Visualizing the Steve Jobs era

On October 4th, Tim Cook will take the stage at Apple’s fall event. With Steve Jobs’ transition to head the Board of Directors of Apple and after serving as CEO for fourteen years, it is time to take a look at his reign.

Looking at his performance vs. peer companies from a capital market performance, I have composed the following two charts:

Market capitalization of selected peer companies by calendar quarter in USD million sorted by most recent market capitalization (1997-2011)

Market capitalization of selected peer companies in USD million sorted by recent market capitalization (1997-2010)

Market capitalization as share of combined market capitalization by calendar quarter sorted by most recent market capitalization (1997-2011)

Market capitalization as share of combined market capitalization sorted by recent market capitalization (1997-2010)

You will note that I included more companies than in previous analysis. The new additions are:

  • Compaq (acquired by HP in 2002)
  • Palm (acquired by HP in 2010)
  • Amazon (a popular request by readers)

I divided this era into three distinct periods:

Restructuring of Apple 1997-2000

In the beginning of 1997, Apple’s market capitalization was lower than almost all of its peers. In absolute terms the market capitalization moved only slightly upwards towards 1999 and the dent in 2000 is significantly lower compared to the market capitalization increase of other companies, first and foremost Microsoft’s. Especially in the early part of this period restructuring and streamlining efforts took precedence. The introduction of iMac in 1998 and the iBook in 1999 set the tone in terms of design, quality and “thinking different” for many years to come.

iTunes era 2001-2006

With a stable core business and healthy profitability, Apple introduced the first iPod in October 2001 complementing the earlier introduced iTunes music player. Two years later, Apple introduced the iTunes Store offering downloadable music for the Mac and Windows operating systems. The venturing into the music and portable music player business and the halo effect for the Mac business is reflected in the market capitalization increasing significantly during the following years surpassing HP and Nokia.

Mobile iOS devices 2007-2011

Market capitalization further increased with the entry into the smart-phone market in 2007. Note that market capitalization of all selected companies combined at that time was as high as in the era of 2000. But this time Apple accounted for more than 10% of it. From 2008 to 2009 market capitalization of all companies declined severely due to the financial crisis. Rapid recovery followed during 2009 and early 2010. Apple introduced the iPad in March 2010 further fueling its rise to the top, surpassing Microsoft’s capitalization and topping Exxon Mobil as the world’s most valuable listed company.

During the time of Steve Jobs as CEO, Apple’s market capitalization increased on average by 42% every year–an unprecedented track record. According to his own admission, Steve Jobs became CEO when Apple was 90 days away from bankruptcy. He resigned 14 years later after leading Apple to becoming the most valuable listed company in the world. From a value creation point of view, it’s hard to think of a better performance from anyone, ever.

  • Anonymous

    He is the best CEO of all time bar none when you take into account of importance of the industry(ies) Apple is in, Apple’s place within the industry, innovation, leadership in good times, leadership in a crisis, biggest turnaround of all time, Apple’s market performance etc… etc…

    • Jzlatic

      It is only fitting that Steve Jobs is alive to witness the birth of what may be his/Apple’s crowning achievement to date

      I think Tuesday will be the launch of Steve Job’s swan song and the NEXT BIG THING in computing If so, it seems the enormity of what is about to unfold has been underestimated. Again.

      Seasoned investors expressed their negative opinion in sending Apple shares down yesterday immediately after Apple released it’s elegant invite to the unveiling of it’s next iPhone. Veteran posters on the venerable Apple Finance Board also expressed their dismay.

      But after so many home runs in a row, at a time when the company wants a home run more than ever to commemorate their fallen leader, it would seem that more of the ever-faithful, if not the naysayers, would see that Apple’s latest long fly ball to left field is staying fair and promises to be a record-setting-out-of-the-park success.

      The new iPhone is going to be a grand slam for fundamentally the same reasons that the iPad was the fastest-selling consumer device ever invented. It’s the interface, stupid.

      When will people start connecting the dots? Probably not until new-CEO Tim Cook tells us how exactly many million dots there are…

      After having it’s iPad smugly and confidently panned even after it was released, — bashed because, among so many other oh-so-erroneous reasons —that it’s feminine hygiene-like name would doom it to failure among women— it would seem that Apple this time would be given the benefit of the doubt. Not yet.

