Data Don’t Tell Stories

Data may not lie, but people’s selective interpretation of data can significantly change the stories they tell with data’s support.

Take this piece of analysis from the IDC, “the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets”:

Despite beating Wall Street expectations in terms of shipment volumes, Apple’s share in the worldwide smartphone operating system market posted a year-over-year decline during the second quarter of 2013 (2Q13). Meanwhile, Android and Windows Phone both managed slight increases during the same period. “The iOS decline in the second quarter aligns with the cyclicality of iPhone,” says Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team. [from here]

Now, let’s look at the actual data:

SMARTPHONE OPERATING SYSTEMS 2Q13

[data source]

Of course, what the IDC notes is true – Apple’s share has declined by 340bp over the past 12 months – but the important part of the story they’ve chosen not to highlight is that Apple’s shipments still increased by 20% during the same period.

My interest here is not whether iOS is going to beat Android though; I’m merely concerned with this skewed representation of an important story.

As  with all propagandata, it’s another case of “torture numbers and they’ll tell you anything.

Always question what the numbers really say, not what the presenter chooses to highlight.

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