Continuum is a new Windows 10 feature that enables your device to switch between desktop and tablet mode, depending on the connected hardware. It is versatile, relatively robust, and when you consider the shifting computing landscape — more portables, more hybrids — it is an essential tool for Windows 10 users.
Just What Is Continuum?
The below video, while created using one of the early 9xxx Insider Preview builds, illustrates Continuum pretty darn well. Microsoft realize the need for a well-designed device transition service for an operating system set to feature on a massive range of hardware. You can use a mouse and keyboard, or switch to tablet mode, and it is as easy as connecting or disconnecting your peripherals.
When you unplug the hybrid device keyboard, or disconnect a USB or Bluetooth keyboard from a tablet, you’ll immediately be offered the option to choose either Tablet or Desktop Mode. Tablet Mode alters your setup: scaling, onscreen features, button sizes, gestures, the Taskbar and Start Menu all alter appearance in a seamless transition. Reconnect your keyboard, select Desktop, and it all changes back again.
Desktop mode is pretty self-explanatory. Your device will function as a Windows 10 desktop until you switch back. Tablet Mode is slightly different, if only because you’re transitioning between the two.
For instance, in Tablet Mode the actual desktop becomes unavailable, and you’ll navigate much more using the Start menu, or switching directly between applications. The difference is the Start menu becoming the Start screen, the focal point of navigation. You’ll also note all of your Taskbar app icons have magically evaporated, and your new best friend, Cortana, is nowhere to be seen.
Clicking the upper-left icon opens a list of your most frequented apps, while a similar icon in the bottom-left, near the power icon, delivers your entire installed applications list for you to peruse.
You’ve entered the streamlined Tablet Mode, and Microsoft wants to deliver a discerningly different experience, while remaining incredibly familiar. I think it works quite nicely. Entering Tablet Mode on a tablet obviously positively shapes your user experience. Buttons resize, apps understand their environment, and your fingers become wands. It’s genesis may have been Windows 8, but it is a revelation in Windows 10.
Tablet Mode Settings
Tablet Mode does have a few tweakable settings, found by pressing Windows Key + I. You can magically ask Windows 10 not to hide your Taskbar app icons. Turn off the Hide app icons on the taskbar in tablet mode setting and they’ll stay right where they are during your next transition. Handy for users like me, who always pin to the Taskbar, but not so much the Start menu.
If you’re a frequent switcher, you can set which mode you’d like Windows 10 to use on Sign-in, like so:
Similarly, you can set Windows 10 to always ask your switching preference, never ask, or just to get on with it, like so:
Continuum on Windows Mobile
Continuum isn’t confined to Windows 10 laptops and hybrids. For instance, you can enable Tablet Mode on your desktop. I’m not sure why, but it has been somewhat interesting to see. Another big winner with the Continuum feature is Windows 10 Mobile.
Joe Belfiore illustrates how useful this feature can be for those with a Windows 10 Mobile, while simultaneously giving us an insight into just how well the Microsoft Office Universal Apps scale from phone screen to widescreen. Microsoft wants this feature to allow any screen to be a PC, and at a first glance (I don’t have a Windows 10 Mobile) Continuum/Universal Apps combination may well facilitate; are we looking at a serious rebuilding of Windows Mobiles?
It works very similarly to desktop/tablet Continuum. Attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and you’ll be met with options to scale your apps up to a desktop experience. Outlook expands into desktop Outlook with extra panels, losing the awkward and often time-consuming back button. Likewise, Excel becomes akin to Excel 2016, with much of the functionality of the desktop version present.
Microsoft appears to have another excellent feature here, really hammering home the ‘PC in your pocket’ message for new, old, casual, or enterprise users.
New Qualcomm Chip
Unfortunately, and I’m sure to make some children cry now, Continuum for the Windows 10 Mobile requires a nice, shiny, brand new Qualcomm chip. Especially if you want to make use of the multiscreen mode featured in the above video. It is also something Gabriel Aul has reiterated via Twitter, and this is largely due to the devices simultaneously powering two screens. The massive plus-side to this will be a setup allowing you to view a different activity on each screen i.e. you’re checking your emails on the big screen, while watching YouTube on your phone.
It’s been rumoured this feature will be powered by one Snapdragon 810 chip, and another Snapdragon 808 chip, both powerful 64-bit chipsets at the top of mobile performance, but there are no solid confirmations as yet. Of course, featuring two processors means two things: more heat, and more money, but we’ll wait and see.
Rounding Up the Continuum
Interestingly for me, Continuum feels like an old feature coming good after years of personal technological neglect. Why? Because it just works, just how it should. You unplug; it knows. You reconnect; it knows. Sometimes the best features are the small ones done well: Continuum is, as the Microsoft adverts would have you believe, an excellent new feature for Windows 10.