      Steve Jobs himself promised in his resignation letter that “Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it.” Where is the optimism and enthusiasm following in the wake of Apple’s elegant invitation to, “Let’s Talk iPhone.”

      What does it mean? By connecting the dots between the technology acquired, patents filed and early release rumors from reliable sources, it means that Apple is implementing “it just works” voice recognition. And that changes everything. Again.

      Why? The history of computing reveals that huge advances spring from improvements to the human-machine interface. From punchcards to keyboard commands to menus/mice to touch interfaces — each interface evolution ushered in a new era of computing. The new iPhone/ advanced voice recognition promises to be the next step — perhaps a giant leap — forward.

      The new iPhone, it seems clear, will have what researchers call a natural language interface. In the past our hands have been our primary computer input tool and our eyes have read the output that the computer used to “talk” back to us.

      The future of computing belongs to our voice and ears. We will tell our machines what we want them to do, they will ask for clarification when necessary, and speak back to us the information we seek. This is revolutionary more than evolutionary.

      Of course, voice recognition is already being utilized to some extent. But just like Apple didn’t invent the mouse, we can only begin to imagine how far they will take this new interface.

      Like with the iPad, Apple is so far ahead of the technology curve most of us don’t even know yet why we are going to have to have one of these new iPhones. But we will all have to have one, from here to Honk Kong and everywhere in between.

      Unless it’s competitors are able to respond better and faster to this first-mover advantage than they did to the first-mover success the iPad still enjoys, Cupertino could end up owning the phone space as well.

      Steve Jobs greatest legacy will likely be his contributions to advancing the way humans communicate with machines; the new iPhone/ natural language interface imbedded in all computers/devices, could be his crowning achievement in this realm. It’s only fitting that he be witness to its birth.

      Long live the King!

      • davel

        Perhaps voice integration into the mobile device will have as large an impact as you say. I wonder just how good it will be. I have not seen a consumer voice system that did not train you in how to speak.

        That is not intuitive.

        IBM did the jeopardy demo which seemed to go well, although I wonder if it really went off the way it was presented.

        The analysts and the tech bloggers will focus on the shiny new phone or phones. I think the event is more notable for the software. New wrinkles in iOS and execution of the iCloud vision introduced in the summer.

        iCloud is the real star here although most will not think so.

      • JJ

        Agreed. ICloud is the game changer.

      • Macyourday

        Regarding “seasoned investors”, I can only assume they are dumb or manipulating the market with the apparently coordinated barrage of bile and FUD regarding new or propsed Apple products. So, sell and pan Apple, then buy low and score when the shares (inevitably) soar again. This seems to happen every time.
        As far as voice recognition/control is concerned, I agree with the others, especially Gruber and co – it will be nice to have it working, but unlikely to be a significant new input (or output) method for most people unless the hardware (microphones particularly) improves significantly. If voice control will be a major new feature, will (can) Apple buy Dragon (is there another significant player in this area?) and announce this at the event?
        I hope iCloud will actually be a successful, useful service – unlike Mobile me and it’s predecessors that were frequently slow and buggy. Too bad the Dropbox deal fell over, that would’ve been …a welcome improvement I suspect.

  • Anon

    last paragraph “to becoming…”

  • I know you know this, Horace, but everyone needs to take care not to take the overly simple view of this. Your charts are comparing companies vs. companies simply during a particular human being’s tenure, of course. It is quite remarkable.

    What I see is Steve Jobs presiding over the construction of a really complex machine called Apple, and this is the result. He and all the brilliant people around him built a ton of intelligence into this machine in scores of categories too long to list here such as design, marketing, and the ability to be nimble and disrupt. Even mentioning these four is oversimplifying the sheer complexity of it all.

    This “machine” which is certainly designed to operate independently of the man will now continue to take this engrained intelligence and continue to produce results, but with Tim Cook and the rest of the team continuing to feed this machine with even more smarts and talent.

    • Please note that Dirk wrote this.

      • Awwww, I’m sorry Dirk! We get trained to think that Asymco=Horace. 🙂 Just like we get trained to think Apple=Steve Jobs. I apologize! And let me say that if Horace has you write for asymco, you get my instant and total respect.

