Apple hired a company to study the productivity impact of using a 30 inch monitor as compared to a 20 inch and 17 inch monitor. The results indicate that a user on a 30 inch monitor will save about 1.3 hours per week over a user on a 17 inch monitor. The report is based on what they consider to be normal usage.
This isn’t a huge productivity gain, but it might make it a little easier to justify upgrading your monitor. Also, even small productivity gains add up. At 1.3 hours per week, you’ll be getting over half a day of savings each month.
Depending on your work, the savings in productivity could be much greater. If you work with many different applications at the same time while moving data between spreadsheets, word-processing documents, and websites, you could potentially see an even bigger return.
The report is in pdf format and can be read here. Obviously Apple isn’t impartial. They want a positive report in order to increase sales. There is good logic behind the study, but it may not take into account some of the downsides of having an extra large monitor–for example, you might find yourself unable to resist watching movies on it when you should be working.
Something else to consider; you need a video card that can display sufficiently large resolution so that you don’t just end up with a larger version of what you have on your smaller display.
When most people get a large monitor they are trying to increase the real estate, not blowing up the displayed image to clownish proportions (which would only be a benefit if trying to view the display from a farther distance than before).
Along the same line of thought; when looking for a display, make sure that it can support high resolution video cards, because if it doesn’t, the image can potentially appear distorted or you will be stuck with a geriatric version of the display you had before.
Mark Shead says
@Marc – Good point. I haven’t ever really thought about my video card on my MacBook Pro, but I did upgrade my Linux desktop the other day so some of the effects would work better on my 30 inch monitor.
Jelle de Haas says
At the office I work on two 19″ monitors, ideal for a lot of open windows and alternating focus on different projects and aspects.
At home my laptop runs 1200×800, which is ideal for a quick update and for doing quick tasks. It also keeps me from doing too much work from home which infringes on my home/work balance.
In the same vein I only use my work laptop at home on battery power. This servers as a reminder that I’ve spent two hours doing work-related stuff from home, and that’s more than enough!
(Oh the link to Apple’s website isn’t working)
I also use two 19″ screens at work, although I would suggest going to something like two 21″. Screen creep maybe?
I think something critical to take into consideration regarding screen size and productivity — as it is with almost anything — is to properly evaluate the appropriateness, specifications, and evaluate against thoroughly established requirements.
Too often these kinds of studies don’t make an appropriate enough link between the specific purpose and use cases for the particular configurations being promoted as increasing productivity. As I can imagine it would be appropriate in many cases at Apple, I can see how a really large single screen may be appropriate for something like a graphic/computer artist that might need to see the “whole picture” but only need to focus on the single subject they are working on. But even within that specific user group, there are surely graphic/computer artists who work on different subject matters and might need several screens open in order to move components back and forth.
When I used to work with contracts or documents a lot more than I do now, I used to have my screen turned to portrait mode in order to see more of the relevant text at an appropriate size rather than having dead-space columns to the left and right of the open document. This configuration made me slightly more productive than the “traditional” screen configuration because it allowed me to have a better overview and find things more easily.
The point I am making is that there cannot be a magic number, i.e., 30″ screen or X number of monitors, the particular workflow and subject matter has to be taken into proper evaluation.