Apple [AAPL] briefly became the world's most valuable company this week, surpassing Exxon Mobil with a $341.5 billion valuation. Why? Because while Exxon's main business is essentially found in peddling the world's slowly-shrinking crop of fossil fuels, Apple makes its fortune selling the one resource the world has plenty of: ideas.
Ideas. Ideas change worlds. Ideas change lives. Ideas can wreck and enable everything we do. Most everything we discuss is about ideas, and every consumer product we might ever handle is more than likely the realization of someone's idea. Apple is very, very good at this.
Take a look at its impact across the history of technology. When you do, it is utterly appropriate to bear in mind the refrain, "Great artists steal", as there's nothing wrong with borrowing wisdom when creating ideas. Here's just six ways Apple's implementation of ideas has changed or transformed the way we live today:
- Mouse-based computing.
- The world's first 'windows-based' PC.
- OS support for fonts.
- The integrated iPod/iTunes music ecosystem.
- The mobile phone.
- The tablet.
[ABOVE: The first Apple manual, c/o Computer History Museum]
Mining the mind
While Exxon drills, hammers and crushes its way to find its billions, Apple's mind-miners explore myriad complexities to develop and understand new technologies.
Apple's experts routinely examine new materials, interfaces and possibilities. As they do they gain valuable knowledge which enables them to link perhaps not easily connected solutions together to make something new. Take a look at the excellent PatentlyApple website to gain a glimmer of just how extensively the company's R&D teams explore these things.
An earlier IT-driven revolution transformed desktop publishing, creating whole new industries. The Internet has created a universe of ideas, a digital exploration of all shades of thinking.
Apple has ridden this intellectual superhighway.
Ideas. The iMac was built for the Internet age. The iPod was a child of the era, built for digital music, and the iPhone and iPad leaped on both to deliver concepts of switched-on soon to be cloud-based computing in ultra-mobile forms.
Apple has no reason to rest upon its laurels.
Another technology company, Microsoft, was itself once the world's most valuable firm (albeit briefly in early 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom). However, its value has collapsed across the last few years, reflecting its loss of intellectual dominance in contrast to its competitors.
The challenge of empire
Like any leader, Apple faces the challenge of maintaining its intellectual lead. Nothing stays the same, after all, and like Microsoft, Apple's task will be to continue exploring new notions following the inevitable departure of its spiritual guide and co-founder, Steve Jobs.
Apple's business is to offer tools for ideas.
Way back when I became a Mac user I did so because I was self-publishing an obscure music-focused title. I got into the Mac because it was a tool for desktop publishing. I liked it because I realized it to be a perfect tool for idea creation. I still think the same, but the platform has evolved to also include mobile devices, making it a perfect tool for idea creation, expression and distribution. That's a big deal.
Apple can go higher. Take a look at Sterne Agee analyst, Shaw Wu, who believes Apple will double or even triple its market share in the coming years. He thinks Apple is riding mega-trends, including the mobile Internet, cloud computing and the consumerization of technology. In other words, it is ideas, not oil, which will drive this new Century.
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