In 1999, NVIDIA (NVDA 2.57%) invented the graphics processing unit (GPU), a chip that revolutionized the gaming industry. Then in 2006, it introduced the CUDA programming model, turning GPUs into general-purpose processors. Together, these innovations transformed NVIDIA into a supercomputing company, powering its rise in the data center market.

NVIDIA hasn't lost that innovative spark, and its pipeline is full of products that could be growth drivers over the coming decade. In fact, if the company executes on its massive market opportunity, I think NVIDIA could be bigger than Apple by 2031. Here are three reasons why.

Bar chart trending upward, fading from red to green.

Image source: Getty Images

1. The data center

Currently, NVIDIA controls over 90% of the data center accelerator market. Over the past 12 months, its data center business generated $7.6 billion in revenue, up 117%. But management sees a much larger market opportunity -- which could generate $100 billion by 2024.

To that end, NVIDIA recently launched the DGX SuperPOD, a turnkey solution for enterprise artificial intelligence (AI). This cloud-native supercomputer simplifies AI, delivering in one platform all of the resources (i.e., hardware and software) clients need to build and deploy AI applications. 

Likewise, the Bluefield-3 data processing unit (DPU) is a new chip designed to accelerate and secure data center infrastructure. Specifically, DPUs off-load services like networking, storage, and security, boosting the performance of central processing units (CPU).

Finally, NVIDIA recently announced the Grace CPU. Set to launch in 2023, this ARM-based processor will accelerate AI workloads by a factor of 10. Moreover, alongside the DPU and GPU, it will make NVIDIA a three-chip company. CEO Jensen Huang believes this vertical integration will be a significant advantage, allowing NVIDIA to "re-architect the data center to advance AI."

2. Autonomous vehicles

The NVIDIA DRIVE platform is designed to power autonomous vehicles (AVs). It combines in-car hardware with AI software, allowing vehicles to see, think, and move safely through their environments. In a recent report from advisory firm Navigant Research, NVIDIA DRIVE ranked as the No. 1 AV compute platform on the market.

The brains behind this system is NVIDIA Orin, a supercomputer that delivers 254 TOPS of performance, meaning it can perform 254 trillion operations per second. By comparison, the latest chip from Intel's Mobileye -- the No. 2 player in Navigant's report -- delivers just 24 TOPS.

NVIDIA Orin supercomputer.

The NVIDIA Orin. Image source: NVIDIA.

While NVIDIA Orin won't ship until 2022, automakers like NIO  and Volvo have already selected NVIDIA DRIVE to power their autonomous fleets. As a result, NVIDIA is set to recognize $8 billion in automotive revenue over the next six years. But that small figure doesn't scratch the surface of its long-term potential.

Management believes the AV platform market will reach $25 billion by 2025. Given its competitive edge, NVIDIA could capture the lion's share of that figure. And if that happens, automotive sales could become a third major revenue stream for NVIDIA, supplementing its gaming and data center businesses.

3. NVIDIA Omniverse

This summer, NVIDIA will launch Omniverse, a platform that allows clients to build 3D simulations in real time. It connects industry-leading design tools from partners like Autodesk and Adobe, enabling collaboration in a shared virtual space. This is a big deal for three reasons.

First, Omniverse will accelerate AI. NVIDIA DRIVE Sim is an Omniverse-powered application that allows clients to generate synthetic driving data. That data can then be used in the real world to train AI models for autonomous vehicles.

Second, Omniverse is a subscription product. That's noteworthy because semiconductor sales tend to be cyclical, which can cause lumpy revenue growth. But subscription sales are typically recurring in nature, meaning Omniverse could help NVIDIA grow its top line more consistently.

Third, NVIDIA believes this is a stepping-stone to the Metaverse. If you're unfamiliar with the term, the idea comes from science fiction. The Metaverse refers to a persistent virtual world, a digital reality where people can interact and share experiences.

Here's the big picture: The virtual reality market will hit $69 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research. And so far, NVIDIA Omniverse is gaining traction rapidly. During the three-month beta testing period, it was downloaded by over 17,000 users.

A final word

To summarize, NVIDIA benefits from a solid competitive position and a massive market opportunity. Both advantages should be growth drivers over the coming decade. But will they be enough to eclipse Apple's current market cap of $2.1 trillion?

No one knows the future, but I think it's possible. Since fiscal 2016 (ended Jan. 31, 2016), NVIDIA's revenue has grown at 29% per year. If it can maintain an annual growth rate of just 17% over the next decade (assuming its price-to-sales ratio remains unchanged), NVIDIA's market cap would reach $2.2 trillion in 2031.