Apple Corporation is the currently the world’s most valuable publicly traded company at roughly 755.53B market capitalization today (24 Feb 2015). It has the premier brand in computers and personal electronics from the MacBook Pro laptop to the iPhone. Although often criticized for price gouging in an industry of thin margins, Apple nonetheless sells well worldwide especially among the most coveted consumer demographic.
What makes Apple so valuable? It is probably the fact that it owns the device platform that the wealthiest and most influential people in the world overwhelmingly use to communicate, collaborate and network on. When Apple owns the mobile phone, tablet, laptop, wallet and perhaps soon car that is the first point of contact with a person, they can monitor, control and influence the relationship of that person with everything else in the world which is increasingly monopolized by the Intertubes vs meatspace. In addition, for better or worse, this coalescing market is what economist call natural monopoly (or near to one) which brings even more value to AAPL.
I was one of the early Apple adopters with my Apple II plus, original Macintosh and PowerBook 100 (Apples first laptop) even when I was a near penniless undergrad. Paying my way through college, I was extremely frugal and did exhaustive market research. As a technologist I realized there were far less expensive and even technologically superior alternatives to Apple.
However, there was something about the Apple mystique that converted me into one of their cool-aid drinking minions. In retrospect I had an irrationally strong and negative emotional response to PCs and early Linux became my development platform of choice. Apple design+marketing explicitly strives to create products that are not just inanimate tools but rather an integral extension of their customer’s identity and they do an amazing job of it.
That “mystique” fabricated by Apple’s excellent sales and marketing hype machine created a rabidly loyal consumer base especially among non-tech thought leaders in influential industries like education, the media, techies and early adopter consumers. The mystique was also partially earned by many products that were the result of extraordinary collective efforts on the part many tech and design geniuses driven by something more than a paycheck or even the cult of Steve Jobs.
Finally, the success of Apple is also in large part due to luck in timing and leadership. Steve Jobs led Apple at a key point in the evolution of this industry: technology became advanced and affordable enough to effectively subordinate and even hide impressive computational horsepower without compromising aesthetic product design. Apple was also able to ride the first wave of technology gadgets becoming luxury identity brands. The Lisa, a follow-up to the original Mac, was an example where ambitious design outpaced the abilities of underlying technology and economics which led to one of Apples most notable failures.
Apples leadership under Steve Jobs was unique. His improbable rise, fall and rise again as Apple’s CEO given all his contradictory personal qualities gave Apple a design vision unique among technology companies.