If WP8 succeeds, software will only be part of the reason. Hardware and components matter too. Belfiore acknowledged as much when he mentioned that Microsoft worked with Qualcomm, whose Snapdragon dual core processors power WP8 devices, to optimize performance. Ballmer similarly remarked that the platform is benefitting from OEMs' contributions.
The forthcoming phones were on display after the presentation ended. Most felt a little large relative to an iPhone, and whether one prefers the new devices' respective ergonomic choices over those of existing options will ultimately fall to personal preference. Even so, all of the smartphones felt solid in the hand, with individual components connected snuggly so as to give the feel of a single, cohesive unit. None of the devices came off as cheap or easily breakable. This included Samsung's ATIV S, despite the fact that it -- to maintain a light weight -- relies on plastic enclosures.
Among the devices Ballmer highlighted, the HTC 8X features a 4.3-inch, 720p display crafted from durable Gorilla Glass 2, an 8-MP backside-illuminated camera on the rear that shoots 1080p video and a front-facing 2.1-MP camera that, as Ballmer noted, features an atypically wide 88-degree viewing angle. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile will all roll out the device at some point in November.
The Nokia Lumia 920, meanwhile, is equipped with an 8.7-MP camera that includes not only the image stabilization feature that Ballmer praised, but also optics from renowned lens-maker Carl Zeiss. The 920 will be available from AT&T in November. The similar but more modestly equipped Lumia 822 will be available from Verizon, and the Lumia 810 will be offered by T-Mobile.
Rounding out the group, the Samsung ATIV S offers a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display made from Gorilla Glass 2. It includes 1 GB of RAM, an 8-MP rear camera and a 1.9-MP front-facing camera. Carrier information was not announced.