Could a 30-in. monitor help you do your job faster?

Apple-sponsored study boasts productivity gains of up to 65 percent

Providing employees with 30-in. computer monitors can boost worker productivity at companies where 17-in. or 19-in. monitors are typically used, according to a French consultant hired for a study sponsored by Apple Computer.

The study, which evaluated Apple's 30-inch Apple Cinema Display, concluded that large screens can offer gains of up to 50 percent to 65 percent in productivity on a variety of specific office tasks and can earn back their extra costs in time savings over several years. The 30-in. display costs US$1,999.

But other experts say those conclusions are wrong, arguing that the productivity improvement estimates are too high and that using two monitors side by side would likely be a better productivity booster than one larger monitor. The 40-page study was conducted by Andreas Pfeiffer, principal of Paris-based Pfeiffer Consulting, for Apple, which paid for the research.

Pfeiffer looked at a range of computing tasks, from moving data between Microsoft Word and Excel files to image manipulation using Adobe Photoshop. In addition to studying the 30-in. LCD display from Apple, Pfeiffer also did the comparison using a 17-in. Samsung SyncMaster 172x LCD monitor. The Apple monitor has an optimal resolution of 2560 pixels by 1600 pixels, compared with 1280 pixels by 1024 pixels for the Samsung monitor.

The productivity gains, he said, occur because workers using larger monitors can avoid repetitive tasks such as switching between overlapping application windows. Instead, they can have more windows open side-by-side on a larger monitor.

The time savings are for commonly performed tasks and not meant to indicate overall productivity increases for workers, Pfeiffer said. Using a larger screen will only improve specific tasks where data is moved or manipulated quickly.

Pfeiffer's testing showed time savings of 13.63 seconds when moving files between folders using the larger screen -- 15.7 seconds compared to 29.3 seconds on the 17-in. monitor -- for a productivity gain of 46.45 percent. The testing showed a 65.09 percent productivity gain when dragging and dropping between images -- a task that took 6.4 seconds on the larger monitor compared to 18.3 seconds using the smaller screen. And cutting and pasting cells from Excel spreadsheets resulted in a 51.31 percent productivity gain -- a task that took 20.7 seconds on the larger monitor versus 42.6 seconds on the smaller screen.

"There's a very, very clear and strong correlation between screen size and productivity," Pfeiffer said. "If you're used to a having a 15-in. or 17-in. laptop and then go to a smaller resolution laptop, you can realize [the difference]. There are certain things that can really slow you down."

A larger monitor is as important as higher resolution, which allows more of an image to be shown on the screen, he said. "Of course individual behavior will impact productivity," he said. "A user who insists on using [program] menus will be slower than one who uses keyboard shortcuts, for instance."

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Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
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