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Phone shipments tumble 9 percent in first quarter

IDC reports worldwide phone shipments tumbled 8.9 percent in the first quarter of 2022 when compared with 2021.

Rival analyst company Counterpoint Research puts the 2022 q1 fall at seven percent to 328 million units.

IDC says the total fell to 314 million units. This is behind IDC’s earlier forecast.

Nabila Popal, a research director at IDC attributes the fall to negative consumer sentiment. The mood is down everywhere thanks to worries about inflation and economic instability.

Invasion concerns, supply chain worries

Then there are concerns about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and further supply chain problems thanks to the lockdown in Shanghai. The consumer mood is worse in China.

Counterpoint Senior Analyst Harmeet Singh Walia mentions similar factors behind the fall.

The turmoil has done little to change the relative position of the main players.

Both analyst firms note that Samsung remains the phone market leader and put the top four brands in the same order.

Samsung remains market leader

IDC says Samsung has 23.4 percent share of shipments. That is down a fraction on last year. In IDC’s book Apple is in second with an 18 percent market share, its share is up by a larger, yet still small fraction.

Xiaomi and Oppo both took a hit but remain in third and fourth place.

Walia says Samsung overcame supply chain problems and a late flagship launch. Samsung and Apple were the only two companies with shipments close to pre-pandemic levels.

The next issue of concern is that the Ukraine war could lead to a drop in the availability of raw materials needed to make modern phones.


Earlier reports on phone shipments:

Phone shipments climbed in 2021

Published 01/02/22

Worldwide phone shipments were up 5.7 percent in 2021. A total of 1.35 billion phones were shipped.

IDC reports the full year growth came despite shipments falling in the second half of the year. The research company says year-on-year sales were down 4.5 percent in the second half of 2021 when compared to 2020.

Samsung remains the top phone brand. It shipped 272 million units in 2021. That’s up from 256 million a year earlier. Samsung has a 20 percent market share. Its shipments grew 6 percent in 2021 which was the worst growth figure of the top five phone makers.

Counterpoint Research offered similar numbers. It counted 271 million phone shipments for Samsung during the year and says the market grew 4 percent in the year to 1.39 billion units.

Apple surge in China

Apple is in second place. Its share moved up from 15.9 percent in 2020 to 17.4 percent in 2021. The company shipped a total of 236 million iPhones in 2021. Apple saw year on year growth of 15.9 percent.

This was an all time record for Apple.

Counterpoint says Apple grew 18 percent to 237.9 million units during 2021: “due to strong performance by the iPhone 12 series”.

IDC says part of the reason for Apple’s strong year was a 40 percent surge in shipments to Chinese customers. It also says Apple showed supply chain strength at a time other companies ran into problems with component shortages.

Supply chain woes

Research director Nabila Popal says; “The fact that 2021 would have come in drastically higher if it were not for the supply constraints adds even more positivity to the healthy 5.7 percent growth we saw for 2021”.

Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo make up the remainder of the top five phone companies. Third place Xiaomi showed the strongest year-on-year growth with shipments up almost 30 percent.

Beyond the top five phone brands it was another story. The rest of the market saw shipments drop 12.5 percent during 2021.

Smartphone Shipments Declined in the Fourth Quarter But 2021 Was Still a Growth Year with a 5.7% Increase in Shipments, According to IDC.

Counterpoint Research: Global Annual Smartphone Market Grew for the First Time Since 2017; Record Annual Shipments for Apple.

Mercury NZ rising in retail broadband, mobile

Mercury NZ told the NZX its NZ$467 acquisition of Trustpower’s retail business is now unconditional.

The move sees the energy company move to become a second tier telecommunications retailer and New Zealand’s largest multiple service utilities business.

The remainder of Trustpower has been renamed as Manawa Energy and says it will focus on renewable energy.

While Trustpower was a minnow compared with Spark, Vodafone and the recently merged 2degrees-Orcon business, it was the next largest fixed-line broadband retailer with a six percent market share.

