It is something you might have guessed if you saw people queuing outside the Apple Store in the hours before a new shipment of iPads arrives, or if you count up the people tuned into those iconic white earphones in any train carriage, but now it is official: Apple is the most valuable brand on the planet.
And making the results of the annual Millward Brown "BrandZ" survey of brand value all that more pleasing for Apple, it has snatched the top spot from its arch-rival, Google, whose four years at No 1 has come to an abrupt end.
Before Apple launched the iPhone four years ago, the company languished at No 29 on the keenly-watched survey. But with that revolutionary device, and on its heels, the invention of the iPad, Apple has cemented its public reputation for cutting-edge cool. It is a reputation that drives people to pay high prices for the latest gadgets, almost to the exclusion of what might be available at a cheaper price from a dowdier rival technology company.
That is the reason Millward Brown pegged the value of the Apple brand at $153.3bn in the rankings circulated yesterday. That is up 84 per cent in the past year, and it knocks Google into a poor runner-up position, even though that company's brand has barely declined, by just 2 per cent to $111.5bn.
The numbers are calculated by examining financial data, including profits and stock market values, and surveys of public attitudes to company's brands. Millward Brown is a division of WPP, one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world.
Google has hit more public relations snags in the past year, as online privacy has become a topic of conversation. The company has also ploughed money into new projects, including the Android operating system for mobile phones which it wants to be the standard alternative to the iPhone, and is yet to get any profits back on those nascent businesses.
Nigel Hollis, Millward Brown's chief global analyst and author of The Global Brand, said the battle between Apple and Google is interesting "because of the very different models the two companies espouse. Google is the archetypal Internet brand, with free services and open systems. Premium-priced Apple eschews the open model in favour of what Steve Jobs refers to as an 'integrated' model," he said. "One thing is for sure, the integrated approach does help Apple maintain the consistency so important to a strong brand. Whether it is a Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad, the design and interface of Apple products is familiar and easy to use."
The top end of the top 100 global brands is still dominated by US giants such as McDonald's, Microsoft, Marlboro and Coca-Cola, but emerging market companies are breaking through in increasing numbers. China Mobile, the biggest telecoms firm in China, is now the ninth most valuable brand, worth $57.3bn, it was calculated, and Baidu.com, the Chinese equivalent of Google, has risen to $22.5bn thanks to Google's exit from the country in protest at censorship by the Communist regime.
This year's survey – the sixth – also marked the coming of age of e-commerce. The value of the Amazon brand, at $37.6bn, has narrowly moved ahead of the value of Wal-Mart, the largest bricks-and-mortar retailer in the world, and owner of Asda in the UK.
The big brand winners...
Apple – $153bn
The launch of the iPad was the key factor in Apple's stunning rise up the table with an 84 per cent rise in its estimated value. In third place last year, Steve Jobs' company now holds a clear lead.
Amazon – $38bn
The online store rose only one place in the list, to 13th, but made a symbolic leap that signals the dominance of online brands – going a place higher than Wal-Mart and becoming the top retailer in the world.
Facebook – $19.1bn
A new entry to the list in 35th place, the social network finally has hard evidence of its financial success. With a flotation expected next year, its valuation has risen a remarkable 246 per cent.
Google – $111bn
Still an online behemoth, but Google's loss of the top spot (it is now second) after four years will rankle. Doubters will ask if the sheen has worn off.
BP – $12bn
A disastrous year for the oil giant – largely because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Tony Hayward's subsequent departure – has led to a fall of 30 places to 64th in the list.
Santander – $11bn
The Spanish banking giant has seen a serious fall in its valuation, by 37 per cent. Strength in its Latin American operation was not enough to make up for bad results across Europe.