Apple Inc. , the one-time computer also-ran that changed the way the world listens to music, is now the most valuable company in the world.
At the close of trading Wednesday, the iPhone-maker's market capitalization stood at $337-billion (U.S.) surpassing the $331-billion of oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. , and putting a symbolic exclamation mark on one of the most stunning turnarounds in corporate history.
A little over a decade removed from crippling financial losses and a revolving door of ineffectual chief executive officers, Apple's transition from an insignificant computer-maker to the leader of the consumer mobile revolution began in October of 2001, when CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod, a sleek, easy-to-use MP3 player.
As would be the case in the coming years, Apple didn't invent the MP3 player market, but produced its most iconic, and ultimately best-selling, device.
Two years later, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company unveiled perhaps the single most significant factor in its emergence as the most dominant technology company in the world: the iTunes store.
What began as a way to capitalize on the success of the iPod by giving users an online record store soon established a completely new way to purchase content. To the surprise of many record companies and traditional content distributors, consumers flocked to the Web store to pay to download individual songs. Within a few years, Apple was running the biggest record store in the world, and soon added movies, TV shows and software to its digital shelves.
With a content ecosystem in place, Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007 – in the process launching a new business model for the software industry. Instead of spending money on expensive software for their desktops or laptops computers, consumers would use the iPhone to make frequent small purchases for applications ranging from touch-screen games to restaurant locaters.
Today, the Apple app store is far and away the biggest repository of smart phone and tablet software. As of July, the store contained some 500,000 apps, and had logged some 15-billion downloads.
Last year, Apple continued its dominance of the mobile space with the introduction of the iPad, its tablet computer. Within a year, iPads made up some 85 per cent of all tablet sales, prompting dozens of manufacturers to produce their own competing devices. The iPad's runaway success has started to put a dent in traditional desktop and laptop sales, as more consumers opt for mobile devices.
During its decade of resurgence, Apple has also had a massive cultural impact – from the original iPod commercials that propelled previously unknown singers to stardom, to the images of long lineups outside Apple stores on the day of new product launches. As generation after generation of Apple products continue to sell in record numbers, Mr. Jobs has become one of the most admired CEOs in the world.
Perhaps as impressive as Apple's sales and its cultural impact are its profit margins. In a recent report, Canaccord Genuity technology analyst Mike Walkley found that, although Apple has only 5.4 per cent of the global handset market, it pulls in 57 per cent of the industry operating profits.
Exxon had been the most valuable company since 2005; Apple took the No. 2 spot in May 2010 when it surpassed Microsoft Corp.