Windows 10 is unique in that it works equally well on traditional PC form factors as well as newer tablet and 2-in-1 designs. The key to this success is a feature called Tablet mode, which is part of the Continuum technologies in Windows 10. Here’s what you need to know to master this feature.
Tablet mode has its origins in Windows 8, of course, where Start and mobile apps always ran full screen. But some Tablet mode functionality, like the adaptive UI where on-screen elements are bigger and better spaces for touch—actually debuted first in Microsoft Office, which offers Mouse and Touch modes.
In contrast to the normal operating mode of Windows 10—in which Start appears as a menu by default, open apps and windows can float over the desktop, and the user interface is tailored for keyboard and mouse interaction—Tablet mode optimizes Windows for touch.
Among the obvious changes you’ll see when you enable this usage mode are:
Everything is full screen. Start and any open apps and windows all switch into a special full screen mode and the desktop is effectively hidden (though you can of course still access the desktop in File Explorer).
App icons in the taskbar disappear. By default, app icons do not appear in the taskbar. This cleans up the look of the system dramatically and ensures you won’t fumble-finger launch app icons by mistake.
UI elements adapt to be touch-friendly. Among the changes here are a touch-friendly taskbar in which its contained icons are bigger and better spaced for touch, plus a Back button that works like the one on Windows phones, enabling you to navigate back through the system “back stack.”
It still works fine with keyboard and mouse. If you just prefer the UI and apps to be full-screen, no worries: Tablet mode works great with keyboard and mouse too. You don’t have to use touch.
Tablet mode is the normal operating mode for Windows 10 on mini-tablets and other “pure” tablets, where it is typically used in the portrait display orientation. But you can manually enter (or exit) Tablet mode—even on a desktop PC—at any time: open Action Center (WINKEY + A) and select the Tablet mode quick action tile. This tile acts as like a toggle: select it again to return Windows to the normal usage mode.
Tablet mode can also be engaged automatically. If you are using a Surface tablet or other 2-in-1, you will be prompted to enter Tablet mode when you remove the Type Cover (or other keyboard).
This dialog also provides you with the option to choose whether the system will simply engage Tablet mode automatically whenever that action occurs. (Likewise, it can also disable Tablet mode whenever a keyboard is detached.
To configure Tablet mode to work the way you prefer, open Settings (WINKEY + I) and navigate to System, Tablet Mode.
Here, you can configure Tablet mode to be the default—particularly desirable on a mini-tablet, though such devices should be configured this way already—determine whether Windows 10 remembers your Tablet mode configuration each time you sign in, determine whether Tablet mode engages automatically, and choose whether to hide app icons when the PC or device is in Tablet mode.
Note too that you can configure Start to be a menu or a full-screen interface independently of Tablet mode (Settings, Personalization, Start). That is, you can use Start as a full-screen interface even when Tablet mode is off. However, when you enable Tablet mode, virtually all interfaces in Windows (save a few dialog boxes) will always appear full-screen, including Start.