The search giant, which restructured as a holding company called Alphabet in 2015, reached a market capitalization of $547 billion Tuesday morning, surpassing longstanding king-of-the-mountain Apple.
When Google first went public in August 2004 with a market cap of about $23 billion, the company was known almost exclusively for its search engine. Gmail was just a few months old, Android was still its own startup, and Chrome had yet to be invented, to say nothing of Google’s more outlandish bets, such as building self-driving cars and solving death.
Google’s search business remains a money-driver, now powering Alphabet’s many other initiatives. The restructuring offers some more transparency about the company, with the performance of Google itself broken out separately from things like smart thermostat maker Nest and idea incubator Google X. Investors have rewarded this additional transparency by adding an additional $100 billion to Alphabet’s market cap since the restructuring was announced in August 2015.
Back when Google first went public, Apple was worth less than half of the search company. The struggling hardware maker was still expanding its one very successful product line: The iPod. The iPhone, which now drives the lion’s share of Apple’s revenue, was three years away.
A year later, investors already seem to have forgotten why they used to love Apple. Some are worried that iPhone sales will slow as the smartphone market reaches maturity, while calls for the company to come up with another revolutionary product continue unabated. Apple’s market cap is now down more than 30% from its all-time high.
Apple wouldn’t pass Google in market valuation until 2008. But from there the company reached never-before-seen heights, becoming the first $700 billion company early in 2015.
Will Alphabet’s valuation continue to rise, or will it face a downturn similar to Apple’s? That will depend on two key factors. First, the Google part of Alphabet, which includes Google.com, YouTube and Android, must maintain its dominance of search and online video even as a host of younger competitors vie to control users’ time on mobile. Facebook, Snapchat and others threaten not only YouTube’s control of video but Google’s broader role as the gateway to information on the Internet.
Meanwhile, Alphabet’s less mature businesses, which it has lumped together as “Other Bets,” will eventually have to prove they can be developed into moneymakers. For now, investors are patient. “Other Bets” lost a whopping $3.6 billion in 2015, but the success of Google’s core business still sent the company’s shares soaring after Monday’s earnings. But as Apple’s ongoing stock collapse shows, Wall Street will only wait so long for the next big thing.