Microsoft becomes the world’s biggest company

They say that in track and field, in the 800 metres, the winner is the runner that slows down the least on the second lap.  Microsoft didn’t so much accelerate past its three tech rivals for the mantle of the world’s largest tech it just didn’t move so far backwards, but it has managed to become the world’s biggest company.

Apple shares are down roughly 15% since November 7 and 24% since early October. Amazon is down roughly 15% since that momentous day back in September when its value passed a trillion dollars, while Alphabet is down by a similar amount.

Amazon joins Apple in passing the trillion dollar mark as the information age gathers steam

Amazon’s market cap rose above a trillion dollars for a short while on September 4, 2018. But the age of information is only just beginning.

By contrast, Microsoft has merely lost around 4% since its share price peaked on October 1st.

There are two things Microsoft’s rivals for the title world’s biggest have in common — well, to be wholly accurate there are lots of things, but let’s just stick with two for now.  They all begin with the letter A.  And they are all fundamentally business to consumer companies.

Oh sure, Amazon has a wee cloud business called AWS, Google sells advertising to business and has its own cloud operation and many other of those stringy things to its bow, and the Apple Mac is a tad popular in publishing circles, but their core business is about providing a service to consumers — in the case of Google, because it’s product is free, one could say consumers are its product.

Microsoft is not exactly shy about selling to consumers either — but its core product is about B2B.

Its rise to number one may surprise some, but to others, it’s deja vu.

After-all, Microsoft has been the world’s biggest before. Back in 1999, it was worth almost $450 billion — quite a lot of money in those days.

But of course the battle between Apple and Microsoft for supremacy goes back to the early days of the computer industry — and for so long, it was a battle Microsoft was winning with apparent ease.

At one point, things had got so bad at Apple that in 1997 it even announced a business deal with Microsoft — sleeping with the enemy, some called it — and also in that year, Apple had to to stoop so low as to ask a former CEO and indeed co-founder, a bloke called Steve Jobs, to return.Of course, under Jobs, Apple boomed, under the leadership of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft floundered — Ballmer laughed at the very impudence of Apple claiming its keyboard-less phone — a product called something unmemorable, oh yes, the iPhone — could ever have business applications.

But under Satya Nadella, who took over as CEO in 2014, Microsoft has flourished, and of late Apple has been struggling to persuade analysts that its’s growth rate can continue at a time when people are no longer upgrading their phone every two years.

The future, however, is, as it were, changing.

Today, the future is about AI, automation and augmented reality, whereas yesterday, the future was about smart phones and tablets. It is unclear what the future will be the day after tomorrow.

PwC has projected that AI and its cousin, robotic process automation, will boost the global economy by $15 trillion by 2030.

And that will create some mighty valuations— whether Microsoft, with its foray into augmented reality with HoloLens and its investment into AI; Apple, whose boss Tim Cook waxes lyrical about augmented reality, Alphabet which does currently seem to sit in pole position in the world of AI, what with its ownership of DeepMind and all, Amazon with its drive to dominate retail or some other player, such as UiPath in robotics process automation, Tesla with its expertise in AI and lithium ion batteries, or maybe a firm out of China, only time can tell.

RPA market with UiPath in the cockpit is taking off like a rocket

The RPA market is exploding, RPA or robotic process automation, has moved up the Gartner hype cycle, and it is no longer ‘one day’ technology it is technology that is transforming business now, and UiPath sits in a comfortable position, it claims to be the fastest enterprise software company in history, and we spoke to Guy Kirkwood, its chief evangeliser.

One thing is for sure, the race to come first in the alphabet is over — indeed the best Alphabet can hope to manage is second ahead of Amazon and Apple, because Alibaba will always top the register.

Note, as at 9.00 am GMT, 4th December 2018, Apple has moved back into top slot, with a market cap of $877 billion, compared to $866 for Amazon, and $860 for Microsoft.  Alphabet is at $771.  In short, it is neck and neck and the order will probably change several times over the next few weeks.

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Michael Baxter

.Michael Baxter is a tech, economic and investment journalist. He has written four books, including iDisrupted and Living in the age of the jerk. He is the editor of and the host of the ESG...

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