Battle of two smartphone giants – can you easily compare these graphs?

Eyewitness News,

I came across this infographic comparing Samsung and Apple on the multimedia section of the Eyewitness News website. The theme is appropriate as these two tech giants are battling it out for market share and in the news a lot lately.

I like the graphic design: bold and visually interesting, striking colours. But the data in these charts is not clearly presented, making it difficult to compare them – the main purpose of this infographic.

Why present data?

Firstly, one must answer why create charts in the first place? The real purpose of quantitative displays is to provide the reader with important, meaningful, and useful insight, according to information visualisation expert Stephen Few.

Why do these charts fail?

This infographic includes two types of charts:


Apple share price performance graph
Market Share Worldwide: Apple share price performance

The share performance graphs have no labels for the vertical axis scale. In the Apple graph above, the 8 row divisions seem to be in divisions of 100. And I assume those values are in millions of dollars?

Donut charts

Pie charts showing Samsung versus Apple: smartphone sales, operating systems
Market Share Worldwide: Samsung vs. Apple

Donut charts are pie charts with a hole in the middle (these might be called ring charts because the holes are so big). When I see pie charts I cringe, because I know that designers use them as:

  1. Humans are fascinated by all things circular; and
  2. They are not good at presenting data that’s useful and usable.

Pie charts are also too easy to create in tools like Excel which is why they will unfortunately never go away.

Pie charts try to tell a whole-to-part story. Their failure is because of the limit of our visual perception, which is poor at comparing the slices of data, supporting only rough comparisons to areas and angles as Stephen Few puts it.

How can that data be better presented so that it’s meaningful and insightful?

Bar graph comparing Samsung and Apple smartphone shipments in 2013: Samsung 31.3 percent, Apple 15.3 percent, Others 39.3 percent, Huawai 4.9 percent, LG 4.8 percent, Lenovo 4.5 percent
Bar graph version: smartphone shipments, 2013 (0.1% error in their figures)

Bar graph comparing Samsung and Apple operating systems in 2013: Android 78.6 percent, IOS 15.2 percent, Windows Phone 3.3 percent, Blackberry 1.9 percent, Others 1 percent
Bar graph version: operating systems, 2013 (Android used on Samsung phones and others)

Bar graphs are a much better option as the data can be easily interpreted and compared. The display has no distractions, enabling the data to tell the story.