The stock market was little changed on Tuesday morning as many investors got an early start to the Christmas holiday. In the absence of big news, most market participants seemed content with the big gains that they've enjoyed so far in 2019. As of 11 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was down 15 points to 28,536. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) was down less than a point at 3,224, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) had picked up 2 points to 8,948.

Without too much company-specific news to consider, it's worth taking a look back at what's been a highly successful year for most investors. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have been rivals for decades, but both tech stock giants have made their shareholders quite happy in 2019.

An Apple a day made portfolios healthy in 2019

Shares of Apple were up slightly on Tuesday morning, adding to their exceptional performance over the course of the year. With the gains, Apple is up more than 80% in 2019, having rebounded sharply from a troubling plunge toward the end of last year.

Large hall with trees and pillars, a big screen with Apple's logo on it, and about two dozen people watching a presentation.

Image source: Apple.

In late 2018, investors were worried about Apple's prospects. Sales of the iPhone had slumped, and many were skeptical about the tech giant's ability to diversify beyond the popular smartphone line to innovate in new directions.

Fast-forward to now, however, and Apple has found a new strategic direction. With the iPhone providing plenty of cash flow, Apple has turned its attention more squarely on services and wearables. The popularity of the Apple Watch as well as AirPods has given the company impressive growth. Meanwhile, the new Apple TV+ streaming service should supplement an already fertile list of services that include its music and cloud storage offerings.

New growth opportunities might also be right around the corner. As wireless carriers build out 5G networks, it'll create a new need for smartphone and mobile device users to upgrade devices to take advantage of faster speeds and greater broadband access. That should bring a new cycle of purchases for Apple products, spurring another rise for the company.

A cloud-filled outlook is good for Microsoft

Shares of Microsoft also inched higher, pushing further into record territory. The software giant has done a good job of reinventing itself over the past several years, with 2019 marking just the latest strong year for the stock.

The surge higher for Microsoft comes after an exceptionally long period of stagnation for the share price. Despite a commanding presence in operating system and office software, Microsoft left investors worried that it was getting left behind in the mobile revolution. Despite efforts to come out with its own hardware, adoption rates were low.

What changed things for Microsoft was embracing cloud computing. The development of the Azure cloud platform and the creation of a subscription-based Office 365 offering dramatically widened the number of Microsoft users to include those using other operating systems. The company now sees data-linked businesses as a huge growth opportunity, and recurring revenue has helped ensure Microsoft's future.

Microsoft couldn't quite keep up with Apple in 2019, but a 55% rise for the software giant is nothing to complain about. As 2020 approaches, it'll be interesting to see whether the two tech companies continue to soar -- and which wins the race in the year to come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.