At first glance the ATIV S looks a little bit like a modern Samsung Galaxy S III. If you've been following Samsung's range of Windows Phones this won't be a huge surprise given the similarity between previous Windows Phone 7 devices in the Focus range and earlier Galaxy models.
It's also clear that the ATIV is a 'detachable' name, so while the S is a high-end device (8.7mm thick, 4.8 inch screen, 1.5GHz dual-core processor), I'd expect to see other letter based combinations to cover the mid and low tier Windows Phone devices. The recent Samsung Omnia M is a phone that feels like it was built to address the specific requirements of a carrier or retailer (such as the UK's Phones4U)
Samsung said at the start of the year they would be skipping the Q1-Q2 product cycle and going straight to the Windows Phone 8 devices to hit the retail shelves during Q4 - I assume that's partly down to the focus on the Galaxy S3, but also because of the small sales window of Windows Phone 7/8 devices at the higher end.
One company who didn't skip the first half of the year was Nokia, who took the opportunity to solidify their place as top dog in the Windows Phone world by shipping the Lumia 800 and 710 to a number of new territories, and launching the 'flagship' Lumia 900 first on AT&T in America, and then in select countries around the rest of the world.
Nokia's transition period, and lack of a flagship along the lines of the Galaxy S3, meant they went with a medium to short term run of the Lumia 900, mostly to keep their hand in, but also to preserve the momentum they had built up with the Lumia 800. With Symbian sales slowing down, Nokia needed to stay fresh in the market with the Lumia 900, no matter how short a window it had before the announcement of the updated OS from Microsoft.
Their Windows Phone 8 strategy is expected to be announced next week (5th September), and we'd guess that we'll see more than one device from Nokia to cover the high and the mid-range Windows Phone 8 space. While Stephen Elop might be a bit miffed that once more Nokia have been beaten to the first announcement (Samsung with Windows Phone 8 here, HTC with the first LTE handset at the start of the year), he knows that Nokia will present a Windows Phone handset in the near future that isn't something that was built in a short space of time with off the shelf components, but one that has likely gone through a full development cycle inside Nokia.
What Samsung have done is set the standard with the ATIV S. They have started the conversation with "this is what a Windows Phone 8 smartphone should be". The media rightly regard Samsung as one of the leaders in the smartphone world, and the reaction to the ATIV S has been one of quiet respect (I think most reporters are still focused on the Samsung/Apple patent case).
Nokia are no longer launching into an empty space. Samsung defining the Windows Phone 8 space in Berlin at the IFA has done Nokia a favour. Journalists and bloggers now have a baseline on which to measure every new phone entering the Windows Phone 8 space.
It's unlikely that Nokia's specs for their new phones will be underwhelming next to the ATIV S (I'm not counting screen size by the way, as that's more a styling issue), so we're going to be able to see, rather quickly, where the new Nokia ranks. There's an argument that anything matching the ATIV S will be a solid device, but given the build up and the unique circumstances around Microsoft, Nokia, and Windows Phone 8, the expectations are for something that is 'better' than the Samsung offering.
You might think that Samsung's announcement is going to put a dampener on Nokia's time in the sun next week. Far from it. At the eleventh hour the ATIV S has given Nokia something to strive for, at least in the eyes of the media. It also gives Samsung something to measure themselves against. This is the positive feedback that you get in a competitive environment such as Windows Phone. Long may it continue, and may the second best device strive to beat the best device as quickly as possible.