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Operational Research, Performance Management

Vizable: a free data analysis and visualisation app for the iPad

Vizable AppTowards the end of October, Tableau launched a free iOS app called Vizable which I have downloaded and been checking out. These are a few notes on my initial reactions to using the app.

Tableau says that there is a major gap in the App Store and that is for data analysis tools. There are plenty of Office apps and spreadsheets, but nothing that lets you manipulate and ‘play with’ data simply.

The app can import from a CSV or Excel file and my experimentation used an xlsx file with over 2000 line items of data from a canine health survey. The app imports the data easily and any columns with numerical values are then available as charts on the right-hand side of your screen. You can choose various views of the data including average (mean), Sum, Max and Min which are selected by swiping up or down in the column header. These columns can also be sorted to display biggest to smallest and vice versa.

Swiping to the right or left in the column header of the chart area allows you to select different data sets, each of which can be sorted. Multiple charts can be displayed side by side by “pinching out”. I used this to display charts showing, for example, “age of onset” for different diseases.

The column to the left of the chart area displays any files from the data set that are non-numeric. In my data set I used this to select and view data by “Date of Birth” and “Sex” for example. These too can be sorted by swiping down in the column header. If you “pinch out” to select more fields, you end up seeing nested data, for example “Disease status, by Sex”.

Any of these fields can also be used as filters, for example to view only data for records where Date of Birth was prior to 2011. It is possible to apply multiple filters so that additional detail can be investigated.

All of this is quite quick to do so you can play around with many different scenarios and see immediately what the charts look like. I used this to pull out data to calculate some Odds Ratios looking at whether particular disease prevalence varied by different lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. The charts enabled me to spot potential big difference which I then plugged into an Odds Ratio calculator. This was almost certainly much quicker than when I previously used Excel and Google Spreadsheets to apply filters. It also enabled me to uncover some significant Odds Ratios that I hadn’t previously identified because it was simply too much effort in Excel.

I have to say that the app is not immediately intuitive to use, but that’s probably the trade-off Tableau have had to make for the simple user interface. Help on how to use the app is available at the Tableau website, but, in practice, I just played around to see what was possible as that was my preferred way of learning. (Why bother with the Instruction Manual?)

Vizable also lets you display Time Series data, so you can look at trends and zoom in to particular periods. That wasn’t relevant for my survey data but I can imagine for many data sets this would be a useful feature.

All the charts can be exported as jpg images so you can easily drop them into presentations and reports.

While I was using Vizable I kept thinking it would be really useful to be able to drop back into the source spreadsheet and look at the raw data, just to remind myself  of the differences between what could be charted and what could be used as a field or filter.

Overall, I have to say Vizable is an impressive app and it’s a useful addition to your armoury of tools if you have to analyse data regularly. You just have to be clear  (as always) about what the “exam question” is that you’re trying to answer before deciding if Vizable is the right tool to use.

I can imagine that it will be useful as a tool to encourage people to explore data, but it will need careful explanation of how it works before you rush in and start swiping and filtering!

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