Where would we be without Apple?

John Lennon never sang about imagining a world without Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) — or even Apple Records — but it’s easy if you try.

Researchers and analysts are doing the math for you. Barclays Capital analyst Barry Knapp recently reported that if you back Apple out of the S&P 500, year-over-year earnings growth for this year’s first calendar quarter would be flat.

Ned Davis Research’s Dan Sanborn came to an even more grim conclusion. Back Apple out of the S&P 500, and earnings growth drops from 7.8% to a mere 2.7%.

Despite the discrepancies, it’s getting popular to carve Apple out of the picture.

Comparing Apple to oranges
Morgan Housel took a closer look at Apple’s influence on the S&P 500. He concludes that while Apple, at 4% of the popular market metric, is substantial, it’s a small fry compared to the companies grabbing the pole position at some of the market gauges around the world.

Today I’m going to take the public’s fascination with offering up statistics in regular and “ex-Apple” form in a different direction.

What if Apple didn’t exist?

I’m not talking about rehashing the either-or metric scenario that has been bludgeoned to death by Wall Street’s brainiest statisticians. Let’s pretend that Apple doesn’t exist — or, at least, isn’t the great tastemaker it is today.

It’s a wonderful iLife
The fatal fallacy many analysts make in breaking out “ex-Apple” statistics is that other companies would be just as miserable without the class of Cupertino leading the way.

That’s not right.

Apple is a magnificent company, and there are clearly certain companies that wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for Apple’s popularity. Would ZAGG (Nasdaq: ZAGG) even be around if its protective covers for iPads, iPhones, and iPod touch devices weren’t necessary? Would portable consumer electronics even be as popular outside of corporate customers if Apple hadn’t shaken things up on this side of the millennium?

Yet many stagnant or slow-growing tech bellwethers would probably be in a better place.

Let’s start with Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) . Erase the iPhone, and where is the BlackBerry? RIM would probably be in a much better place these days, with its co-CEOs — because they wouldn’t have been canned a few months ago — laughing all the way to the bank. Sure, Google‘s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android’s development predates the iPhone, so RIM would have a pesky open-source competitor appealing to global handset makers. However, the very nature of the apps-driven ecosystem wouldn’t be as popular. Touchscreens would be less popular than devices with physical keyboards! Android would be nibbling away at RIM’s market share in smartphones, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough to heave RIM from the top of the hill.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is another company that would be doing a lot better in an Apple-less world. The tablet craze would probably never have taken off without the iPad. Consumers weren’t even sure if they needed a tablet when Apple introduced the original iPad two years ago. With tablets as merely a niche product — if that — and smartphones more of a corporate email and productivity gadget still elbowing its way into the consumer space, there would be no stall in laptop and desktop sales. Folks would keep buying PCs, with netbooks possibly serving the role of tablets, but Microsoft would be selling a whole lot more Windows operating systems and Office productivity suites.

Apple sold more than 15 million iPads during the holiday quarter. What if they were largely Windows-fueled netbooks? Apple sold 37 million iPhones in its fiscal first quarter. What if most of those handsets were BlackBerrys instead?

The end result is that most of the $128 billion collected in revenue last year by Apple would probably have been collected by somebody else.

There’s nothing wrong with ingesting all of the analyst and research comments about the big difference Apple is making. It’s enlightening. It’s a great icebreaker. However, at the end of the day, don’t assume that the rest of the market would be Nil City in terms of growth sans Apple.

We’d live in a slightly less innovative world, but a few of the names that we see as laggards today could be darlings.

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