    • PeterK


      I appreciate your view. I see all Apple’s accomplishments resulting from the ‘culture’, that Jobs has lead Apple in creating (He’s had many responsible and talented partners in birthing this unique and new culture for the enterprise.).

      The Apple culture is often found in smaller organizations, but it’s unique to find it in a large enterprise. It includes the talents in the business areas of “design, marketing, and the ability to be nimble and disrupt” and some others, too:

      – being bold
      – being responsible and a contribution
      – “minimal” departmental politics
      – keep the enterprise simple (KTESS)
      – act with integrity
      – do your vision; don’t do someone else’s
      – “Great artists ship.” – Steve Jobs

  • Anonymous

    Not to mention Jobs influence across so many companies. Now everybody is focused on design aesthetic, simplicity and user experience. Certainly in technology, Jobs and Apple are the biggest influencers.

    Why is MSFT now so focused on design for Metro —> Apple (then again MSFT has always been influenced by Apple, but now they are much more focused). Sinofsky totally follows the Jobs playbook with the relative secrecy (for MSFT anyway) and the extra attention to aesthetics and UI.

    Why did Google when Page became CEO start focusing on good design with Google search and Gmail changes and shelve a bunch of products —> a page out of the Jobs playbook when he came back as CEO for Apple and cut a bunch of products and started making good looking products again.

    Mark Zuckerberg at f8 “Facebook is at the crossroads of technology and social issues” —> Jobs said “Apple is at the crossroads of Technology and the Liberal Arts”.

    The new generation of tech leaders and CEOs are taking Jobs’ principles to heart especially.

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  • Anonymous

    Nice article and charts as always. You should probably start a countdown until Apple overtakes the sum of all others 😀

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  • Anonymous

    Funny, I just wrote a post on a Fortune blog pointing out that Apple’s market cap is getting very close to exceeding the value of Microsoft, intel, HP, Dell, Acer and Lenovo, combined. I think we need to reevaluate who won the PC wars.

  • gctwnl

    Nice info, as always.

    One comment though: These stacked graphs (which you guys often prefer) look visually great, but comparing the companies is very difficult. A stacked graph is very interesting if you’re after a combined look of the development of total market cap and internal distribution, but if you want to compare the players, a simple line graph would be clearer, I think.

  • Anonymous

    I’d rather see net profits or cash flow than market cap, fact rather than opinion.

    • Anonymous

      Or at least total value created for investors, so the sum of market cap and dividends paid.

      It wouldn’t change the story, Apple would still be the most remarkable turn around in history, but it would give credit where due to the other players – who haven’t done quite as poorly as these charts suggest.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, but it was really fun to watch this run. I felt like I did when my hometown baseball team won the pennant 4 years out of 5, including winning the World Series 2 years in a row. And I was living in either San Francisco or Silicon Valley during the whole Jobs era, had a front row seat and Apple was actually the home team.

    Also was fun to use the products, both my own and at places I worked, and they all paid for themselves so immediately that it became very easy to spend at Apple Store, it was always just as good an investment as Apple stock.

    I used a Power Mac G3 blue and white (6 gigabyte hard disk!) with LCD Studio Display in 1999, along with an original iBook and original AirPort Base Station, which we had to attach to dial up because there was no broadband yet in that part of San Francisco. People would come by our place and say how are you connected to the Internet without any wires? What is going on? The Intel commercial where they show Wi-Fi as being invented in 2004 always makes me laugh since I had Wi-Fi in my house and notebook for 5 years at that point.

    In 2001, Power Mac G4 with SuperDrive and the first Cinema Display, 22-inch LCD … people came by just to look at it. It was crazy. The CRT it replaced had to be carried out by 2 big guys, and it was only 19 inches. Had a PowerBook G4, the first 21st century notebook. Original iPod, iPod nano. Power Mac G5, iMac G5. Original iPhone. MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iPad.

    Also I am a Logic Pro user since before Apple bought it … I remember wondering who was going to get pro audio up and running on Mac OS X first, and if I would consider switching from Logic to something else, and then Apple bought Emagic, killed the Windows version (which only had a subset of the features anyway) and ported the Mac version to OS X, linking it in with CoreAudio and CoreMIDI and AudioUnits just the way you would want it to be. Then they lowered the price from $2000 to $499. One remarkable thing with Logic on Mac OS X is I have not been able to crash it. Must be 10,000 hours or more of use, often with 25 devices hooked into Logic. I run a Logic controller on iPad these days instead of the actual dedicated devices because iPad is wireless. It is just ridiculously productive. Logic is something like 23 years old, it is an institution, the first digital audio workstation on a computer. Having Apple take care of it is like a favor for the music community.