It recently added fixed-wireless broadband to its product offering.

Number four in retail telecommunications

Combined with Mercury’s customers the market share moves up to 7.8 percent. Spark is on around 40 percent, while Vodafone and 2degrees are each on roughly 20 percent. The top five account for more than 85 percent of all broadband customers.

Trustpower was a Spark mobile reseller. The company’s mobile phone business barely registers in market share terms and Mercury did not formerly have any business in this space. The deal is unlikely to move the dial unless there is significant change in the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) sector.

Despite being small, Trustpower was influential. It pioneered the strategy of cross-selling power and telecommunications. That meant it found a way to reduce customer churn. That’s something other retail broadband service providers continue to struggle with.

Vocus followed Trustpower’s lead when it acquired power retailer Switch Utilities Ltd in 2016.

This move meant it could sell similar power-broadband bundles. The company says this has proved popular with customers. Today the business is branded as Vocus Energy although that may change after the merger between Vocus-Orcon and 2degrees.

In September the Commerce Commission wave through the acquisition saying it was satisfied the deal was “unlikely to substantially lessen competition in any New Zealand market.” The consideration is based on the two companies’ position in the electricity market. In the official statement, Telecommunications was only mentioned in passing.

Is upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 a smart move?

Upgrading your home network to Wi-Fi 6 will give you the full benefit of a fast broadband connection but it may be best to wait until you update your devices. 

Fibre to the home can be fast. Think of it as a six-lane motorway with no speed limit. Yet once that turbo-charged data traffic hits your home, it can slow to a crawl as the motorway shrinks to a pedestrian footpath.

That’s because home networks are often slower than broadband connections. They tend to use wireless technology. Wi-Fi, the brand name for wireless networking, distributes data around almost every New Zealand home.

Chances are your internet service provider sent you a Wi-Fi router when you signed up for your broadband plan.

The problem is that Wi-Fi is usually slow. It can be a bottleneck. Or at least the Wi-Fi on your ISP-supplied router. Wi-Fi 6 goes a long way to fixing this, but you might not be ready to upgrade yet.

Ethernet where you can

Ethernet is faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi. Most Wi-Fi routers include Ethernet ports on the back.

You should use Ethernet where you can to improve data speeds. You should, at least, connect your TV to your router using an Ethernet cable direct to your router.

That way you won’t get Wi-fi hiccups in the middle of the big match or a Netflix movie.

Cables versus wireless

Ethernet has been popular for office network for decades. A few people use it for home networks. The problem is that installing Ethernet at home can be expensive and disruptive. It’s also inflexible. If you move your home office from one room to another you need to wire-in a new connection. That means more expense, more disruption.

Wireless is easier even if it is slower and prone to congestion.

There is a lot you can do about these negatives. The most obvious and, in the long term, the best option is to move to Wi-Fi 6. It is a more up-to-date version of wireless network technology.

Wi-Fi 6 can be faster than older Wi-fi, although you may not always notice much of a speed bump1. The more important thing about Wi-Fi 6 is that it works better when you have many connected devices.

And it’s likely you do.

Wi-Fi 6 eases data congestion

The average home has around 20 internet connected devices. Switched on devices will attempt to communicate with your router all the time.

The technical term for this is congestion. Unlike a lot of network jargon, it doesn’t need much explaining. Going back to the motorway analogy, congestion is when there is so much traffic things slow-down and eventually move to a crawl.

When lots of people use the same Wi-Fi router at the same time, you have data congestion. Every internet connected device in your house that is powered up will be competing with all the others to connect to your Wi-Fi network.

The technical name for Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax. When the Wi-Fi Alliance updated home wireless technology in the past the focus was on speed improvements.

Greater capacity

Wi-Fi 6 does this. But more important it increases capacity and improves power efficiency. It will perform better when there are many devices.

