Microsoft Leak Teases “Windows Handheld Mode” Optimized for Steam Deck and Similar Devices

Image: Valve

Microsoft employees have been experimenting with a Windows handheld mode that would make the operating system easier to use on the Steam Deck and other handheld gaming devices, according to a set of videos that WalkingCat has leaked. The videos, which originate from one of Microsoft’s hackathon events from September, provide an early look at some of the improvements that the handheld mode might feature in the event that it actually releases, such as UI optimizations, improved controller support, a game launcher, and a controller-navigated and touch-optimized keyboard. The ROG Ally, ASUS’ upcoming gaming handheld, runs on Windows 11.

From a Microsoft hackathon transcript:

[…] because the Steam Deck is a PC, it can run windows, but it’s been pretty rough. You know, the drivers are pretty basic, and it’s not ready for prime time. So there’s a bunch of problems, and we’re trying to figure out where to start with this project. So we focused on the basics, where there’s a lack of controller support.

So if you’re playing a non-Steam game, you can’t use the controller. Games don’t open well because they can’t quite interpret what kind of display it is. They have trouble accessing the VRAM, so some games don’t even start. The touch keyboard on Windows is very odd…we think it’s made for a portrait screen. There’s a lot of Windows UI and UX elements that are not optimized for a handheld, but things quickly changed once we started to learn more about what had been done and what roadblocks we might run into.

A good example is this three-week handheld sprint led by Dorothy Fang. She explored all the things that ultimately we want in a handheld experience. We also learned about a touch keyboard that can be navigated with a controller is something we want. There’s a new taskbar that’s optimized for panels, and we also found…a way to use the index controls globally in Windows.

Also, the last thing we saw was a gaming shell created by Hayden McAfee. And we said, we want this in this project. Let’s give us a quick way to launch games, quickly to launch apps. Let’s do it. So we limited the scope to just a few things, and we looked at what the experience might be. So you have an onboarding experience.

Everything on here is is definitely achievable. Everyone working on this project really feels that this is something that their windows users, they need, they deserve to have, and it’s something that we all want to see eventually. If we can truly dial in this handheld experience. We could also see new revenue streams and a lot of goodwill in the PC gaming community.

So let’s look at ways of kind of building on the momentum we’ve had with this hackathon project. You know, build incrementally, get this out to people and previews, build excitement around Windows, truly trying to focus on the handheld market and create a truly optimized experience.

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