The strongest brands in the world all share in their ability to conjure up demand for products that consumers hadn't even realized they wanted. As the late Steve Jobs famously put it, "It is not the customer's job to know what they want." In the end, the businesses that matter most to consumers happen also to be the ones that satisfy shareholders.
That's where Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) fits in. One step ahead of the pack, Apple has transformed from a struggling computer maker to the world's most-valuable company. Today, the tech giant boasts a market cap over half a trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, Apple's worth more than the entire global coffee industry.
An Apple a day
"We're here to put a dent in the universe," said former Apple CEO Jobs, and that's exactly what it did. After pioneering the personal computer, Apple products revolutionized one industry after another: The iPod and iTunes, which forever changed how consumers purchase and listen to music; the iPhone, which transformed the mobile industry and created the world's first smartphone; and the iPad, which achieved what rival Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) could not: a true connection to the consumer.
Where Apple differs from Microsoft and other industry peers is in its ability to know its customers better than they know themselves. Apple propelled itself to the top by creating products that were easy to use and beautiful to look at. During a time when the PC reigned supreme, Apple proposed a partnership with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) . By switching over Apple's Motorola chips to Intel versions, users were able to run both Apple's operating system as well as Microsoft's Windows XP on the same Macintosh computer. Today, Intel is hoping to play off Apple's success in another way -- with its answer to the ultra-successful MacBook Air.
Intel coined the term UltraBook last year, when the company invested $300 million in its Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund aimed at offering the same features that made Apple's MacBook Air such a success. This is another testament to the market disruption the Mac maker has caused, as smartphones, tablets and lite-weight laptops replace traditional PCs.
The way I see it, Apple's growth story is far from over.
With new products barreling down the pipeline, Apple's teaching us that you can't put a price-cap on innovation. Its latest iPad launched today, which will undoubtedly shake things up for rival tablet-makers Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) . Consumers on a budget might turn to the wallet-friendly Kindle Fire offered by Amazon for $199, but Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet -- even though its 8GB version is also $199 -- will find itself falling behind because it lacks the media ecosystems tapped by Apple and Amazon's products.
All-time record Mac and iPad sales powered Apple's latest earnings report. The tech giant sold 17 million iPhones for the period, 11.12 million iPads, 4.89 million Macs, and 6.62 million iPods. Apple closed fiscal 2011 with full-year revenue of $108 billion. And even without its visionary leader Jobs, Apple's in good hands with its new CEO, Tim Cook. The stock also hit an all-time high recently, passing $500 billion in market cap. Investors can expect big things from Apple going forward.
Built to perform
Apple creates value through innovation by capitalizing on opportunities that are hidden in plain sight. As investors, few things are as rewarding as riding a stock from $15 to $500. Pay attention to the brands that are connecting with customers, creating a sense of community around their productions and thinking to the future. Do this and you just may find the next Apple. Until then, experience the freedom of long-term wealth, with this special free report from The Motley Fool: "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich." To get an advanced look at this special bonus report click here now -- it's free.