Keep Your Goods Sizzling -- Like Apple's iPhone

The tech giant doesn't rest on its laurels; neither should you. Here's how to improve even your hottest products.
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If there's one thing Apple (AAPL) - Get Report knows how to pull off with style, it's product launches. When the sleek iPhone was unveiled a year ago, technophiles swooned.

A few minutes later, they began to complain.

Companies -- no matter what their size -- are always on the hunt for a blockbuster product. Given the years of effort that go into producing a home-run, it's understandable that they'd want to take a break after a big success.

A short-term break is fine. But if you're running your company for the long term (and you are, right?), you've got to keep refining that product and improving it, before the original buzz fades to a bored sigh.

It's something Apple understands well, and any business owner -- whether they use a Mac or PC -- would do well to take a few tips from CEO Steve Jobs. This week, at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Jobs unveiled a new version of the iPhone, one that addresses a number of the original model's shortcomings.

What did Jobs get right? Here's how to keep a hot product sizzling:

1. Make your product better

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This sounds obvious, but often so-called improvements don't necessarily make the user experience any better (take, for example, those overly complicated computer controls in luxury cars). It's fine to add in high-tech bells and whistles that thrill an engineer, but you have to be able to show customers exactly why the latest version of your product will make their lives easier.

The new iPhone uses 3G (third-generation) networking, which allows data to download about twice as fast as the original phone. The average user doesn't need to understand the technology behind the change (and, to be honest, I don't). But anyone can look at the phone's screen and see how quickly a Web page or email loads.

"Of course people want faster browsing," says Josh Pigford, an interactive developer and founder of

The Apple Blog. "That was a given." By making an improvement that focused on what users really wanted, Apple had an easy way to show that its new version was better.

2. Make it more accessible

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There was a built-in market for the original iPhone: the technology early-adopters and Apple fanatics who headed to their local Apple stores within days of the phone's release.

But getting a $599 phone into the hands of the general public wasn't such an easy sell. Apple heard the grumbling and cut the price to a less expensive $399-$499 (depending on how much storage you wanted). But that was still a big expense for the average consumer. According to an Apple survey, 56% of the customers who haven't bought an iPhone cited expense as their reason for not buying it.

The new iPhone is priced at $199-$299, a significant price cut (and remember -- this is for a better, faster phone).

Apple is also making the iPhone more accessible overseas. The original phone was sold in only six countries; now, thanks to a dramatic increase in global carrier partnerships, the iPhone will be sold in about 70 countries.

Whether it's through cutting prices or expanding distribution, find ways to get your product in more hands. Then let all those new satisfied customers do your marketing for you.

3. Don't forget bulk sales

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"I think the biggest aspect of the entire announcement is the enterprise updates and support," says Pigford. "

Fortune

500 companies buy their employees BlackBerries by the tens of thousands because of how well they integrate with the IT department and the IT infrastructure. The initial version of the iPhone didn't offer the capabilities that these massive companies needed -- the new iPhone 2.0 software now does."

If you can find a way to sell in bulk -- whether to corporations, schools or other organizations -- sales can multiply exponentially. "With the new lower price, the iPhone is a major competitor in the business world when it comes to phones for employees," says Pigford. "This, by itself, will sell millions of additional phones."

Few companies have Apple's design expertise or engineering know-how. But anyone can follow the company's strategy for increasing sales -- as long as they're willing to do the work to make version 2.0 of a product that's much better than the original.

Elizabeth Blackwell is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She is the author of Frommer's Chicago guidebook, and writes for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago, and other national magazines.