The iPhone as Barbie Doll

January 30, 2011: 1:20 PM ET

The New York Times reaches for new metaphors to illuminate the power of Apple's platform

The U.S. interstate highway system is a "platform," writes Steve Lohr in Sunday's New York Times business section. "The more that people traveled it, the more opportunity it created for businesses and towns linked to its transportation network — and the larger the market for Detroit automakers."

A Barbie doll, one of his sources suggests helpfully, can also be seen as a platform. Outside suppliers make outfits, accessories and toys for the doll, while online Barbie fan clubs help boost sales.

Lohr is reaching for these metaphors because he's trying to explain to the Times' readers why Apple (AAPL) seems to defy a mathematical principle as inescapable as gravity: That it's easier for a small company to grow at say 50% or 70% a year than it is for a large company.

But Apple's accelerating growth curve defies the laws of gravity. It's the world's most valuable technology company -- market cap: $310 billion -- yet its revenues are growing like a start-up: 49%, 61%, 67% and 71%, respectively, over the past four quarters.

That's the power of a platform that has struck gold -- in this case, millions of iPhones and iPads attracting tens of thousands of developers whose hundreds of thousands of apps have made the iPhone and iPad even more popular.


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