No. 1: iPhone

Early this year, fervor around the iPhone 3 had cooled. Tech media once again indulged in speculation about whether another smart phone might come forward as the ultimate iPhone killer, finally ending our addiction to Apple’s sleek offering. Candidates such as the HTC Droid Incredible and the much-hyped Google phone played up their Android operating systems and their ability to work with service providers other than AT&T, the sole option for the iPhone and a source of great frustration for iPhone users. To some, it looked as if the mighty might finally stumble.

Then Apple did what it’s famous for, developing a new, improved product to ignite our obsession all over again. The iPhone 4 arrived on the scene surrounded by enough controversy, industrial espionage, and rumormongering to make it worthy of a John le Carre spy novel (and a Top 10 Search on Yahoo!). The flames of desire were fanned early due to an iPhone 4 prototype that appeared on the tech blog Gizmodo. The blogger said he’d found the phone in a bar, and he posted photos and details. Apple responded swiftly, reporting the prototype stolen. An investigation was launched, including a search and seizure at the Gizmodo editor’s home. The cat was out of the bag, and the public — particularly the tech community — anxiously waited to get its hands on the new model.

As anticipated, the iPhone 4 was officially announced in June. Apple fans lined up and camped out up to a week before the sale date. And the U.S. was just the beginning: Footage of lines in Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and other spots around the globe dominated the media. The frenzy paid off big time for Apple, which announced the iPhone 4 as its most successful product launch to date, selling more than 1.7 million phones in the first three days.

Despite an almost immediate rash of reports about “Antenna Gate,” an issue CEO Steve Jobs addressed by teaching consumers the right way to hold their phones (avoiding the dreaded “Death Grip“), sales of the phone continued to grow in record numbers. In October, Apple reported a 91% increase in year-over-year iPhone sales, with 14.1 million units sold. Even reports that the glass casing was prone to shattering didn’t slow consumers’ enthusiasm for their new toy.

Another media — and search — spike was created when a bug in the iPhone 4’s alarm app missed the daylight saving time change, causing thousands in Europe to oversleep. Delayed Europeans took to Twitter to complain and make jokes about the error, which had previously affected users in Australia and New Zealand. Apple promised that a fix would be released soon.

Just in time for the holidays, Apple announced distribution deals with Sam’s Club and Target to sell the phones, which were already available in Walmart stores. That ups the mass-market availability of the phones and will surely keep sales strong well into 2011.

In November, a Verizon memo was leaked, seeming to prove correct nearly a year’s worth of rumors that a Verizon iPhone would be released. Days later, a photo was leaked, apparently showing the “iconic device” referenced in the memo. At long last, iPhone fans could have an alternative provider, but how many will make the switch? And more importantly, what will they have left to complain about?

And the elusive white iPhone? After months of delays and rumors, the latest reports have the model set for launch next spring … around the same time as the rumored release of the iPhone 5. Whatever happens, we can’t wait to read the next chapter.

–Melissa O’Neil