Apple has made history by becoming the first private-sector company to surpass $US1 trillion (NZ$1.4 trillion) in market value.

That is, the total number of Apple shares on the market times their price amounts to more than a trillion US dollars.

To put that in perspective, that's roughly the annual gross domestic product of Indonesia, and more than twice that of Belgium, according to World Bank data from 2016. In Aussie dollars, it's $A1.36 trillion.

You could argue, as some have, that it's a somewhat arbitrary milestone and anyway Apple's share price could slide from here, taking it back under the trillion dollar market value — at least for a while.


"Of course I'm proud of Apple, but I don't measure the world by human simplifications like round numbers," Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said of the much-covered milestone.

But it's undeniably a notable moment and many were quick to celebrate this week. However, it might not have happened if it wasn't for an unlikely lifeline from rival Microsoft 21 years earlier.

From those tough days, Apple has gone on to develop a range of iconic products. Photo/Getty Images.
From those tough days, Apple has gone on to develop a range of iconic products. Photo/Getty Images.

It's well known that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in a Silicon Valley garage in 1976. But what is often forgotten is that Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1997 and it was Microsoft that helped save the company.

Apple's world-beating success in the past decade has come on the back of the iPhone. It has sold more than a billion of them since the first model was unveiled by Jobs in 2007.

But a decade before he strode on stage to deliver one of the most memorable product unveilings in consumer tech history, Apple was nearly down and out. It had just cut a third of its workforce, and it was about 90 days from going broke, Jobs would later reveal.

Jobs had been brought back after being ousted by the company he co-founded and made a shock announcement at an event in August 1997.

In what Wired described as "a remarkable feat of negotiating legerdemain" Steve Jobs revealed he had secured a US$150 million investment (with no voting rights) from Microsoft and also got an assurance from Bill Gates that Microsoft would support its Office products for the Mac for five years.

The investment gave the company some much-needed cash and the assurance of Office support proved crucial because the Microsoft Office software was so heavily relied upon by professionals.


Jobs and Gates had a famous and fairly acrimonious rivalry at the time. And when Jobs announced the deal, there was plenty of boos and jeering from the diehard Apple crowd.

"If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again … we have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose," Jobs said.

As part of the deal, Apple agreed to drop a long-running lawsuit in which it alleged Microsoft copied the look and feel of the Mac OS for Windows and to make Microsoft's Internet Explorer the default browser on its computers.

"Microsoft is going to be a part of the game as we restore this company back to health," he told the audience.

The finer details of the whole deal, which included settling patent disputes, are a bit more complex but the prevailing narrative (which like most things at Apple was subject to Jobs' famous reality distortion field) was that Microsoft saved Apple.

"Bill, thank you. The world's a better place," Jobs told Gates in a quote that was later immortalised on the cover of Time Magazine.

Times ran an iconic cover showing Jobs talking to Gates on a mobile phone when the deal took place. Photo/
Times ran an iconic cover showing Jobs talking to Gates on a mobile phone when the deal took place. Photo/

Since then, Apple has gone from strength to strength.

US tech companies have come to dominate world markets, now making up the top five most valuable enterprises in the US-based on share price value.

Behind Apple are Amazon, Google owner Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook.

A new focus on digital content for Apple

Compared to its rivals, Apple is in the unique situation of controlling the hardware and software in its mobile devices, with content for users required to go through its App Store that takes a percentage of revenue.

Apple also released a kit for developers to create augmented-reality experiences on iPhones or iPads, saying that "overnight iOS became the biggest AR platform in the world".

Along with a strong focus on artificial intelligence, the tech giants are investing heavily in augmented and virtual reality as the next big thing in consumer tech.

Apple has moved to keep up with trends in artificial intelligence and voice-commanded smart speakers to rival Amazon and Google's products.

Virtual assistant Siri is built into a growing number of Apple devices and the company boasts the most popular smartwatch on the market.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has consistently touted innovations in the pipeline at the famously secretive company.

Last month, an ex-Apple engineer was charged in California with stealing trade secrets from a hush-hush self-driving car technology project days before he quit to go to a Chinese start-up.