Microsoft is experimenting with adding a Windows handheld mode for Steam Deck, according to a leaked video from a September 2022 hackathon within Microsoft shows several optimized UI elements for a prototype handheld mode. In these hackathons, employees can present ideas to Microsoft executives and they could end up supporting and shipping them.
First spotted by The Verge, the video first describes some of the problems that Steam Deck has, such as a lack of controller support outside of the Steam app and games. The touch keyboard isn’t optimized for handhelds with displays around 7 inches, and also there isn’t support for controller navigation of the keyboard. Additionally, some Windows games won’t open or run properly because they cannot correctly interpret the Steam Deck’s shared memory.
— WalkingCat (@_h0x0d_) April 13, 2023
Dorothy Feng, a Microsoft employee, created mockups of what the potential Windows Handheld mode would look like, including a prototype launcher that has applications like Xbox, Steam, Epic, and EA Play listed. There was also a controller-navigated and touch-optimized keyboard as well. The taskbar could be collapsed to show only critical icons and expanded for easier touch interactions.
The team also started working with a community of developers behind SWICD, or Steam Deck Windows Controller Driver, who found a way to use Steam Deck controls globally in Windows.
While it’s unclear whether this project would ever ship, Microsoft has been a supporter of the Steam Deck since its release. Back in March 2022, Microsoft and Valve worked together to get xCloud and Xbox Game Pass working on Steam Deck.
The Steam Deck has been a popular handheld, with competitors trying to capitalize on its success, such as the Ayaneo 2, and most recently, the ROG Ally from Asus.
In IGN’s Steam Deck review, we said, “When the Steam Deck is living up to its promises, it’s absolutely incredible. Playing GTA 5, God of War, and other modern games on the go is an absolute joy, and the hardware and controls feel good to hold even though it’s a big chubby boy of a handheld.”
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George Yang is a freelance writer for IGN. He’s been writing about the industry since 2019 and has worked with other publications such as Insider, Kotaku, NPR, and Variety.
When not writing about video games, George is playing video games. What a surprise! You can follow him on Twitter @Yinyangfooey