Microsoft has been working on a proof-of-concept for a ‘handheld mode’ in Windows, aimed at improving the Steam Deck experience. This was developed as part of an internal Microsoft hackathon in September 2022. The aim is to create a more controller-friendly interface that is more effective for small handheld systems like the Steam Deck.
The ‘handheld mode’ would feature several proposed components such as a new first-time setup screen for simplified driver installation, an improved touchscreen keyboard that fits better on a 7-inch screen, and could be controlled Xbox-style with the built-in buttons and joysticks. The mode would also include a simplified, Nintendo Switch-esque game launcher, improved OS-wide controller support, and better UI scaling for small screens. A leaked presentation about the ‘handheld mode’ was posted on Twitter by user _h0x0d_.
The concept shows that Microsoft is aware of the problems users face when trying to run Windows on handheld devices, particularly the Steam Deck. As Windows’ UI is mainly designed for a mouse/keyboard setup, it is not ideal for small handheld systems. However, the Steam Deck has a Linux operating system that runs a fair number of games, but for maximum compatibility and flexibility, users can always install Windows.
The ‘handheld mode’ is still in its conceptual stage, and there is no confirmation whether it will be adopted by the rest of the Windows team. Past attempts to graft an alternative UI onto Windows have failed, but individual aspects of the ‘handheld mode’ could help improve the Steam Deck experience. In the meantime, users can rely on third-party launchers like Steam’s Big Picture Mode and LaunchBox Premium that work as game launchers on a small handheld screen.