For those of you that were hoping for a Microsoft-made phone-laptop-tablet hybrid to come out of the Redmond firm's big January 21 Windows 10 event, I'm not sorry. Why? For one, that would have been a train wreck.
Secondly, as a consolation of sorts, Microsoft VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore solved one of the biggest problems with 2-in-1 laptops and other devices in one 90-second demo. One of the leading minds behind Windows teased a new approach to the hybrid device conundrum from Windows 10, called "Continuum", during Microsoft's smaller Windows 10 unveiling back in last September.
For those who are reading about this for the first time, Continuum is the way in which Windows 10 will resolve users switching from laptop to tablet mode in those fancy hybrid devices, like the Surface Pro 3 and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. Basically, the new Windows will just be smarter about it, like it should have been all along - since Windows 8, frankly.
Windows that know
On stage, Belfiore showed off exactly how Continuum works. On a Surface Pro 3, the Windows lead simply disconnected the device from its keyboard cover, and a prompt appeared. On the lower right hand screen, Windows 10 asked whether he wanted to switch to tablet mode.
Upon tapping the prompt, all of the apps on the device instantly went full-screen. The method for switching between apps immediately changed to swiping in from the left of the screen. When Belfiore pressed the Start button, a full screen version of the Start menu - think of a cross between that and the Windows 8 Start screen - appeared.
Then, as soon as Belfiore reconnected the keyboard cover, the operating system asked whether he'd like to return to laptop mode in just the same way, in just the same spot. Pressing that prompt reverted whatever apps were open into their same size and position.
In just 90 seconds, one of my biggest beefs - and arguably one of the biggest problems overall - with 2-in-1 devices was squashed. I don't want to overstate this, but this feature alone could help grease the wheels for hybrids on the whole.
What's the big deal?
At the moment, Windows 8.1 provides little to no prompts, assistance or change when you switch between modes on a hybrid device. As a new user, you're on your own to figure out how the hell to use this thing as a tablet. As a veteran, you're annoyed that nothing special happens to make use of this new form factor. No one wins.
Makers of 2-in-1 devices have been left to their own devices to find ways to help users make the best use of their debatably versatile products. Lenovo created the Yoga Picks app, and loads it onto all Yoga-branded devices, to help you figure out how to use your device in these new usage modes.
But frankly, any measure like this is more work than device makers should have to do to sell these products that are supposed to be further enabled or even elevated by a new OS - not hamstrung. (And most of these "aftermarket" solutions end up being hamfisted at best, anyway.)
So, yeah, for Microsoft to finally recognize this problem and make one huge leap toward solving it is huge. It's huge not only for the 2-in-1 device makers, but more importantly for the end users that will finally be better enabled, if not encouraged, to switch it up.
I, for one, cannot wait to try out this new feature once it makes it into the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Now, all that's left is to give us more reasons to switch modes in the first place.
- Windows Phone just died, but that's not so bad