Understanding the differences between these companies is as important as spotting a high yield. That is why a focus on valuation is crucial to the entire exercise. Many companies pay a dividend that have no business doing so. Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), Intel ( INTC) and Dell ( DELL) are examples. While they offer decent yields, it's hard to get excited about their market potential. In fact, it would be in their interest to abort their dividend policies and preserve their capital for research and development. Suffice it to say, PCs are dying and not coming back. It would serve the interest of all three to invest more in mobile projects. By contrast, there's Apple, where you have not only a great yield at 2.62%, but also the strong growth opportunity. Although some Apple investors initially argued against the dividend, Apple's underlying fundamentals - unlike Dell's -- continue to improve. Accordingly, over time, Apple's free-cash flow growth should continue to support higher payouts, which is what Carl Icahn presumably couldn't ignore recently. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy Apple's dividend check every quarter. But what will really matter to me is the total return. Since I know how to multiply, I won't mind the long-term waiting period. Unlike Netflix's quick rise, it may not taste great, but it's less filling. At the time of publication, the author was long Apple.. Follow @saintssense This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.