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On utilities

When I worked on an antivirus application, we used to have a joke in our team that we’d choose which one of us would accept the Apple Design Award for our product. Not that we weren’t striving for ADA-quality work; we just knew that Apple would never suffer an anti-virus app to gain that sort of recognition. It’s not what they want customers to associate with the platform.

This doesn’t just apply to AV: any utility app falls into the same situation. The reason is that utilities exist to make up for shortcomings in the computing experience.

No-one wants to use a utility. You don’t wake up full of joy at the prospect of defragmenting your hard drive; you wake up hoping to write a great novel. Or put together that movie from your holiday. Or write a killer iPhone app. You defragmenting your hard drive because it needs doing; because the computer didn’t take care of it for you automatically. Writing your novel needs to wait while you twiddle with the internal workings of something called a filesystem.

Similarly, no-one wants to use anti-virus. It’s just that no-one wants to use a virus either. The computer lets you down by making it possible to run viruses, just like it lets you down by having a fragmented filesystem. And you have to suffer this let-down by running a utility app.

Any utility app – even a very well-written one – is symptomatic of a let-down in the computing experience. That’s why you don’t find utilities on the iPhone app store – and the conditions of the Mac app store will limit the availability of utilities there, too. Apple have no interest in making it easy for users to find the let-downs in the computing experience. (Readers with long memories will remember that even some of the built-in utilities on OS X were, for a long time, part of an optional package.)

Hitherto, most security features have been utilities – because the platform security has been a let-down. Anti-virus: let-down. Mail filters: let-down. Encryption: let-down. The way to get your application noticed is not to make a utility to address the let-down: it’s to design the let-down out of your application. Create something that lets users do what they want; without the compromises that lead to needing utilities. In other words, design the security into the application experience.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graham Lee, Drew McCormack and Remi Longva, Erik Aderstedt. Erik Aderstedt said: RT @iamleeg: Any utility app is symptomatic of a let-down in the computing experience: http://bit.ly/dFVrdx […]