    Also shopped at the original Apple Store in Palo Alto right when it opened. There were a lot of CRT’s in there, and I think the Apple logo on the sign outside pulsed slowly when the store was closed, like a PowerBook G4 sleep light. Although that might have been a later Apple Store visit somewhere else. I thought Apple Store was the greatest idea ever, but wow hardly anybody else did. Everybody thought they would face plant because Gateway (!) had just face planted in retail. Apple had the balls to go ahead and do it anyway. At that time, retail stores were thought to be totally obsolete. It was like Apple announced they were getting into butter churns.

    The best thing about the past 10 years of Mac OS X use was using Mac OS X, but the second best thing was not using Windows XP for 10 years.

    I don’t think I missed a Steve Jobs keynote the whole time. He is a 21st century thinker. The only businessman I know of that went about his work like an artist. And he made art tools! It is impossible to imagine what things would be like without him. I wish him great health and long life and much happiness. What a contribution!

    • Anonymous

      I feel, and acted, almost exactly like you. This jumped out: “Also was fun to use the products, […] they all paid for themselves so immediately that it became very easy to spend at Apple Store, it was always just as good an investment as Apple stock.” Quite incredible, really.

      • deV

        They’ve basically been the brand for people who don’t know any better for the entire period represented in these charts.

        For example, their cheapest laptop is a $1000 MacBook Air. It has an 11-inch 1366×768 (ouch!) display and 2 GB of RAM. Processor is dual-core Core i5 @ 1.6 GHz. Graphics are just the cheap integrated graphics that come from Intel.

        For $100 cheaper, at $900 from ASUS, you can get a 15-inch 1920×1080 (Full HD 1080p) display, 6 GB of RAM, and a quad-core (not dual-core) Core i7 @ 2.0 GHz. Oh yeah, and the quad-core from Intel (with “turbo”) turns off cores as needed to save battery *and* increase clock-speed up to 2.9 GHz to make single-threaded programs run faster. It actually comes with a real graphics card too, just about top of the line, a GTX 460m. That’s the type of thing that would be a $500 option (you think I’m joking? Well actually it probably wouldn’t exist as an option) on a Mac. If you’re doubting the brand, they’re one of the biggest in the industry and make the motherboards in 30% of all PCs sold, including Apple products.

        The value just isn’t there. Unless, you know, waiting for your slow computer to display graphics poorly on your low-resolution display in a sleek metallic case that you overpaid for is your cup of tea.

        You can add options for way more than they’re worth and create a similar laptop to the ASUS for about twice as much money. But hey, it’s your money.

        “Won’t someone please just tell me what to buy? Oh geez, thanks Mr. Jobs. I would have been lost without your marketing skills.”

      • That’s strange, my OS of choice, OS X, isn’t supported on non-Apple hardware.

      • Andrew Scott

        It’s just that kind of thinking that cripples Apple’s competitors.

      • How much does that weigh? My air has a good i7 chip, and weighs two and a half pounds. It features an OS I like to use.

      • deV

        Awesome. How bizarre pairing an i7 with integrated graphics. Can we say “bottleneck”?

        I can’t picture spending extra on i7 just to get the crap dual-core version. I actually did a double-take when it said dual-core..

      • Garybau

        ahh..but it’s about the user!

        not the hardware.

        on your ‘cheap’ asus what sioftware are you running?
        who installs it?
        how integrated is it?
        not at all a simple answer.

        on an apple OS X the answer is simple it works and it is part of the machine!
        no extras

        this is the part seriously not recognised by the win/linux passionati

        it’s not about the’s all about an experience where the machine disappears!!

        no need to choose and install drivers…or pay for ‘pro gold’ versions of software that still doesn’t work..or be exposed to thousands of viruses unless you ‘know’ how to block and dis-infect and re-install everything..

        built-in to the OSX (time machine!)
        win/linux = good luck with that..

        sure your ASUS is cheaper…but you get what you pay for = very little!

