Microsoft considering a handheld PC “experience layer” for Windows

asus rog with windows 11 from microsoft

In a recorded discussion event surrounding the Asus ROG Ally, Microsoft is seemingly interested in a dedicated user interface for handheld devices.

Microsoft and Asus are getting chummy in a new roundtable discussion about the upcoming ROG Ally handheld. The device is set to launch on May 11 and will be running Windows 11. However, panel member Roanne Sones, Microsoft’s head of Xbox devices, had the most interesting things to say.

Microsoft’s current Windows 11 gaming experience is something that’s entirely focused on the desktop or laptop experience. Gaming on a handheld with it is a slight chore, due to the lack of a controller-focused user interface, some companies like Ayaneo have attempted to curb this, but a native application would of course be ideal.

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In the discussion, Sones states that Microsoft is “spending a fair amount of time with publishers” and is bringing Windows 11 up to code for what’s expected from gaming devices. That includes saving state when putting the device down, to what she calls “crossplay” for navigating around different platforms in a familiar environment.

All this is discussed within the conversation of what Sones is also calling an “experience layer”, which Microsoft might be seriously considering after an internal hackathon produced exactly that.

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Handheld gaming on Windows needs to get better

Ayaneo 2 designDexerto

Currently, Microsoft’s gaming layer on Windows includes a buggy Xbox Game Pass app, as well as the Xbox menu that can be brought up with Win+G. However, there’s no dedicated “experience layer” for Windows gaming, which can make it especially difficult with the explosion in different Windows-enabled handheld PCs.

When we installed Windows 11 on the Steam Deck, while we were able to access a tonne more games, it wasn’t worth the hassle of navigation on the system. On the Ayaneo 2, we actually default to using Steam’s updated Big Picture mode, which now replicates the Steam Deck’s interface on Windows.

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In the video, Sones also does mention that Windows has a “familiar” environment wherever you go, including on the ROG Ally.

Microsoft has a history of trying new interfaces on Windows, which is where it got its name from. The notorious Windows Metro UI was quickly shooed away in favor of a more traditional interface but left tablets and touchscreen devices without their own dedicated UI.