Fortune's Apple 2.0 got a nice little graph up of just where and when the iPhone's hype machine went into overdrive. There's no question it was a gigantic brand last year, but what's interesting is just how manufactured and "by design" each of those spikes are. B on the chart above is the actual iPhone launch, and E and F are the 3G debut and store launch. Fortune relates point A to the Cisco lawsuit against Apple over the "iPhone" name, but let's be real: that was just part of the story of the gigantic iPhone reveal (which took place one day before, not two).
So the real story here isn't necessarily that Apple masterfully created a smartphone that revolutionized the industry and made tons of money doing it, but that they coordinated a hype machine that marched to their tune whenever they wanted. The red line above, as you can see, is Palm, and while there are a few spikes along that line (probably interest in various new products and releases), there's nothing like the excitement and hype that shoots up around a big Apple event. The iPhone is a feat of engineering in itself, but the hype machine behind it is pretty well-built, too.