It's a number that's so insanely large that it's difficult to fathom: $1 trillion.
That's a one followed by 12 zeros.
Despite this unfathomably large figure, the stage has been set for the world's largest publicly traded company, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), to reach this this once-incomprehensible market-cap record, possibly within the not-too-distant future.
Here are three growth drivers that could help make Apple the world's first $1 trillion company.
1) Apple Watch
As the only product we're certain Apple will actually release, Apple Watch deservedly claims a spot on the list of potential growth catalysts. Apple Watch is due to hit stores in April, so just how significant a financial driver can the device become?
It's hard to say.
Recent reporting points to an iPad-esque first year, which would equate to at least several billion dollars in new sales depending on the Watch's average selling price, or ASP. The most entry-level versions will start at $350, but the higher-end forms of the Apple Watch Edition will compete for the title of Apple's most expensive products ever. At present, many analysts are using $500 as the baseline ASP for Apple Watch revenue models. However, for the iPad comparison to ring true, many argue Apple must make its forthcoming smartwatch a bit more, well, smart. So while the Apple Watch will probably generate a few billion dollars in new sales this year, it remains unclear whether it can evolve into a ten-figure line item that will fuel Apple's growth in a substantive way.
2) Connected Home
Although Apple currently doesn't make or sell any branded smarthome component, its launch of HomeKit last year signals its interest in this massive growth market, which analysts say could produce sales of nearly $500 billion by 2019. However, thus far, Apple's business model in this space isn't completely clear.
The bulk of Apple's revenue comes from hardware sales, so how will it make money from a booming market into which it sells no hardware? All signs point to Apple eventually producing its own smart-home hardware. However, entering the market into which it is trying to funnel third-party vendor and developer interest is a delicate dance for any company. It's also worth pointing out that today's mobile operating systems existed for years before the corresponding smartphone hardware created one of the most significant new technology markets of the past 100 years. It might take some time and patience, but make no mistake, Apple's HomeKit launch represents a very early bet into a growth market that could quickly eclipse the smartwatch in the years to come.
3) TV: Ultra HD or branded content service
After fading amid Apple's more recent new product announcements, word that the company is still stealthily planning its own TV product resurfaced recently. However, the TV market has proven an especially tough egg for Apple to crack.
With the advent of DISH Network's Sling TV and Sony reportedly close to launching similar service, the stage finally seems set for cable cord-cutting to take hold en masse in favor of IP-based services from a new crop of providers. Launching a pay-TV service would certainly help Apple strengthen its ecosystem, but it would also stop well short of the Ultra-HD television console many have long argued is a logical progression for the company.
The only problem here is the absolutely abysmal economics of the television industry, even if you assume Apple can pad its margins more than can the average TV maker. However, assuming Apple could create a compelling interface and content offering for a branded TV service, the new revenue source and the additional device sales it could fuel (halo effect) would certainly help push the tech juggernaut toward the vaunted $1 trillion market cap.
Honorable mention: Apple Car
It would be impossible to write this article without paying some lip service to Apple's recently uncovered Titan automotive project, although I find a number of items with this story line problematic.
The first is timing, although the same could be said of HomeKit. With Apple targeting 2020 as Titan's actual launch window, the economic consequences are so many years away they barely bear consideration today. As a parallel with the Apple Ultra-HD idea, the economics of the auto industry are far from appealing, again even if Apple can protect its margins. Between these two factors, I'll leave this "what could be" discussion for another article.
How many catalysts was that?
Hopefully, I've convinced you that Apple enjoys enough future growth catalysts that setting its sights on that $1 trillion valuation isn't as "pie in the sky" as it might seem at first glance.
Keeping Apple's valuation multiple close to today's, the tech giant would need to increase profits to somewhere in the range of about $55 billion in annual earnings to garner a $1 trillion market cap. That means Apple would need to grow profits by about 30% or so from its fiscal 2014 profit. For a company of Apple's sheer enormity, that's no small order. However, it's also very much within the realm of possibility, especially considering the growth catalysts detailed above.