Apple to $1,000, Starbucks $100, Pandora $50, -- Here's Why

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Look around the broad tech space. You see plenty of posers. Cats who like to take meetings in coffee shops, pace airport terminals while talking on their iPhones and throw around buzzwords.

Spend more than 30 seconds in LAX or SFO's Virgin America terminal and you'll see what I mean. Instantly. In full, pretentious and annoying color.

But what are these people actually doing?

Outside of a startup culture that's more creative and exciting than ever (especially in areas such as mobile, data, music and Internet radio) and a handful of established players actually bringing the fruits of their focus and innovation to the people, there's not a whole lot happening.

Microsoft's (MSFT) so desperate, it feels the need to entertain the idea of dual OS smartphones. Apple's the only company with a truly inspiring domestic marketshare story.

But we're told Hey, Microsoft does well in Slovenia! Or does it? And Apple haters try to convince us that Samsung matters beyond being a marketshare slut. I ought to rip that Bluetooth outta your ear. Nobody gets excited about Samsung products. And the fragmentation of Android by Google (GOOG) certainly isn't worth emailing, texting or Snapchatting home about.

Meantime, sadly, Intel (INTC) Media failed. And, despite the company's best efforts, Intel will not even be able to snatch a moral victory from the jaws of defeat for Windows Mobile. Microsoft tinkers behind closed doors with robots and such, but, outside of Xbox, we see none of this alleged innovation make it to market in a way that excites consumers.

I could continue, but you get the picture ...

When you have to point to Starbucks (SBUX) as a one of the leaders in tech/data/mobile, you know -- no offense to Howard Schultz and Adam Brotman -- you've got problems.

That's why I love writing about startups and a handful of the best in breed -- Apple, Pandora, Starbucks, etc. I give Google a pass for reasons discussed in Google to $2,000 in 2014.

Given the way it dominates advertising, the tinkering at Google isn't wasted like it is at Microsoft; in fact, at any moment it feels like GOOG will unleash another inner beast and create or kill a category. Heck, outside of ad clicks, it won't make any money from it, but, along with Apple, it will end up taking down Microsoft's Windows and Office empire.

(That's a line of thought I introduced back in October 2012, by the way, that The Motley Fool now tries make its own in 2014. Don't think I'm not watching, you thieves!).

In other words, Google, Apple, Pandora and Starbucks do not innovate in vacuums. The things they do positively impact the lives of millions of people in one way or another or more. All four companies spew fresh air in a toxic climate that has practically every other poser and player feebly reacting to what works.

I'm remiss to leave Amazon.com (AMZN) out, but they could just as easily be included in this mix. A mix that's all about confidence that breeds focus ... 

The great companies have focus in common. An unshakable focus that stems from management and a workforce that, with nary a waver, believe that what they're doing is righteous. They don't ignore the competition, but, at the same time, they don't pay much attention to it. That makes sense if you attempt -- and marginally succeed -- to take on the attitude the Googles, Apples, Pandoras, Starbucks and Amazons of the world exude.

When you're too busy dominating the present and creating the future, you simply don't have time to worry about what everybody else does. Your past consists of a time when you had your head equally as down, taking the chances that, not merely by luck, made way for today's success and tomorrow's continued dominance.

And now everybody else reacts with cheap knockoffs of ad networks, mobile devices, Internet radio platforms, mobile apps and loyalty/rewards programs. They're not doing their own thing; they're trying to do what Google, Apple, Pandora, Starbucks and Amazon have already done.

That's not innovation. In fact, there's no place for that in tech. But it's pretty much what we have.

I giggle when people try to create dichotomies (that's what you do when you're getting your ass kicked and/or have no idea what's going on and how to move forward), pitting, say, Apple and Pandora against one another.

This video, part of my exclusive look inside Pandora's Music Genome Project with the company's VP/Playlists and Chief Scientist Eric Bieschke, helps hammer home what I'm trying to say. You're getting a sneak peek at this before it publishes as part of the Pandora series because you're reading this article.

Anyway, listen to Bieschke talk. He's been with Pandora since he was 19. He's 33 now. And he has done nothing but focus on making the company's personalization and discovery platform the best it can be. He lives it. He breathes it. There's no reason to obsess over what the other guys are doing.

Later in the video, we get into the fact that Apple featured the Pandora app when it introduced the first iPhone. People forget about that when they float the now objectively false notion that Apple meant to or was going to "crush" Pandora with iTunes Radio.

What crap.

Neither Apple or Pandora has time for such childish garbage. They're both too busy focusing on what they do best. And bringing consumers the best possible experience within the areas they operate in and, subsequently, dominate. Granted, Apple casts a far more all-encompassing net. But Pandora knows this. Part of being a well-focused company is being a company that understands its place. Or, before that, knowing its place and staking out the appropriate territory.

As Tim Cook implied (I think) when he called the competition confused on Apple's most recent earnings conference call, companies such as Microsoft do not know their place. They have no idea what they are or what they're supposed to be, let alone what they, from a strategic standpoint, should be.

When you can't even figure that much out, you're perpetually chasing the leaders. That's a scenario ripe for losing focus. And it's a large part of why it's so easy and sensible to make a bull case for Apple, Starbucks, Pandora (and Google and Amazon) both as companies and stocks.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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