      • Macyourday

        Please don’t feed the trolls. They eventually wither away.

      • Rusy88

        I fully agreed with your statement. I had an Asus that lasted only 2 years after a few problems with motherboard. My daughter’s Mac PRO is still performing well after 5 years! Always boot up quickly with no virus problems all these years.

        My desk top PC, running windows Vista, takes several minutes to boot up and seems to “freeze up” frequently! . The few minutes saved each day adds up to a lot of time and money over the years! When it’s time to change I will definitely buy a Mac Air or Mac PC.

        Meanwhile I do most of my emails, read & watch news and surf Internet via my IPad. It is fast and can do most of the things I need to do after office hours!

        Thanks Steve for designing and producing such an intuitive product and I wish you complete Healing and recovery from your health issue and best wishes for the future

      • deV

        I haven’t had a computer freeze up regularly since 1999, running any OS…

      • deV

        “It just works” is a nice mantra. Too bad there are self-help Mac forums *everywhere* from people for whom it didn’t “just work.”

        How do you get songs off your iPod and back onto your computer with iTunes? Like say if your hard drive dies, as they’re known to do every 3-5 years. You don’t. At least not in any way resembling the “just works” category. One small example. I have many.

        Of course there are many sad, sad solutions, some of which cost money: ( And who knows what junk those third-party apps come with.

        Why did they use a database instead of transferring the files with their built-in tags like everyone else on the planet? Ask Jobs I guess.

  • Sve

    I wish for everyone to do the same great things in their chosen industries as Steve Jobs did in his. What a world this could be where everyone does their absolute best and delivers near perfection to as many people as possible.

  • spacecowboy

    It use to irritate me when the media would hand out “visionary” to every Tom Dick & Harry that had a notch of success.
    But when the word “visionary” first surfaced it was in reference to Steve Jobs. He has the amazing ability to realize the potential for an idea. When he 1st set eyes on Xerox Parc’s graphical interface Steve Jobs was stumped. Although it was in its infant stage here was technology simplifying the use of a computer ridding the user of having to type in long drawn out command lines. What? Why? Why isn’t anyone using this technology? What kind of vision, passion and drive does one has to have to bring this technology to us?

    But Steve Jobs vision to bring iTunes to Apple Inc. was probably the single most important prophet for Apple in the 21st century. Going forward iOs maybe his next big thing but the ipod, iphone, ipad, imac, mac air report to iTunes.

    Market Capitalization? That was a foregone conclusion.

  • WaltFrench

    While the hosannas to Jobs are well-deserved, I see insight in calling the 3 eras PC, Internet and Mobile Internet.

    Especially in the %-of-mktcap chart, the red and dark blue “Jaws of Death” mark how first Google and then Apple supplanted (OK, OK, “disrupted”) Microsoft.

    Of course Apple was burgeoning with the iPod as Google took off, but especially appropriate to note as Amazon introduces the Fire today, one perspective on the iPod was that it marked a major entry by Apple into e-retailing.

    • WaltFrench

      Last para as a PS due to mobile Disqus issue):

      Apple, in it’s very focussed way managed to concoct a leading role for itself in the latter two eras.

      My own take is that the Fire marks the beginning of the sponsored Internet, where ads and e-commerce subsidize devices and connectivity. Lots of fun to come!

  • I’m afraid I don’t agree that the voice input paradigm is the next killer input method. I do believe the new voice services will be useful, especially in very short information-seeking tasks (like Siri was supporting, as I understand it), but I believe it’s only going to be supplementary.

    The reasons I see for this secondary role:

    – Number one, and by far the biggest, is that speech input is environmentally disruptive (and disruptable). A question to ask here: Why is texting more popular than voice calls now? I think the main reason is that it’s quiet, and multiple people can do it in a small space, where multiple people talking on their cell phones is very disruptive (not that this never happens…). Speech is intrinsically a broadcast medium, where the other input methods are unicast (directed at a single receiver). Speech works best when you’re not around other people (both socially and technically, but the former is the more important).

    – Speech has only one dimension (time), like keyboard input, while touch, like the mouse before it, is a two-dimensional input mode. (And the movement sensors in the iPhone give it more than three dimensions of input, though these are not often useful outside games.) Speech input is basically a replacement for the command-line paradigm, but much more practical than typing commands on mobile device keyboards, as long as you’re in a reasonable environment.

