Windows 11 Handheld Mode
Image Courtesy: Microsoft

The Steam Deck is a hit, and it’s one of the most interesting portable console-style gaming PCds, but it doesn’t run on Windows 11, and Microsoft wants to change it. The tech giant is exploring a new “Handheld Mode” UI for Windows 11, which could optimize the operating system for portable gaming PCs.

At Microsoft Hackathon, an annual internal event where employees and teams gather to explore unconventional ideas, Microsoft discussed a new project dubbed “Windows Handheld Mode,”. Although most Hackathon projects are not guaranteed to become actual products, some eventually develop into real products.

During the event, Microsoft employees are encouraged to think outside of the box and collaborate with others from different divisions. This cross-functional approach often results in innovative ideas and prototypes that have the potential to become successful products, and one such idea pitched by the Windows team was “Handheld mode for Windows”.

Gaming UI on Windows 11
Gaming UI on Windows 11 | Image Courtesy: Microsoft

Here are some features of the handheld mode:

  • Dialed-in support for your Deck’s hardware so games launch & play better
  • A handheld-optimized launcher for all your games and stores
  • Windows optimizations for your handheld’s touch screen to improve touch points and visibility.

Our first look at Windows for handheld consoles

At the event, Microsoft confirmed it is exploring support for “Windows Handheld Mode,” which will replace the traditional Windows desktop interface with a gaming console UI. The new gaming shell UI is optimized for Steam Deck-like portable gaming PCs, similar to Android’s launcher interface.

‘Windows Gaming Handheld’ is a mode which means you don’t have to install a new version of Windows for it to work. Instead, you can enable it from settings, and it will automatically get pinned to the taskbar.

You can also map your controller and switch between performance or power-friendly modes.

Microsoft engineer believes the company must make several changes to Windows 11 to create a “minimum valuable product” in the niche:

  • Create a suitable touch keyboard that can be operated via a controller.
  • Optimized taskbar (available via Moment 2 update).
  • Optimized Ul scaling.
  • Mapping of controls to familiar Windows functions like Task View.
  • Other relatively simple changes like ensuring all windows open are maximized.
  • A robust launcher to reduce to time it takes to open games.
  • Quick access to hardware & experience settings.
  • Personalization: Launcher preferences (setting order and visibility of different stores/apps), Pinned/favorited games.

According to the engineer, Microsoft must also optimize Xbox Game Bar & Xbox App.

The tech giant is planning to optimize the interface of Windows 11 to create a “gaming-first” launcher-like experience, so users can easily find games through the Microsoft Store and navigate Windows via the controller.

“Windows and Xbox app users deserve this, need this,” Microsoft officials noted in the hackathon project description.

“A Windows gaming experience, dialed-in to handhelds, represents a new revenue stream in multiple ways, as well as being a goodwill gesture to the PC gaming community (further improving Windows/Xbox’s image and cred). Let’s build incrementally, let’s release previews, let’s build excitement, and let’s get serious about handheld gaming on Windows”.

As you can see in the above screen, there is a search bar at the top of the launcher, the system tray has been redesigned to focus on what matters, and there is an app launcher to help you quickly launch the games from the bottom.

While not all Hackathon projects see the light of day, they provide valuable opportunities for Microsoft employees to experiment and think creatively, ultimately leading to new discoveries and breakthroughs. By fostering a culture of innovation and creativity, Microsoft continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the tech industry.

About The Author

Mayank Parmar

Mayank Parmar is an entrepreneur who founded Windows Latest. He is the Editor-in-Chief and has written on various topics in his seven years of career, but he is mostly known for his well-researched work on Microsoft's Windows. His articles and research works have been referred to by CNN, Business Insiders, Forbes, Fortune, CBS Interactive, Microsoft and many others over the years.