Often, good user experience means adding or removing functionality to simply fit the context. Apple's AirPlay and iCloud are great examples of technologies that just work and easily fit into existing contexts (media playback and document editing, respectively). On the other hand, there's the mobile payment Square app: It's easy to use but lacks an essential part of the user experience. You can see your detailed purchases but can't print, email, or transfer them to travel management systems through a common API. Whoever designed Square clearly never thought business travelers, who need to document their expenses, would use it. The user experience is incomplete.
The progress Samsung has made in the last two years on its Android devices is a great example of how good user experience can be retrofitted onto existing products, learning from the mistakes and omissions of previous versions. The Dropbox and Box cloud storage services have carried off a similar feat in their integration with apps and OSes over the years.
Neither Jobs nor Apple -- the archetypes of user experience -- always got it right, as his hockey-puck mouse a decade ago and the implementation of Passbook in iOS 6 last fall both show. But failures happen; what matters is a consistent effort to optimize the user experience. It's not always easy, but it's possible.
The Alicia Keys hire at BlackBerry, however real that relationship may be, reminds us that user experience is as much art as science and engineering. Good music touches the soul, but so can a lot of bad music -- swinging from a pure engineering mentality to a pure artistic one is just as bad as staying in pure engineering mode. A great artist combines art, science, and engineering (aka technique or production).
As technology shifts from being more than mere tools and becomes part of our lives, it needs true artistry.
This article, "BlackBerry's Alicia Keys stunt speaks to a larger truth," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.