Windows 11 may get ‘Handheld Mode’ for gaming

Microsoft could be working on a new Handheld Mode for gaming devices like Steam Desk on Windows 11.

Windows Handheld Mode / Image: @_h0x0d_
Windows Handheld Mode / Image: @_h0x0d_
  • Microsoft could be gearing up to bring up better support for handheld gaming devices.
  • A leaked video shows an early concept of a new Handheld Mode for Windows 11.
  • The new mode features a new game launcher UI and support for Steam Deck-like controllers and screens.
  • The concept was born in a hackathon, but it’s unclear if the company will bring it to market.

Microsoft is experimenting with a new “Handheld Mode” for Windows 11, an interface optimized for handheld gaming devices like Steam Deck. According to a new video surfaced by WalkingCat (@_h0x0d_) on Twitter, the company has an early concept of a new interface for Windows 11 designed specifically to meet the needs of handheld devices to launch games and better support for controllers and touchscreens.

The leaked video comes from a hackathon project held by Microsoft in September last year. During this type of event, employees have an opportunity to present their ideas that may result in a new product shipping to customers. However, hackathon projects aren’t guaranteed to ship.

The video details the current limitations of running Windows 11 on handheld devices like the Steam Deck. Although there are drivers and workarounds to run the operating system on these form factors, it isn’t easy to navigate whether you use a controller or touch because the system doesn’t understand the device. Furthermore, Windows 11 doesn’t even include an interface to launch games.

The concept from a senior UX designer at Microsoft, Dorothy Feng, features a new “Handheld Mode” interface that replaces the classic desktop visuals to launch games from PC Game Pass, EA Play, Epic Games Store, Steam, and many more. In addition, the new gaming experience also features a virtual keyboard that is optimized for the form factor.

Handheld Mode game launcher
Handheld Mode game launcher / Image: @_h0x0d_

However, this isn’t a new variant of the operating system. Instead, it’s a mode that can be enabled from the Settings app, and the user can pin it to the Taskbar.

Windows Handheld Mode
Windows Handheld Mode / Image: @_h0x0d_

The experience could also offer a way to map the controller and switch between power-saving or performance mode.

Handheld Mode settings
Handheld Mode settings / Image: @_h0x0d_

One interesting aspect of the design is the new floating Taskbar with rounded corners and a new transparent bar at the top displaying the System tray icons and clock at the right, next to the profile menu, and a search box in the middle, which are new visual elements that the company tease in the past and are expected to roll out as part of the new features for Windows 12.

Windows 11 floating Taskbar
Windows 11 floating Taskbar / Image: @_h0x0d_

As part of the project, a senior software engineer at Microsoft, Hayden McAfee, designed a gaming interface for Windows 11. And the team responsible for this project has also been working with another programmer that developed a solution that makes the Steam Deck controls compatible with the operating system.

The result was a new “Handheld Mode” experience that includes the necessary drivers, controllers that work as expected, and a launcher similar to the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck that makes it easy to start games.

Although it’s unclear if the “Handheld Mode” will ever ship, it’s interesting that the company could be planning to make the necessary changes to improve the Windows gaming experience for handheld devices.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 15 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 21 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].