Apple was the most valuable company in the United States at the market close Wednesday, taking the crown from Exxon Mobil. (MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS)

As The Washington Post reported yesterday, Apple’s ascendance not only defies the stock market, but also tells a narrative about the rise of consumer technology.

“This isn’t big business tech,” said Michael Gartenberg, technology analyst for Gartner, a research and consulting firm, when asked about the changing of the guard Tuesday. “These are products sold one at a time to consumers. This shows the power of consumer technology, how it has been adopted and how Apple has changed how consumers do everything.”

Apple’s been building its success through the years through a combination of innovation, education and design. The company taps into consumer desires, sometimes even before they know what those desires are. The company also excels at waiting for just the right moment to release a product, Gartner said, more often than not finding the sweet spot between not-ready-to-release and playing catch-up.

Market value — a company’s share price multiplied by the number of its shareholders — is a quick and dirty way to evaluate a company’s value, and it’s likely that Apple and Exxon will be locked into a horse race for the top spot for quite some time.

In the end, this data point probably doesn’t matter much to either company. But it is a stunning accomplishment for a company that was almost dead just over a decade ago — and for the chief executive it hired back.

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