Gaining operation management insights from the iPhone X

By Jonathan Crowl

When Apple announced the release of its iPhone X earlier this year, one of the most stunning changes was the removal of the home button. Until now, the home button has been a fixture of the iPhone’s design.

Apple has a reputation for making bold design choices, but the elimination of the home button brings a fundamental change to how users interact with their phones. It also offers a glimpse into how operation management can implement innovative changes that win the approval of executive leaders and find their way to market.

Change is a constant in any industry, and businesses often face the challenge of continuing to support successful products and services while exploring pathways to innovation that generate new revenue. Sometimes, executive leaders are reluctant to threaten the moderate success of existing products by attempting new ventures that are high-risk and high-reward. By looking at Apple’s undertaking of such a fundamental change to the iPhone design, business leaders can build their own templates for driving innovation within their organizations.

The argument for changing core components

No business wants to make fundamental changes to a working formula without a strong argument to back that decision. For Apple, one of the most immediate benefits of eliminating the home button was that it enabled a larger screen size on phones, turning the entire face of the phone into a screen.

This efficient use of space was created by translating the home button’s functions into swiping interactions or push features on other buttons, and Face ID scanning technology eliminated the need to use the button to unlock the phone.

Business Insider reports that eliminating the home button helped accommodate OLED screen technology into the phone, which is a higher resolution and offers a broader array of color options. It also cut some weight from the phone.

The lessons from these changes are applicable to businesses looking to reinvent solutions that are still turning a profit but starting to show signs of obsolescence. Sometimes core technologies become an obstacle as they are outdated by newer solutions and functionality. Though transitions like this one might test both the company and users, they are often necessary in order to continue innovating and finding new solutions to better serve consumers.

Fostering innovation with operation management

The bureaucracy that plagues many corporate organizations can hamstring operation management innovation. As Harvard Business Review notes, innovation can easily stagnate in organizations because there are no positions or departments tasked with pushing it forward. Department leaders assume the genesis of innovation can start somewhere else, in part because the risk of trying and failing could put careers in jeopardy.

Naturally, it follows that innovation begins with executives encouraging a forward-thinking approach among employees. Whether you focus on empowering a specific cohort, such as research and development, or the organization as a whole, workers must feel encouraged to come forward with new ideas that might require the dedication of time and business resources.

Implementing a change as transformative as Apple did with the iPhone isn’t something that takes place overnight. If you want your organization to get there, your workers will need the freedom and security to know they can engage in small-scale testing — including prototyping or building use cases for new innovations — without being punished if these efforts fail to produce new solutions.

Businesses with an agile culture for innovation often take a democratic approach, welcoming ideas from throughout the company, not just research and development. As LHBS Collection points out, some organizations even have rewards programs in place to encourage forward thinking and innovative ideas. Hotel company Westin, for example, sends its five top innovators every quarter on an all-expenses-paid, weeklong vacation as a thank-you for their contributions.

Establishing performance goals

The benefits of a new innovation must be clear during implementation. Apple’s home button removal was not done on the whim of an executive who simply decided she didn’t like the button anymore. Even if the company doesn’t make its reasoning public, there is certainly a business performance goal driving the decision to change how users engage with the iPhone X.

As part of the user interface for its hardware, Apple’s decision to eliminate the home button was related to the desire to offer a more engaging user experience. Customer loyalty and satisfaction are performance goals worth targeting, but they’re not the only reasons a company might try to innovate on its current offerings. For B2B companies, the ability to streamline operations and become more efficient is a popular selling point. Similarly, innovations could affect operations, from improved communications and lower overhead to improved ROI.

When an innovation can be implemented practically to serve a clear business goal, it’s worth considering moving forward with the change. Few proposed innovations will actually reach this stage of development, but through appropriate vetting of ideas and careful development of new solutions, the best solutions will rise to the top in the digital workplace.