The speed improvement is significant. In theory a Wi-Fi 6 router can push data through the air at 1.2Gbps. This compares with 800mbps on the earlier Wi-Fi standard.

In practice you will never see those speeds.

There are all kinds of gotchas slowing connections. The big one is that everything on the network shares the bandwidth. Your neighbours’s Wi-Fi can interfere and slow yours if you are unlucky2. Wireless data will slow down going through walls. There are other factors beyond the scope of this post.

The key thing is that you should see faster Wi-Fi 6 connections: 30 percent faster than old school Wi-Fi. You’re going to need that extra speed if you have a gigabit fibre connection.

Capacity boost from Wi-Fi 6

More speed is great. Yet the increased capacity is every better. You don’t need to know the technology behind this, but if you have a spare week, go and research Orthogonal Frequency Division Multi Access.

In effect this technology splits radio channels into smaller chunks, then sends simultaneous blocks of data through them.

Doing things this way has an interesting by-product: lower latency. This is the time it takes for a signal to do a round trip from, say, your laptop, to and from a server. Wireless latency, think of mobile data, tends to be far higher than with fixed networks.

Latency

Latency is one of those measurements where lower means better.

Lower latency is great for gamers. With a high latency connection your game rival can take a shot at you before you see them.

With lower latency you should see less lag when chatting to others on, say, a Zoom video conference. There are times when this can be a problem, although in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not essential.

Power efficiency

The greater power efficiency in Wi-Fi means battery powered devices will run longer between charges. Again, it’s not a huge improvement when you look at a single household. Yet when millions of homes save a small amount of power we burn less fuel.

There’s another aspect of battery life that might not be of interest right now, but could be in the future. It means that small Internet-of-things devices can go years without needing a charge. This technology is now turning up in domestic products and may soon be useful.

You might, for example, want to place a security sensor by your front door. In the past it would have needed a power cable or for you to continually replace its battery. A lower power drain means you won’t need to change batteries for ages.

One last advantage of Wi-Fi 6 is that it has better security than earlier versions. It uses WPA3 which makes it harder for intruders to run a password guessing attack. Your home network can never be secure enough.

Wi-Fi 6 catches

There is a catch. You’ll need to buy a new router. They are not expensive, at the time of writing the cheapest Wi-Fi 6 routers on sales in New Zealand cost more than $300. In time ISPs will provide Wi-Fi 6 routers, a handful already do this.

A new router is only the start. Moving to Wi-Fi 6 means you will need to upgrade your devices. You won’t be able to go to a website and download a software upgrade that lets your existing devices use it.

Almost every new device now on sale comes with Wi-Fi 6. Hardware you purchased in the last 18 months will probably have it. You’ll need to check. Otherwise those older devices won’t use Wi-Fi 6. That’s not a huge problem, the newer Wi-Fi 6 routers will support older devices, you just won’t see the speed benefit on this devices.

The next step up from Wi-Fi 6 is Wi-Fi 6E, for that to work, regulators need to free up 6GHz spectrum


  1. Mainly because you need new hardware to get the benefit. The story explains this later. ↩︎
  2. Although there are things you can do to reduce this problem ↩︎

WordPress .com or .org – which suits you best?

WordPress is the most popular way to publish a web site.

Some people call it a content management system. It can be that. You might also describe it as website building software. It’s a great option if you want to run a blog like the one you are reading now.

There are two ways you can use WordPress. Both approaches have free options. Although is likely you will end up paying for extras.

WordPress.Org

WordPress.org is the core software. It is free. To run it you need to set up a server. That’s not hard, WordPress will walk you through the process.

If you have a technical bent, a spare computer handy and a good internet connection you can run it on your own hardware. There are people who do this.

Realistically you will run it from the cloud or use a third-party hosting company. Both options cost money. If you shop around you can get cheap hosting. That might work if you run a low-traffic web site. Otherwise, it is better to spend more with a cloud computing company or a higher quality hosting operation. We’ll come back to this later.

