A recently leaked video posted by the famous Microsoft leaker WalkingCat suggests that Microsoft may be considering a dedicated Windows Handheld Mode to improve the functionality of Windows 11 on handheld PC devices, such as the Steam Deck. The video showcases a Microsoft Hackathon project from September of last year, focusing on a potential handheld gaming mode for Windows.
— WalkingCat (@_h0x0d_) April 13, 2023
Microsoft Hackathons are internal events where employees experiment with projects not necessarily related to their daily work. This particular project aimed to address several issues when using Windows on handheld devices, including controller support outside of Steam apps, display type interpretation, VRAM access, touch keyboard optimization, and handheld UI elements.
The developer behind the project drew inspiration from a Handheld Sprint led by Dorothy Feng, discussing the potential for controller-navigated keyboard input, an expanded taskbar for easier touch interactions, and working with developers to support Steam Deck controls in Windows globally. The project also sought to incorporate the Gaming Shell by senior Microsoft software engineer Hayden McAfee, simplifying game launches on handheld devices.
Although no specific gaming performance improvements were mentioned, the video detailed a working onboarding process, Steam Deck controller support, and a foundation for a launcher to switch between games and stores. The developers also mentioned exploring alternative Deck control drivers, a suitable touch keyboard, UI scaling, and other “definitely achievable” goals.
The success of this project could hinge on garnering more support, which would increase the likelihood of Microsoft adopting it. With major PC companies like Asus entering the handheld gaming market, pressure from manufacturers could help this project gain traction.
A dedicated Windows handheld gaming mode could offer the familiarity of a Windows device, a lighter footprint, and a seamless controller-based gaming experience, potentially changing opinions about installing Windows on the Steam Deck.
While this particular project did not amount to much in the end, it does show that Microsoft has not closed the doors completely yet on the Windows 11 handheld market.