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Reading the telephone tea leaves

While most phone makers muddle around in the middle, there's one outstanding performer – and one in catastrophic decline

Time is the human preoccupation, so perhaps it’s not surprising that when creating graphs we tend to immediately place time on the x axis. But interesting things happen when you stop measuring everything by the linear progression of time, and instead place it in the background.

In May, smartphone industry analyst Horace Dediu created charts to display the market share and profit performance of phone manufacturers (see one of them, bottom right).

Mobile phone makersBy showing the variation over a fixed period – in this case, 15 quarters – Dediu showed that while most phone makers were muddling around in the middle, there was one outstanding performer (Apple) and one in a catastrophic decline (Nokia).Charts with four quarters and one quarter of data showed the same pattern.

The irony is that Dediu used to be an analyst at Nokia, where he became frustrated by the way crucial business data would be buried.

“Corporations effectively kill self-knowledge and lack any institutional memory,” he wrote on his blog last year.

“I finally became disillusioned with the process when, having worked on one piece of analysis for two weeks on the premise that it would be presented at a high-level meeting, my time slot got bumped off the agenda due to scheduling issues.

Dediu said his work was never presented to anyone and didn’t see the light of day.

“I realised that my ‘work product’ was non-essential to the meeting anyway. It was, for the lack of a better word, executive entertainment.”

The result? Dediu began to blog internally, then eventually quit and launched his blogat asymco.com, where he matches a steady stream of insightful data analysis with a fine line in reading the tea leaves by interpreting executive-speak for the masses.

When he started the blog he chose the word ‘asymco’ as it did not exist and it had zero hits on Google search. Now it has more than 77,000 results, and growing.

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