Although Steve Jobs passed away in a sad and untimely fashion just a couple of years ago, if the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) founder is looking down upon us now, he can at least take comfort from the fact that by the time he shuffled off this mortal coil, the company he founded had become one of the world’s most significant.

Apple’s reputation has been a roller-coaster ride

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has had a roller-coaster-like trajectory to its present exalted status during the history of the company, with the early successes of the company followed by a period of the doldrums. It is hard to believe now that at one time this technology giant was a marginal player in the electronics market. But the 1996 Simpsons episode ‘Homerpalooza’ indicates the extent to which Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s reputation had fallen, when a young person in a record store professes not to have heard of Apple Computers at all (the DVD commentary does concede that this joke hasn’t aged particularly well!).

It was really the iPod that played a massive part in turning around Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s fortunes. Although the company had returned to profitability shortly before the release of the digital music player in 2001, the popularization of this nifty device, along with the growing user base of iTunes which it necessitated, began to change the image of the company into one that was cool and cutting edge. Though we now take such devices for granted, I do recall being very impressed with the design quality of the iPod when I first saw one.

This laid the foundation for the entire tranche of iProducts, with the improved iMac, and then later the iPhone and iPad, selling millions of units and coming to define the marketplace, particularly for mobile technology, at the beginning of the 21st century.

Apple’s reputation depends on its product distinction

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has made its name by delivering consumer electronics that stand out from the crowd in design terms, and they have been extremely successful in doing this. In common with pretty much any major corporation, they don’t exactly have a reputation today which is as pure as the driven snow, but even their biggest detractors surely couldn’t deny that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) products deliver incredible stylistics and aesthetics which make them instantly distinctive. The design of the iPhone has been oft-imitated but never bettered, while it is almost impossible to deny that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iMac is the most aesthetically attractive desktop machine in the world.

It is this flare for design which has made Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) one of the world’s most recognizable brands. This is, of course, extremely important in the consumer electronics market, where fashion and street buzz are arguably the most important aspect of peddling your wares. It is not for nothing that people queue up for miles to get hold of a new iPhone on launch day.

Apple has left many behind

The ability of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to establish itself as the most distinctive brands in the consumer electronics space has recently led to an achievement which can be considered nothing short of extraordinary. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has ousted The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) in the list of the world’s leading global brands, with Interbrand placing the technology firm above obvious competitors in similar fields such as Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), along with other infamous names such as McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD) and General Electric Company (NYSE:GE).

The characteristics that contribute to the notion of the world’s top brand are potentially diverse. One might argue that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) products deliver quality, prestige, street cachet and distinctive aesthetics that contribute to its overall brand identity. However, I would personally find it incredibly difficult to argue that an iPhone is more recognisable than a Coke can, and I’m ultimately unconvinced by the notion that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is the world’s top brand.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has established itself at the absolute forefront of one of the world’s most popular consumer marketplaces, and that its prospects are pretty decent. But what sort of return can the company expect from 2014?

Mobile marketplace importance for Apple

Undoubtedly, for the foreseeable future the key products which Apple produces will be the iPhone and iPad. The digital mobile marketplace is without a doubt the most important market for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), not least because it is such an obvious growth area. It has been asserted that tablet computing is the fastest growing form of technology ever; thus with much more potential for growth in the near future, it naturally follows that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) will want the iPad to retain its prominent position.

The iPad has hitherto dominated the tablet market, with the iPad selling more than double the number of units of any of its competitors in the first quarter of 2013. It is still without a doubt the device that people associate with tablets, becoming almost an industry standard. Yet, there are now more tablet computers being sold which use the Android operating system than Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iOS, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) will clearly need to remain on top form if it is to remain the dominant player in this hugely competitive market.

Apple iPhone still the most popular

The iPhone is still just about the world’s most popular smartphone, but it is being seriously challenged by the Samsung Galaxy in particular, which is almost neck and neck now with the iPhone in terms of units shifted. The Galaxy may not have quite the kudos of the iPhone, but it offers a powerful package at a cheaper price, and certainly threatens Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s market-leading position.

Of course, the technology marketplace always moves quickly, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s potential for growth will probably rely on their ability to innovate. Recent reports have indicated that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s profits have declined, and they may have to penetrate new markets in order to reverse the situation. With cloud computing a hugely important factor on the horizon, and numerous companies fighting to establish themselves as the entertainment hub of the average family living-room, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) might have to diversify into such an area if they are to maintain their position as the world’s leading brand.