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In case you needed a reminder that Apple (s aapl) isn’t the scrappy little tech company that could anymore, yesterday, its stock climbed as high as $292.76 on the Nasdaq, leading to a total market value of $267.5 billion, which made it the second-highest listed company behind Exxon Mobil (s xom). At the end of the day, Apple had slipped back to third behind PetroChina (s ptr), but that doesn’t make the feat any less impressive.
It’s the latest chapter of a story that started with the introduction of the iPod, but really started heating up when the iPhone was announced in January 2007. Since then, Apple’s stock has more than tripled in value, and the company overtook Microsoft (s msft) in May as the most valuable tech stock. Based on the success of its latest star, the iPad, which is already selling better than the iPod, that trajectory isn’t going to change, either.
Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray expects iPad sales to climb even higher next year, too. He issued a prediction of 21 million iPads sold next year, thanks to the company’s efforts to enter more international markets and increase distribution channels for the device. Based on the strength of that prediction, among other factors, Apple’s stock is expected to store higher still, with Munster even suggesting it could hit $390 a share at its highest.
Apple isn’t without challenges, however. Android’s (s goog) rising popularity is a threat. Google’s smartphone OS recently accounted for as much as 17 percent of the U.S. market, up from 12 percent. Apple had slipped from 25 to 24 percent in the same time period. Much will depend on how the iPad fares as more competition enters the market, and on whether or not Apple can shake up its Mac division with some exciting new offerings to offset any ground lost to Android in the smartphone game.
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