Adam Lashinsky

Apple soars from 55th to 19th place in Fortune's Global 500

July 8, 2013: 7:22 AM ET

That's the good news. The bad news: The list is based on Apple's 2012 performance.

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 5.06.57 AMFORTUNE -- According to this year's edition of the Fortune Global 500, Apple (AAPL) is the second most profitable company in the world after Exxon Mobil (XOM) and has jumped from 55th to 19th place in terms of revenue. (See list below.)

Sounds good, right? The problem is, this year's list is based on last year's results -- i.e., the fiscal year that for Apple ended in September 2012, just before the company's share price famously began a nine-month dive from over $700 to below $400.

To capture the Tale of Two Cities flavor of Apple's achievement, Fortune's Adam Lashinsky -- whose Inside Apple is the best book in print on how the company works -- has written a pair of essays that present the bull and bear cases for Apple.

"Watching Apple stumble," begins the worst-of-times piece, "is a little like witnessing a just-over- the-hill prizefighter wobbling on his feet or a once-eloquent orator stammering for the right word. But there's no question: Apple has lost a step since the death of Steve Jobs. That this observation is as inevitable as the effects of gravity doesn't make it any less shocking or lamentable.

"How has Apple fallen? Let us count the ways. It has been three years since the release of the iPad, the company's last breakthrough product. The latest version of its mobile software reminds design critics more of the edgier features of Google's (GOOG) Android or Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Phone than anything associated with Apple's penchant for leapfrogging-the-competition boldness. Apple's management is defensive, its people are less committed, and its competitors are resurgent. Apple's ferocious profit growth has stalled, and investors have lost faith in its ability to restart that engine. Apple's stock price is deflated, sure, but that's merely a symptom, not the disease.

"No, the real problem with Apple is that this company, long the arbiter of cool, the corporate trendsetter on all matters from design to marketing to operational excellence, has gone from being insanely great to merely great..."

The best-of-times essay starts off like this:

"Sorry, haters. Apple has a long way to go before it can be counted out. Look closely at what little Apple has revealed about its secretive plans for the future, and you'll see a still-dominant, still-innovative company that is intelligently regrouping for fresh battles that didn't exist when Jobs was around. In its corporate DNA, Apple is a go-for-broke company, an astounding attribute given its size. The opportunities for reinvention at Apple are many, and to underestimate the abilities or the imagination of the crew Jobs left behind would be foolish. Just because Apple hasn't indicated its road map or offered concrete examples of of its upcoming breakthrough ideas doesn't mean it doesn't intend to surprise and delight its customers again, the way it has so many times before."

And it concludes:

"The conventional wisdom in the media, on Wall Street, and by lovers of schadenfreude everywhere is that dull normality will weigh down Apple in the years to come. Some canny observers of Apple's past and future, however, see something different altogether: renewed greatness."

On what side does Lashinsky end up?

"The preponderance of the evidence, common sense, and gut instinct," he writes in a third essay, The Verdict, "all suggest that the Apple-has-peaked argument is the stronger of the two."

Fortune subscribers can read Lashinsky's essays here.

Below: The first 19 entries in the Fortune Global 500.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

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