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Who hit 3 trillion first?

In the world of tech giants, market capitalization milestones are seen as major achievements. Recently, two giants crossed the historic $3 trillion market cap threshold – Apple and Microsoft. Reaching the $3 trillion mark cements their status as the two most valuable publicly traded companies in the world. But which one got there first? Let’s take a look at the race to $3 trillion.

The Trillion Dollar Club

Before we look at the race to $3 trillion specifically, it helps to understand the history of tech companies reaching trillion dollar valuations. Here are some key milestones:

  • Apple – first to $1 trillion market cap in August 2018
  • Microsoft – reached $1 trillion in April 2019
  • Amazon – hit $1 trillion in September 2018
  • Alphabet (Google) – passed $1 trillion in January 2020

Reaching a $1 trillion valuation is rarefied air even for the largest tech giants. And from there, each incremental trillion gets harder. So how did Apple and Microsoft scale up to the $3 trillion threshold?

The Race Begins: Apple Hits $2 Trillion

In August 2020, Apple became the first publicly traded U.S. company to reach a $2 trillion market capitalization. This was a major milestone for the company and demonstrated how dominant its position had become in the tech industry.

Apple was able to double its valuation from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in just over two years. The growth was driven by continued demand for iPhones as well as emerging business lines like Services and Wearables that boosted Apple’s profits. During the pandemic in 2020, Apple saw major tailwinds as consumers purchased more devices and digital services.

After crossing $2 trillion, Apple had a clear lead in the race to $3 trillion. But Microsoft was closing in.

Microsoft Gets on the Trillion Dollar Train

Although Apple beat Microsoft to $1 trillion in market cap, Microsoft was steadily growing its cloud computing and enterprise software businesses. In November 2021, Microsoft’s market cap finally crossed $2 trillion for the first time.

Microsoft was able to reach this milestone through rapid growth of its cloud platform Azure. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft pivoted to focus on cloud and subscription businesses. This strategic move paid off handsomely, with Azure revenue jumping 50% year-over-year in 2021.

Buoyed by the success of Azure and Office 365 subscriptions, Microsoft started closing the gap with Apple. With both companies valued at over $2 trillion, the race to $3 trillion was heating up.

The Final Leg of the Race

In the final months of 2021, Apple and Microsoft stock prices surged in tandem. Fueled by strong earnings results, both companies inched closer to a $3 trillion valuation.

On December 13, 2021, Apple reached the historic milestone first. The company’s share price hit $182.86, giving it a market cap of $3.004 trillion after including outstanding shares and diluted stock options.

Microsoft crossed the $3 trillion threshold soon after on January 3, 2022. Its share price closed at $336.32, just enough to push the company’s market cap to $3.006 trillion.

So Apple claimed the title of first to $3 trillion, but Microsoft followed closely behind within a matter of weeks. Here is a timeline of the major milestones:

August 2018 Apple reaches $1 trillion market cap
April 2019 Microsoft hits $1 trillion market cap
August 2020 Apple reaches $2 trillion valuation
November 2021 Microsoft valuation passes $2 trillion
December 13, 2021 Apple hits $3 trillion market cap
January 3, 2022 Microsoft reaches $3 trillion valuation

How Did Apple Reach $3 Trillion First?

Looking at the race dynamics, how was Apple able to beat Microsoft to the $3 trillion finish line? There are a few key factors that contributed to Apple hitting the milestone first:

  • Head start advantage – Apple was already ahead of Microsoft in valuation terms, having reached earlier trillion dollar milestones first. This gave the company an edge as both raced towards $3 trillion.
  • Strong iPhone sales – The hugely popular and profitable iPhone continued to drive revenues and profits for Apple. Sales surged as Apple released the 5G-enabled iPhone 13 lineup.
  • New business growth – Emerging segments like Services and Wearables became key growth engines alongside the iPhone, expanding Apple’s profit pools.
  • Tech stock momentum – Both Apple and Microsoft benefited from investor enthusiasm for tech stocks during the pandemic. This rising tide helped lift Apple’s valuation.

Apple leveraged these factors to reach unprecedented heights. Even as Microsoft put up valiant competition, Apple had enough momentum to stay in the lead.

Will Microsoft Catch Up to Apple’s Valuation?

Looking ahead, the race between the two tech giants remains close. Apple ended 2022 with a market cap around $2.25 trillion after the tech rout, while Microsoft was slightly ahead at $1.8 trillion.

Here are some key considerations for whether Microsoft can catch or overtake Apple in valuation terms:

  • Cloud business growth – Azure and other cloud services are growing faster for Microsoft than Apple’s services. Cloud momentum could help Microsoft close the gap.
  • Wearables and metaverse potential – Emerging categories like wearables and metaverse represent growth opportunities for Apple as the smartphone market matures.
  • Economic conditions – A recession could disproportionately hurt consumer spending, affecting iPhone sales. But enterprise IT spending may also slow.
  • Stock repurchases – Apple and Microsoft both routinely repurchase stock, which supports share prices and valuations.
  • Acquisitions and investments – Major M&A deals or strategic investments could enhance growth for either company.

Both companies have compelling strengths that suggest the valuation race will remain tight. But Apple likely needs to find its next big product category to fend off Microsoft’s cloud momentum. Maintaining its lead will be a challenging task.

Key Takeaways from the Race to $3 Trillion

Reviewing the historic race between Apple and Microsoft to reach a $3 trillion market cap helps illustrate broader themes in the tech industry:

  • Platform companies like Apple and Microsoft can scale up to unprecedented valuations by launching new ecosystems like the App Store and Azure.
  • Cloud computing and software delivery models are fueling growth for Microsoft as it pivots away from the consumer space.
  • Apple must keep innovating products like the iPhone and Apple Watch while expanding services to retain its leadership position.
  • Tech valuations remain volatile and dependent on fickle market sentiments around growth and inflation.
  • As the tech industry matures, each incremental trillion in market cap becomes more difficult to achieve.

The race also shows how Apple and Microsoft have separated themselves from rivals. They are the undisputed leaders of the tech world’s trillion dollar valuation club. Whoever reaches $4 trillion first will cement their standing as the tech industry’s most dominant force.


The race to $3 trillion market capitalization between Apple and Microsoft created history. While Apple reached the milestone first in December 2021, Microsoft followed less than a month later in January 2022. It was a close contest between the two tech giants.

Apple benefitted from continued iPhone growth and new businesses like Services to stay in the lead. But Microsoft is closing the gap with its thriving Azure cloud platform. The race exemplifies how these two companies have pulled away from the pack through visionary leadership, savvy investments, and the ability to capitalize on new opportunities like the shift to the cloud.

Looking ahead, Apple and Microsoft appear poised to battle for tech’s trillion dollar crown. Both companies have shown resilience and the ability to rapidly scale up new ventures. Hitting the next major milestone of $4 trillion market cap will demonstrate undisputed dominance. With the race so close, neither company can afford to slow down innovating across hardware, software, services, and the cloud. In the trillion dollar marathon, the tech giants keep sprinting.