Microsoft is adding a "Handheld Mode" for Windows 11

This experimental feature born out of hackathon may be implemented in devices like the Steam Deck, among others, if released publicly.

The project team wants to make an optimized version of Windows 11 for the Steam Deck.

The handheld console market has been on the rise with the introduction of Valve’s Steam Deck. Plenty have since followed suit, including ASUS and Logitech, with rumors suggesting that Sony is  next in line. Now, it appears Microsoft has plans to take advantage of this growing segment.

With the popularity of handheld consoles, it seems Microsoft is planning something big for the gaming segment. Reliable leaker WalkingCat shared new information about a Microsoft experiment for a Handheld Mode for Windows 11 running on consoles such as the Steam Deck.

The leaked video, which was reportedly recorded during a Microsoft Hackathon held last September, reveals key info about this new mode. An unnamed employee provided the voiceover for the presentation and mentions Dorothy Feng, a senior UX designer at Microsoft. Feng and her team spearheaded a three-week "sprint" which resulted in the Windows 11 Handheld Gaming Mode visuals seen in the video.

According to the video, the team set out to create an optimized experience for the handheld PC market. This project takes the popularity of the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck into account.

The Steam Deck runs on Steam OS which is a custom version of the Linux operating system. The custom operating system offers an optimize controller-driven gaming experience on the x86 platform. However, since the Steam Deck is essentially a small personal computer, a user can install Windows on the device. This does come with problems which the narrator describes as "pretty rough… and it’s not ready for prime time."

Tech companies likeMicrosoft regularly hold Hackathon where employees are encouraged to think outside of the box. Most projects do not become actual products but they sometimes form the foundation for technologies that eventually make it to market.

The goal was to make a viable alternative to the Steam OS.

The ultimate goal of this project is to deliver a version of Windows that is optimized for handhelds. However, the presenter admits that there are a lot of things to do to make this a reality.

The team started with the basics such as adding controller support outside the Steam app and dealing with display issues regarding the unique nature of handheld displays. The devs also worked on addressing issues with games not working correctly with Steam’s memory. There have also been optimizations for the Windows 11 operating system including making the touch keyboard more controller-friendly and improving navigation.

The video ends with a call to action for Microsoft employees to "get serious about handheld gaming on Windows." This will help improve the company’s credibility and image within the gaming community.

The project team encourages Microsoft employees to get serious about handheld gaming on Windows.

It is interesting to see if projects like this Handheld Mode for Windows 11 make it to market. Microsoft already has Xbox Cloud Gaming support for Steam Deck. It would certainly be in the company’s best interests to develop or at least experiment with a Handheld version of the operating system.

Microsoft may not go into the handheld market as a console maker, but it can partner up with one which would ship with a custom version of Windows. Perhaps in the future, we will be seeing a Windows ecosystem revolving around gaming with the PC, Xbox, and a handheld device.

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Darryl Lara

Darryl Lara // Articles: 1110

Darryl has been gaming since the early 90s, loves to read books and watch TV. He spends his free time outside of gaming and books by riding his motorcycle and taking photographs. You can find Darryl on Instagram. Check him out on Steam and Xbox too.
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