Microsoft has started testing new updates to its Xbox app on Windows 11 that improve the experience on handheld devices and smaller screens. In an Xbox test app released earlier this week, Microsoft has introduced a new compact mode that greatly reduces the sidebar on the left-hand side.
Compact mode is designed to improve “the experience on handhelds and small screens,” according to Microsoft — it also works on any size screen. It’s a relatively minor UI change, but very welcome on devices like the ROG Ally where you only have a 7-inch display. Windows 11 is a pretty cramped experience on the ROG Ally, and improvements to the Xbox app are an encouraging first step towards what we hope will be some type of handheld mode for Windows.
Early “Windows handheld mode” concepts leaked from a hackathon project inside Microsoft earlier this year, including a floating taskbar, an improved game launcher, and changes to the Xbox app. This gaming shell was simply a prototype, built before devices like the ROG Ally and Lenovo’s Legion Go were announced.
Asus’ ROG Ally is now emerging as the portable Xbox for PC Game Pass. Even Xbox chief Phil Spencer is a fan of the ROG Ally, describing the handheld as his “Xbox on the go” in an interview with Eurogamer earlier this year. There is still so much that Microsoft could do to improve the experience, though. “We are focused on making the Xbox and GP experience great on devices like the Ally … More to do,” admitted Spencer in a tweet in July.
Hopefully the Xbox app improvements, albeit small right now, are a first step towards some bigger improvements for Windows-based handhelds. Microsoft also hinted at bringing features like Quick Resume to Windows gamers earlier this year, alongside commitments to work with publishers on the “experience layer” of resuming games across devices.