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Is it better to buy Apple products or Apple stock?

An analysis by a software-engineering intern reveals the extraordinary value of a cash investment in Apple stock at many times in history, compared with spending the same money on an Apple product.

Sometimes, people have the most wonderful ideas. And not merely people at Apple.

A software-engineering intern at Twilio (who also happens to be a computer science student at UC Berkeley) got it into his head to work out what would have happened had those who spent money on Apple products over the years invested the very same amount of money in Apple stock instead.

And what a fascinating analysis Kyle Conroy has presented on his blog.

If, for example, you happened to have $5,700 in 1997, you would have been able to buy a PowerBook G3 250 (Original/Kanga/3500). If you had decided that this computer wasn't quite right for you and had put that $5,700 into Apple stock, your stock would now be worth $330,563.

Which might, one suspects, be about $330,500 more than your PowerBook might be worth today.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Still, perhaps you didn't have that kind of money in 1997. So let's go to 2003. Perhaps by then you had $2,699 to buy an Apple Power Macintosh G4 1.42 DP (FW 800).

Well, now, had you just been able to restrain your enthusiasm for this machine and put your $2,699 into Apple stock, that stock would today be worth $100,270.

But perhaps you've never had too much money. Perhaps the only Apple product you could afford in 2003 was the Apple iPod 3G (10/15/30) 10, 15, 30 GB. This would have set you back a mere $299. Yes, indeed. But the same $299 put into Apple stock would now be worth $11,685.

Please take a look at the full table, because it provides for fine entertainment. Naturally, it will make some wonder about their purchasing habits, especially as they get ready to spend a few hundred on the new iPad 2, which comes out tomorrow.

It will make others realize just how difficult this investment malarkey really is.

But the most difficult thing to quantify, at least for some, will be what the pleasure they got out of any specific product (Apple or otherwise) was really worth.

As I keep saying to all my disbelieving friends at Google, there are some things in life you just can't put a number on.