From what we've heard about the development process of Windows Phone 7, rumors about the OS predated its earliest seeds. How? The secret lies deep underground in Redmond, buried with a little project called Photon.
We were posting about Windows Mobile 7 (and 8!) in great detail back in 2008, and we weren't the only ones. For months prior and years after, Windows Mobile 7 leaked screenshots were a reliable fixture in tech news. So there was clearly something there.
PocketNow's got a must-read post on why the world was expecting one thing from Microsoft, and got another. The story starts in 2005:
I... saw Photon two years prior to 2007. Back then, it was pretty much the same as we know Photon to be today. It's very possible that work began on Photon as early as 2004, which begs the question: how could a company with such vast resources and fantastic human talent take nearly half a decade to roll out a product? The answer could come down to mismanagement or lack of investment. My guess is that Microsoft didn't truly understand how big the mobile category would grow, and how fast it would happen.
The short answer to the obvious question—how could Microsoft end up where they are today, without a competitive product and with relief nearly a year away?—is that the consumer smartphone explosion and the sudden rise of social media took them completely by surprise. They were almost certainly working on a next-gen platform before the iPhone even launched. They had a plan, and it probably reached years into the future—Photon, a drastic refinement of the classic Windows Mobile platform.
It's just that this plan was a shortsighted, inductive mess; a frictionless continuation of the strict enterprise-focused philosophy that Windows Mobile and Windows CE had done reasonably well with in the past, and that the iPhone (and its various responders) promptly made boatloads of money completely ignoring. By the time Microsoft realized what it had to do, it was nearly too late. Hence, the Zune Phone.
Photon may be dead, but it can explain a lot. [PocketNow]