Shares of Apple, the world's most valuable technology company, set a new record high of $431.37 Thursday, as the company introduced a new educational iPad initiative and prepared to report first-quarter earnings next Tuesday.

In late trading, the shares fell more than $2 to $427.06, giving the Cupertino, Calif.-based company a market value of $398.8 billion, only about $14 billion below ExxonMobil, the world's most valuable corporation.

But at the earlier record, Apple's market capitalization surpassed $400 billion for the first time since 1976. The last record high was set Jan. 9 at $427.61.

More than half the 55 analysts who actively follow Apple predict the share price will exceed $500 by January 2013. Few technology shares trade at that level with a big exception: Google, which traded as high as $640.99 Thursday, giving the Mountain View, Calif.-based Apple rival a market value of a mere $206.9 billion.