    – Speech input is most reliable when restricted to selecting from a specific set of actions (which can be quite large); it is more efficient than menu-selection interactions when the number of actions is more than a dozen or so. It gets unreliable when the domain of discourse (and potential vocabulary) gets large, and also as the task starts deviating from natural speech (which is fairly predictable). I would not want to use speech input for writing programs, drawing pictures, or composing web pages, for example — its just not well-suited to those tasks.

    Where the new speech features will work *really* well is in replacing short information-obtaining tasks that would otherwise require a Google-options search followed by sorting through a lot of potential results, or cascading menus where an specific action is performed by selection from a fairly large (but relatively fixed) universe.

    The speech input model may also be useful as a keyboard replacement for people who need to enter substantial amounts of relatively normal text (e.g. bloggers) — a task that’s very inconvenient on mobile devices. I expect this will mostly see use in situations where the user is not in a group of people (i.e. sitting in the living room at home, or in a car, rather than the local Starbucks), due primarily to social considerations.

    Personally, my bet for the next big input mode is some kind of neural pickup — it’s the only thing I can think of that’s both potentially more flexible and more natural than manipulating things with our hands, and it wouldn’t have the broadcast issues of using speech. Note that I’m not betting on mind-control as a major input mode any time *soon*….


    • davel

      I agree that speech does not seem ready for prime time. You list the limitations of speech recognition systems. The most important of which seems to be that the user needs to train himself on how to speak.

      I think text is more popular than speech because it is asynchronous. The other party does not have to be there to receive it and respond. Also there is a thread so you can follow the conversation. Simply put it is organized better.

      Text is relatively structured while speech is completely unstructured.

      That said if they can make a judicious use of speech in the interface it will be a step forward.

  • Sorry, clicked the wrong button, that was supposed to be in reply to Jzlatic’s reply to vikram333 post above…

  • MOD

    The first graph is not pretty. It looks like the edge of a saw blade.

  • davel

    These graphs nicely show the relative performance of the big players. I think it is less useful for the smaller players as the format makes it hard to see how they perform. It is a nice tool to compare Google, Microsoft and Apple.

    While I think this long term analysis is interesting I think the first big thing Steve did was solve Apple’s platform issues. Apple for a long time was struggling in trying to introduce a new OS that was more robust and flexible than the original MacOS but still retained the software/user interface. They spent a lot of money and a lot of time going nowhere.

    Steve came back and brought one of his other companies along and introduced Unix into Apple. It took a few years but they were successful in bolting the Mac interface on top of Unix while retaining backward compatibility with established programs.

    After this period Apple also undertook the daunting task of switching Apple’s CPU. Apple managed both transitions very well which set up the company to execute its plans for the future.

    This was the foundation that allowed Apple to move forward. Without this there would be no iOS/iPhone/iPad and now integration with MacOS X.

    iTunes and iPods are a separate issue and was Steve’s successful attempt to morph Apple from a computer company into a consumer electronics company. This of course made Apple relevant again.

    So as we see during Steve’s second tenure at Apple he shepherded the company through several major transitions and did it profitably as you so ably demonstrated.

    I broke down Apple’s history a bit differently than you did. I focused on the technology underpinnings while your post focuses more on the consumer end.


    I miss some of the voices on this blog that seem to no longer contribute. Some very thoughtful posters no longer seem to be here. This is not a criticism of the other voices that are still here. It seems that those no longer here coincide with the changes on this site. The recent changes here prevent me from commenting or even reading the comments from work. I wonder if others have the same issue I have.

    • Anonymous

      It does seem that the switch to Disqus changed the population of people commenting.

      • That’s very concerning and I can’t imagine why.

      • David Emery

        It took me a while to figure out that Disqus was being blocked as a ‘potentially damaging’ site by Ghostery (probably due to data policies, nasty persistent cookies, etc.)

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  • Visualign

    Good analysis and visualization. Is the data available in spreadsheet format – particularly the market share distribution? I’d like to overlay a curve of the GINI index of that distribution as I’ve looked into this recently on my own Visualization Blog ( and

    • Visualign

      Thanks for sharing the underlying data set. I overlaid the GINI trend to the area chart on my Blog (