With PCs evolving into multi-function, transforming computing devices, Windows 10 will offer two new features which should make it easier for users to adapt to this changing world. Continuum will handle the transition between different display modes on transforming PCs, while the related Tablet Mode feature will help Windows 10 work more efficiently on tablets and other touch-first devices.
We’ve known about Continuum and Tablet Mode since the October 2014 Windows 10 reveal, but in recent builds of Windows 10 Technical Preview 2, these features are finally starting to appear in usable form. So let’s take a quick look.
Continuum, broadly, refers to the ability of Windows to transition, manually or automatically, between two states: The normal desktop display mode—with floating windows, a Start menu, and a fully featured taskbar and multitasking, to Tablet Mode, where apps run full screen, the Start menu is replaced by a full screen Start experience, and the taskbar and multitasking are optimized for touch.
The idea here is simple: Enable Windows 10 to work equally well on tablets and traditional PCs, but also let users with transforming PCs—2-in-1s like Surface Pro 3, convertible PCs like the Yoga 3 Pro, and standalone tablets that can be docked and transformed into desktop-like PCs—seamlessly move between those two modes.
The desktop mode is of course well understood. This is how Windows always worked, until Windows 8. But Tablet Mode blends elements from the Windows 8 full screen modern environment with the needs of both users and the more sophisticated universal app platform, which is no longer seeking to put an end to the desktop.
Tablet Mode will occur automatically in certain conditions, but you can manually trigger it on any Windows 10-based PC or device (save on Windows 10 Mobile where the system is essentially always in a superset of Tablet Mode). You do so from the Tablet Mode quick action tile in Action Center.
When you enable Tablet Mode, a number of things change:
Start. The Start menu is replaced by a more immersive full screen Start experience.
Lightweight taskbar. The taskbar goes into a special lightweight mode where, among other things, the Cortana search box, if enabled, disappears and is replaced by a Cortana button in the taskbar.
Global back button. Microsoft says that the lightweight taskbar will include a “global back button,” but I don’t see this in the current build.
Full screen apps. Any running apps and windows, including File Explorer windows and control panels, will display full screen.
Touch keyboard. The touch keyboard will appear automatically, even on the desktop.
For example, here is a typical desktop displayed normally (non-Tablet Mode).
When you toggle Table Mode on, however, everything goes full screen.
If you’re using a tablet or transforming PC, Tablet Mode can also be triggered by system events, such as when you remove a keyboard from a Surface Pro 3 or similar device. Or perhaps you are undocking a productivity tablet to take it on the go. In such a case, you will be prompted to enter tablet mode via a fly-out.
And you can configure this feature to work automatically as well.
The default configuration for Tablet Mode works as expected. If you have a tablet-like 2-in-1 PC, it will boot directly into Tablet Mode by default, whereas a laptop-like 2-in-1 PC will boot to the desktop. But either way, you can configure it to work the way you prefer. Which, when you think about it, is what makes Windows great.