It’s official: Apple is the world’s first $1T company.
Apple has long been among the most valuable publicly traded companies, but this milestone represents unprecedented levels of perceived worth.
How did Apple do it? The Halo Effect
Though they have been sometimes criticized for not being innovative enough, Apple has forged its business - and its reputation - on superior technological innovation and products, superior user experience, and the ability to integrate those products into our lives seamlessly. This has created a halo effect, with all units of the business buoying other parts of the business. (Related: If You Had Purchased $100 of Apple in 2002)
Over the years, this has landed Apple in a virtuous cycle, in which one success begets another: great innovation and great products leads to higher demand, leads to pricing power, leads to higher profit margins and improved cash flow, drives the stock price higher, which returns capital to shareholders and allows Apple to reinvest still more capital in its innovation and products, thereby beginning the cycle again.
We’ve seen this time and again, from Macs, to iPods, to iPhones - the most notable and successful of Apple’s products.
So, Apple is a $1T company. This is no small feat. But what comes next? Now what? (Related: What Makes Apple So Valuable?)
As we look ahead at the tech behemoth’s future, we can expect to see more of the same: more innovation, more competition and, for the foreseeable future, higher profit margins, a higher stock price and a higher valuation. Here’s a more in-depth look at this future.
Innovation: Peak Screen
In a piece on his column, State of the Art, entitled “We Have Reached Peak Screen. Now Revolution Is in the Air,” technology writer Farhad Manjoo highlighted one of the chief concerns for a company which pulls in the lion’s share of its profits from smartphone sales: “pretty much anyone who can afford one already has one, and increasingly there are questions about whether we are using our phones too much and too mindlessly.”
So, tech giants are moving away from screens, and building something else: “a less insistently visual tech world...that relies on voice assistants, headphones, watches and other wearables to take some pressure off our eyes.”
Though Apple hasn’t talked much about a future like this, it would appear, from some of their newest products - Airpods and the AppleWatch - that the company is interested in a future where users can use Apple technology more and more, while looking at their screens less and less.
Apple has made great progress with both its headphones, and its wearables. The only missing piece for the company is a top-notch voice assistant. If they were able to improve on Siri, Apple could combine these technologies “to make something new: a mobile computer that is not tied to a huge screen, that lets you get stuff done on the go without the danger of being sucked in.” This could also include Apple's Homepod.
The only thing is, they’re not the only ones preparing for this future. So are all their peers - and Amazon and Google in particular.
Though we think of the Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google as distinct tech firms, with distinct core competencies and areas of expertise, more and more we are seeing areas of overlap, which means we are seeing areas of competition. For Apple, this means seeing other companies make inroads into the tech hardware market.
Amazon and Google, are the big names in voice recognition and home assistants, not Apple. Google, with its Pixel phone, as well as Chromebooks, to some extent, has taken some of Apple's market share in the tech hardware space.
And though we think of Apple as a the predominant name in tech hardware, and particularly smartphones, the company faces significant challenges and competition. Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported Huawei had surpassed Apple to become the second largest smartphone seller in the world.
In the meantime…
For all the attention, scrutiny, concern and consternation, that centers on and around Big Tech (and Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, in particular), the financial performances of these firms recently has gone, for the most part, undisturbed. In another piece on his column, entitled "Stumbles? What Stumbles? Big Tech Is as Strong as Ever," Manjoo points out as much.
In the last two weeks, Amazon has recorded record profits, and Amazon and Apple both beat Wall Street projections. Facebook, for all the noise made about its under-performance and loss of $120 billion in one day, "remains the fifth most valuable corporation in American markets," with "almost no serious concerns for its chief executive to resign."
All of this should make one thing clear: "Despite the public outcry, the five are all expanding their foothold on our lives, and the forces arrayed against them, which range from regulation to apathy, aren't having a substantial impact."
Manjoo identifies three forces that might be consolidating these companies' market shares and economic dominance.
One such factor might be the fact that regulation hasn't had much of an impact on the industry, and it doesn't appear as though it will in the near future. Though hefty fines have been leveled at Facebook and Google, both have moved along, unperturbed by the sanctions, and posting impressive profits despite. There is a chance that regulations will create compliance costs expensive for most tech startups, but a minor cost for companies as big as Amazon or Apple, thereby weighing smaller competitors down.
Second, he says, "software really is eating the world." Most of these companies have sizable and impressive software businesses which, though they are not for, are fast-growing and highly profitable ventures. For Apple, "software services - things likes sales of apps, music subscriptions, cloud storage, and Apple Pay - are the fastest growing parts of its business." In both Q1 and Q2 of this year, Apple brought in upwards of $7 billion through sales of its software services. Apple is aiming to double its revenue from software services by 2020, too.
Finally, this is just one of a number of ways these companies can make money. Though the core competencies of most of these companies have seen a slowdown in growth, these companies are so large, and so innovative, that it is unlikely that a slowdown in any one or two areas of growth spells demise, or a retreat from industry dominance for any of these companies, Apple included.
According to one analyst, the thing that sets these companies apart from other megacap companies "is that they're not afraid to reinvent themselves...and they're not afraid to destroy something that's working today to make the longer-term work even better for them."
At the moment, that means investing "in tech that will the future" - in AI, in machine learning, in automation, in self-driving cars, in home assistants, in voice-recognition, in wireless headphones, in facial recognition, in virtual and augmented reality, in wearable tech.
That may be part of the reason that as recently as May of this year, Warren Buffett was singing the company's praises on CNBC: "I clearly like Apple. We buy them to hold...We bought about 5 percent of the company. I'd love to own 100 percent of it...We like very much the economics of their activities. We like very much the management and the way they think."
With its ample resources, its inclination to innovate, reinvent, and invest in the future, Apple looks to be well-positioned for business after $1T. But it also looks like it has some major challenges ahead, most notably from key competitors and perhaps regulation. This has been a way of saying that, though there are certainly challenges ahead, it's very possible that $1T is just another of many peaks ahead for the tech giant.