WordPress.com

The easiest way to get a site running is to use WordPress.com. It uses the same underlying software, but is provided as a service in much the same way as Gmail or Xero.

All the code is hidden from sight, Automattic, the commercial business behind WordPress runs this on your behalf. It looks after all the housekeeping and backend functions.

This option is so simple you can have a site online minutes after signing up. Anyone can use the service, it requires little technical knowledge. All the hard work is done for you.

All you need to do is write, find pictures, do a little designing and find your audience.

While WordPress.com is still free in its most basic form, there are now charges for anything more than a simple no-frills website. And if you take the free option, your site will show advertising to your readers.

That’s the deal, it is like using Gmail but these advertisements will be shown to your readers and they may see them as part of your brand. If you’re not happy with that, you can go back to WordPress.org or you can move to a paid plan.

Flexibility

Self-hosting gives you far more flexibility over the look of your site and the way it functions. It needs spelling out that in the WordPress world self-hosting refers to any site that is not hosted by Automattic.

There are thousands of plug-ins and themes — some free, some paid-for, to spruce-up your site. In effect you can make it look like anything. If you self host you can find them at WordPress or from hundreds of other sources. If you use the hosted service you have a limited range of options. There are more options on the paid plans, but not as many as if you self-host.

Plug-ins can add functionality. You might, say, want to run a newsletter or an online shop. There are plug-ins for both.

Aside from cash, there is  another price you pay for the extra flexibility of self-hosting: complexity.

While WordPress.org can be straightforward, it can get as technical as you want. If you like, you can dig around in the code to your heart’s content.

Performance

WordPress.com is as solid as a rock. I used it for a few years and kept this screenshot to show how reliable it was. Over a year it went offline 11 times, but was only out of action for one hour and 25 minutes, that’s 99.98 percent uptime. You can’t argue with that.

uptime

Compare those figures with those from the last twelve months of my first self-hosted site.

Wordpress.com site uptime Uptime measured over one year with a New Zealand web host

WordPress.com was also far faster that my first self-hosted site.

Time spent downloading a page
Time spent downloading a page

Switching from self-hosted to WordPress.com saw the average page download speed drop from 2200 milliseconds to 400 milliseconds. The graph shows how much page speed improved when I moved to .com.

Using the Automattic service had many advantages, it meant I could focus on writing, but I wanted to use PressPatron. You can see the banner at the top of this page. That means running some code, at the time WordPress.com wouldn’t allow this so I looked for a better option.

A managed host

Today I use, Pressable, a managed WordPress host. Managed hosting sits somewhere between using the software as a service option and self-hosting. It has all the flexibility of self-hosting, but the ‘managed’ part of managed hosting means someone else does much of the hard word keeping the site running.

Since I started using Pressable about three years ago the downtime has been less than on WordPress.com. The speed is about the same.

Costs

Self-hosting can cost next to nothing. It can even be free. The problem with low cost hosting is that your site is on shared storage. If the other sites staring with you are busy, your speed will drop. That’s fine for low traffic site, if you want more readers it is not a good idea to keep them waiting. By all means go down this path if you run a hobby blog.

Spend more and you can get better performance – although that is not guaranteed.

WordPress.com can be free. You can’t argue with that price — the downside is WordPress will sometimes insert ads on your site. Free doesn’t buy much.

Recently WordPress reorganised its priced tiers. The first step up from Free is the US$15 a month WordPress Pro. It includes a domain name and the ability to use plug-ins. Your readers don’t have to see ads, although you can serve them and earn money – don’t expect to get much.

With Pro you get more storage along with a wider range of themes that determine how your site looks. You also get support – there is now limited help with the free version.

My Pressable WordPress managed host costs considerably more than the WordPress Pro price at around US$300 a year. Yet that is for five sites and considerably more support – the online support is excellent and responsive. On a number of occasions I’ve got the site into a mess and had an expert bail me out.

