuck in their past.  Symbian is a terrible foundation for a next generation platform, and they should jettison that and start from scratch.  They also have the most to gain because of their market share and distribution channels.  And they need something drastic or they risk becoming irrelevant in the next generation of phones.

Let’s be honest
But realistically, Nokia will never buy Palm, they are too proud.  Hubris.  Even if they don’t, there are a host of others who would benefit greatly, including Motorola (hampered by their own success with the RAZR), Sony/Ericsson (hampered with their silly joint venture that prevents more Sony technology), and HTC (drying desperately to create their own brand under Android).
You can be the guys at Elevation Partners will be pushing like hell to make Palm work, given that it can make or break their current fund.  I hope they find a buyer for Palm and keep more independent smartphone makers out there.