Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) is on top of the world, figuratively and in some ways literally.
At approximately $470 billion as of Monday morning, its market value almost equals the combined capitalization of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) ($199 billion), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) ($257.8 billion), Yahoo Inc. ($20 billion), and Research in Motion Inc. ($8 billion). Apple has more cash and investments ($97 billion) than any other technology company, and its revenue growth rate (66 percent in 2011) is hotter than a scorching afternoon in the Sahara.
As if to rub some salt into the competition's festering wound, Harris Interactive Inc. today proclaimed Apple the world's most valuable brand (no surprise). Apple claimed that slot for the first time since Harris began monitoring the value of global brands 13 years ago. In doing so, it displaced Google.
And Apple did it in grand style. It had the highest rating ever recorded (85.62) in the Harris poll, and it was ranked No. 1 by the 17,000 people polled in four out of six categories: financial performance (naturally), products and services, vision and leadership, and workplace environment. The high ranking is even more striking because the number of companies posting a score higher than 80 (signifying an "excellent reputation") fell by half from 2011, according to Harris.
The polling firm said this about Apple and the rest of the field:
Customer inclination towards strong leadership and technological innovation may be the catalyst, and it is within this environment that Apple reigns supreme. This year regional brick-and-mortar retailers are more prominent, and many once-leading American companies are noticeably absent from the 2012 Harris Poll RQ study, which asks the general public to measure the reputations of the 60 most visible companies in the country.
Of course, the death of founder and former chairman/CEO Steve Jobs contributed to the outpouring of goodwill toward Apple. But there's more than fond remembrances of an industry icon at play here.
Apple's ascendance coincides with the warm and fuzzy feeling consumers have developed for technology companies, according to Harris. Recent technological innovations and the speed with which the electronics industry (led by Apple, I should note) has introduced products that are increasingly functional, engaging, and intuitive have endeared the industry to consumers. The scary days of arcane Microsoft DOS codes have vanished, succumbing first to the more user-friendly point-and-click computer mouse and now to the tap-slide-and-drag ease of smartphones and tablets.
Technology has become such an integral part of everyday life that the companies that do a good job of facilitating easy use of these devices will continue to rate highly with consumers, Harris said. Companies whose products also reach across multiple market segments are receiving higher ratings because their offerings indicate responsiveness to customer needs, rather than silo engagements.
"We are seeing the emergence of a group of companies that garner reputation equity by being positively associated with multiple industries," Robert Fronk, executive vice president and global corporate reputation practice lead for Harris Interactive, said in a press release. "Companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon.com combine innovation and leadership across multiple business areas, giving them true competitive advantage."
Just in case anyone thinks Apple is resting on its laurels or doesn't care about recent complaints about alleged labor violations at its contract manufacturers, the company said today that it has asked a major labor organization to audit "conditions at its final assembly suppliers," according to a Wall Street Journal report. The Fair Labor Association will review working conditions at Foxconn Electronics Inc. facilities, starting with a plant in Shenzhen, China, Apple said.
"The inspections now under way are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports," Apple CEO Timothy Cook said in a press release issued Monday.
Unprecedented? Yes. But Apple is finding itself in quite a few unprecedented positions. If it continues to win sales as well as hearts and minds, it will probably be racking up many more records in the years ahead.