Today I run two active sites on the Pressable account and use a third site as a staging site so I can try out new things without breaking the working site. Running three sites to the same level on WordPress.com would cost more. In that way the managed host option is decent value.

 

Surface Laptop Studio review: Versatile Windows 11 PC

At a casual glance the Surface Laptop Studio looks like every other Windows 11 laptop. You have to look closer to see a second hinge. This lets you fold the device into a variety of positions for different tasks.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Surface Laptop Studio - At a glance

For:Great touch screen, keyboard, trackpad. Versatile design.
Against:Expensive, lacks top end models for toughest workloads
Maybe:Windows 11. Battery life good compared with other Windows devices.
Verdict:Great desktop or mobile choice for on the move creative professionals. Innovative thinking.
Rating:4.5 out of 5
Price:From NZ$2700
Web:Microsoft New Zealand

Closed, the Surface Laptop Studio resembles other Surface devices. It’s larger, but otherwise familiar.

Microsoft etched its shiny four squares logo on the brushed metallic top of the laptop. That way everyone watching knows you are using a Surface1.

A hinge across the top looks similar to the kickstand you’ll find on Surface Pro tablets.

Elegant, minimal

Open the lid and the keyboard and touchpad will remind Apple users of an old school MacBook Pro. It is all about elegance and minimalism. There are no annoying, embarrassing stickers boasting about what is inside.

The LCD touch screen looks great from the moment it lights up. At 14.1 inches with a few mm of bezels, it is a generous size for working or playing on the move. A high 120Hz refresh rate adds to the classy look and feel.

It’s hard to find a bad display on any device that aspires to be more than a basic bargain basement workhorse. Yet, this is good. You may not always be conscious of the high refresh rate, but you’ll notice it immediately if you look at a similar size screen with a slower rate.

Transformer

Fiddle around with the open laptop for a moment and you will find that the screen swings away from the laptop lid along that hinge line we mentioned earlier.

This hinge may be a simple innovation, but it is what puts the Surface Laptop Studio in a class of its own. It turns the Laptop Studio into a more modern, upmarket take on the hybrid device idea.

Magnets in the lid and elsewhere on the case help you position the screen in a range of positions. That way, the laptop transforms into other Windows 11 devices.

Stage mode

There’s what Microsoft calls the stage mode. You could use this to watch videos. It works well for Zoom or Teams calls.

There’s a reverse position which has the screen pointing away from you. This may be useful for giving presentations to a small audience

You can fold the screen all the way down. This, in effect, reverses the lid position and turns the laptop into a thick and heavy large screen Windows tablet.

At 1.8 kg and 20mm deep, the Surface Laptop Studio makes a hefty, thick tablet. Your arms will tire if you hold this for a long time. Mind you, the 14 inch screen is larger than you’ll find on other tablets. This makes direct comparison with, say, a ten-inch iPad, meaningless.

Studio

There’s a variation on this known as studio mode. You might use studio mode to sketch or write on the screen with Microsoft’s optional Slim Pen 2 stylus. In effect it turns the computer into a giant drawing tablet.

Artists and designers will find this handy. Whether you find these screen positions useful is another matter.

At first it takes a conscious effort to use them, we have become conditioned to using laptops in certain ways. During the short review period it never felt natural using these modes, that might change over time.

And that’s the nub of the Surface Laptop Studio. Its signature feature is not for everyone.

Fan base

The extra thickness is, in part, down to the curious design of the base. It is smaller than the size of the rest of the case. It is where the CPU and the graphics processor live and there are fan vents at both ends.

When you push the computer hard, the fan will kick in. You can hear it working, it’s not silent, but nor is it noisy. You won’t be distracted and the sound should not interfere with video calls.

The fact that the Laptop Studio needs a fan underlines how much Microsoft’s rival, Apple, has moved ahead of Intel processors.

CPU power

Microsoft uses an 11th generation Intel Core i7 in the review device. This is as good as it gets in the Intel world. There is a cheaper model with a Core i5 processor.

