You can certainly make a good case that the iPhone is the product that made Apple a $2 trillion company. Apple sells a lot of iPhones--more than $65 billion worth in the company's most recent quarter alone. Partly, that's because iPhones are, well, cool.
They aren't always the best smartphones. They don't always have the best cameras or displays. Until last year, they didn't even have 5G, something almost every other manufacturer had already added to their flagships.
But people like iPhones. They also like their iPads and their Macs--which happened to have a pretty good year of their own in 2020. I think you could even make an argument that Apple is still a computer company at its soul, and the Mac is its heart.
None of those, however, is Apple's most valuable product. For that matter, they aren't the most important thing Apple sells. The most valuable thing Apple sells is trust.
Before I explain why, it's worth asking a question: Is trust really a product?
To answer that, it's important to understand what it is people are actually buying when they buy something from Apple. Take the iPhone, for example. Sure, they're buying a device with glass and aluminum and an A14 processor and cameras.
When people buy something from Apple, however, they're buying an experience. They expect that the company is going to deliver something that delights them.
They expect that when Apple says it's transitioning all of its hardware to its own internal processors, and puts up slides with very vague figures about performance and battery life, that the company isn't going to ruin what it's like to use a Mac. They trust that Apple has it figured out, and they don't have to understand things like universal binaries and Rosetta 2 to know whether their software will run.
They expect that it will "just work," whether it's setting up a new iPhone, connecting a pair of AirPods, syncing their photos, or paying for something online with Apple Pay. By the way, that's why when it doesn't work, it's so disappointing coming from Apple. It's why so many people are vocal about the way the company manages the App Store--people expect more when you're selling trust.
They expect that what they buy will respect their privacy and not try to monetize their personal information. Some might even argue that the thing that separates Apple from its competition--its core brand value--is actually privacy, but I don't think that's necessarily right. I think that Apple's push to make apps respect your privacy is another aspect of how it continues to build a huge amount of trust equity with its users.
If a product is a thing a company sells, then the thing Apple is selling--and the experience its customers are buying--is entirely based on trust. It turns out, that's more valuable than any particular device.
That's true for any brand, by the way. Trust is always your most valuable asset. It's the only reason anyone freely gives you money for the thing you make--because they trust that it will do what you say it will. They trust that you'll keep your promise.
If you don't, or if you break your promise, you lose trust--and it's very hard to earn back. It's why people don't like Facebook. It's not that the app is particularly bad. It's not that people don't like being connected to their friends and seeing photos of their family. It's that they don't trust that the people who make Facebook have their best interests in mind.
They don't trust Facebook because having your personal information collected, tracked, and monetized isn't a good experience, despite what the company says about how valuable "personalized ads" are.
Apple isn't perfect. There are plenty of things I wish Apple would do differently. Ultimately, however, the thing it does best is build trust. That just so happens to be something a lot of people are buying.