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Beautiful Line Charts

I stumbled across a chart that’s in my opinion the best way to express a comparison of quantities through time:

It compares the new PC companies, such as Apple, to traditional PC companies like IBM and Compaq, but on the same scale. If you’d like to see how iPads and other novelties compare, see here. I’ve tried to use the same type of visualization in my old work on legal data visualization.

It comes from a new market research firm Asymco that also produced a very clean income vs expenses visualization (click to enlarge):

While the first figure is pure perfection, Tufte purists might find the second one too colorful. But to a busy person, color helps tell things apart: when I know that pink means interest, it takes a fraction of the second to assess the situation. We live in 2012, not in 1712 to have to think black and white.

Finally, they have a few other interesting uses of interactive visualization, such as cellular-broadband infrastructure around the world through time – along with the underlying data. It seems that the GapMinder tools are now out there.


  1. Not sure what the scales are on horizontal and vertical as no numbers are provided. Is the vertical scale linear or log? I can guess time on the horizontal scale but only because I remember when Commodore and Atari came out.

  2. Jens says:

    “new PC companies, such as Apple, to traditional PC companies like IBM and Compaq”
    You do notice where the Apple line starts and what the first products of Apple were?

  3. John Mashey says:

    “new PC companies, such as Apple, to traditional PC companies like IBM and Compaq,”?
    What? The full chart tells a different story that matches the one in Computer History Museum.
    Also, this is about *devices* not just PCs, as RIM Nokia and Symbian are on there as well, so the PC title is a misnomer.

    The real story is:
    1) Apple pretty much started the “PC” business.
    2) IBM and clones came on strong, and especially in early 1990s, Apple lost its way for a while.
    MacOS became abysmally outdated.
    3) Jobs came back, MacOS got a UNIX variant underneath.
    4) Then Apple did iPods, IPhones, iPads, and took off into the non-PC personal device space, winning big (clear in the chart)
    The real chart ought to be titled something like personal computing devices, to avoid ambiguity of the term PC.
    The progression is clear: deskside/desktop PC, luggable PC (barely), laptop PC, then Palm/cellphone/smartphone devices, with pads/Kindles now chewing up some of the space between laptops and smartphones.

  4. Tom says:

    I’ve always liked the approach taken by the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. Their graphics make a lot more sense in depicting technological innovation and decline (e.g., based on DRAMs as in this 2002 paper,…scroll to the bottom) than simple linear graphs. Their loglet software is easy to use…the hardest part is getting the data.

    • Ellie K says:

      Tom, you’re right! The grainy black&white graphs in that DRAMs decline paper were surprisingly good. Well, most were (the charts of overlapping same-color sinusoids were incomprehensible without color). I also liked the 3 data tables that followed the graphs. The independent variable, storage space, was uncommonly meaningful, representing both a numeric value (in kb? kB? MB?) as well as the status of the DRAM industry.

      Here’s the correct URL
      “… scroll” was inadvertently pulled into the link you provided. I don’t know if Andrew allows HTML “for style” in his blog comments….