Intel’s i7 is more than powerful enough for everyday users. Even the majority of power users will be satisfied. Unless you run the most demanding applications you will not want for computer power.

Yet it is no match for the processors in Apple’s current laptops and high-end tablets.

Graphics processor

Microsoft includes the NVIDIA GoForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics processor in the review model. The cheaper version of the Laptop Studio uses Intel Iris X.

The graphics processor and CPU quickly get hot if you push the hardware. That’s not going to happen if you use the device for business applications, mail, web surfing and Zoom calls.

If you play games it is another story. It was noticeable during the device set up that Microsoft encourages users to sample its game playing services.

Maybe Microsoft does that with every device it sells, yet this would be the Surface device that delivers the best gaming experience.

Powering through tasks

In testing, the i7 version of the Surface Laptop Studio was more than the equal of any conventional business application. It handled photo editing tasks with ease.

Although Microsoft’s marketing describes the Laptop Studio as ‘workstation class’, that’s pushing it.

Running high end workstation apps is beyond the scope of this review, but looking at the specification, the device might struggle with heavy duty video work.

You’ll find workstation class laptops from rival brands that sell for a similar price to the Surface Laptop Studio, but offer more raw power.

Battery hog

It was noticeable that high-end work is greedy for battery power. Use the Surface Laptop Studio for everyday work and you might get ten hours on a single charge. There would be fuel left in the tank after a normal day’s work.

This is a long way behind the latest Apple MacBook Pro models that sip battery power and can run for 14 hours on a charge.

Things get worse fast if you perform tasks where the fan kicks in. When you can hear its gentle hum you know you’ll be lucky to get four hours before hunting for a power socket.

Speakers, keyboard, touch pad

Two other hardware features are worth mentioning. The speakers are surprisingly good considering the engineers had little room to work with. You’d need external speakers for serious audio editing work and fussy listeners might prefer to hear music delivered that way. Otherwise, your ears will be happy.

Microsoft has included a first rate keyboard. This is one area that laptop buyers can overlook. Once you’ve got past the novelty of a new computer and its power or features, you can often end up feeling frustrated by a less than perfect keyboard. This can be even more the case if you buy a tablet with a keyboard like, say, the Surface Pro.

The haptic touchpad is equally excellent. It is as good as anything you’ll see from Apple. This has not been the case with Surface devices in the past.

Microsoft missed a trick not including an SD card slot. That would be helpful for the creative market the laptop aims to serve.

Windows 11

As you’d expect, the review Laptop Studio was delivered with Windows 11.

Thankfully Microsoft avoids the bloatware that Windows rivals unhelpfully pack with their hardware. The only preloaded software is a trial version of Microsoft Office. This is hardly an imposition. Almost every Surface Laptop Studio buyer will want Office.

Microsoft’s Hello face recognition works as before. It’s a better way of logging in.

Firing up Windows 11 for the first time took the review computer into Microsoft’s tiresome, but essential software update process. It was a full 20 minutes before the computer was ready to work and that is on a gigabit internet connection. If you have a slower link, don’t expect to open the box and get started straight away.

Handwriting recognition

It took a while to realise that Windows 11 has improved handwriting recognition compared with earlier versions of Windows. This makes the various modes more useful than they might otherwise be if you buy the optional NZ$200 Surface Slim Pen.

Like the Touchpad, the Slim Pen has haptic feedback which makes writing on screen feel like a pen on paper. It’s impressive, but not essential for productivity.

Bold move

Surface Laptop Studio is another bold, you might even say brave, hardware move from Microsoft. The software and cloud company shows it remains determined to push the device design envelope.

This strategy doesn’t always work. Surface Duo was ridiculous and the early Windows RT tablets flopped.

Yet, in a sense, that’s the whole point of Surface. Microsoft got into the device business ten years ago because it wanted to push its Windows hardware partners into more innovation, more risk taking.

Sans Microsoft

In passing it is worth mentioning that Microsoft no longer brands its hardware as “Microsoft Surface”. It is letting the name stand on its own. There’s more distance than in the past. While this would make it easier to sell the division in future, it looks as if the idea is more about giving the brand more meaning.

Surface devices don’t sell in huge numbers compared with hardware from HP, Lenovo, or that elephant in the room: Apple.

In round numbers Surface accounts for about four percent of US device sales and a lower share of worldwide sales.

Where Surface fits

The range does make money for Microsoft, but is dwarfed by the company’s cloud, enterprise software and personal software business. This could change if Surface stumbles over a hit product.

Surface’s more important role is laying down important markers and staking out turf. Microsoft doesn’t say as much, but it’s clear it wants to show it can go head to head with Apple with innovation. Or at least prove it in the same league.

Surface Laptop Studio verdict

Despite the versatility, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio is not hard to use or understand. Its ability to shapeshift may be essential for a niche creative audience, but it will have broader appeal, for novelty value if nothing else.

There’s no question the Laptop Studio is expensive. Prices start at NZ$2700, you can pay NZ$5350 for a fully-loaded model with 2TB of solid state storage, 32GB of Ram and the top-of-the-line CPU and graphics.

Microsoft wants a further NZ$200 for the Slim Pen. That’s outrageous. At these prices the pen should be bundled. That said, at least you don’t have to dig deeper to buy a keyboard. That’s annoying when you buy a Surface Pro.

The problem potential creative buyers face is the money you’d pay for a Surface Laptop Studio can buy a more powerful workstation class system. Go that route and you won’t get the portability or the versatility, you will power through your work faster.


  1. Go to a busy cafe where people work and you’ll notice there are three distinct tribes of device users. Apple is the largest, or at least the most visible. There are fewer Surface tribe members, but, like Mac users, they can share knowing nods and smiles. There does not appear to be a similar camaraderie among HP, Dell or Lenovo cafe workers – or, if there is, their acknowledgement signals are known only to insiders. ↩︎

Doing one thing at a time works wonders

Tony Schwartz, at the Harvard Business Review, says dividing attention between tasks is dangerous.

He says digital devices with always-on connections train us to split attention between tasks without ever focusing on one.

Schwartz says this hurts productivity increasing the time to finish a task by 25 percent.

Always-on notifications are always-on distractions

In The magic of doing one thing at a time Schwartz recommends setting aside time for what he calls absorbed focus.

Or concentration. It is an old-fashioned idea. Remove all distractions and work on a single task.

This is the opposite of multi-tasking, which is rarely a productive way of working.

Some tasks are tougher without focus

Take writing; the art of putting words on paper or on screen. It’s possible to write in a busy, noisy office. Journalists do this all the time, successful newsrooms can be boisterous places.

Early in their careers journalists learn how to achieve a short-term laser like focus. It isn’t always easy. It is harder if you need to pick your phone up every few minutes to deal with incoming calls, mails or other messages.

Get it right and you can achieve a Zen-like flow.

Start by turning off notifications. Your computer may have a focus mode. Apple Macs are good at this allowing you to switch notifications off for an hour or the rest of the day.

One advantage in the old days was that journalists hammering dozens of manual typewriters at once created what amounted to a wall of white noise.

Helpful technology

Technology can help with focus. There are distraction free writing tools. The iPhone’s silent button is a godsend.

Apple’s iPad is especially good for focus.

While you can multi-task on an iPad, that is not the way it was originally designed. iPad apps lend themselves to taking over the entire screen so that you focus on a single window. iA Writer is great for doing this, but all iPad writing tools can work in a similar way.

The iPad’s self-imposed one-app-at-a-time limitation can make writers more productive. There are other jobs where having multiple windows open at the same time is essential, but you’ll focus better with just one.

Jack Vinson has another take on The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time at the Knowledge Jolt blog. There he  shares his tips on how to set aside blocks of time for intense focus.