‘Compact Mode’ can’t fix the Xbox app. Here’s what could

Microsoft is testing a new “Compact Mode” for its Xbox app on Windows 11. This mode is currently available to Xbox Insiders, and it shrinks the sidebar in the Xbox app to provide a clearer view of the main window.

This isn’t a big deal in itself, but it’s clearly a move by Microsoft to make it easier to use Windows 11 on devices like the Asus ROG Ele and Lenovo Legion Go. It’s a step in the right direction, but we need more radical changes to the Xbox app if Microsoft has any hope of making it a destination for not only Xbox Game Pass, but also handheld PC gaming devices.

do it my way

The Death Stranding details screen displays how long to beat information in the Xbox app on PC.

A big part of the problem with the Xbox app currently is how cool it is. Microsoft’s approach to Xbox features on Windows has been to make them a one-stop shop for all your PC gaming needs. You have the Xbox app to launch your games, which you can do entirely with a controller, and the Xbox Game Bar to see your online friends, system status, achievements, and more. You can also press the Xbox button on your controller and pull up the game bar, just like on a console! What more could you want?

Any PC gamer knows that the pain outweighs the benefits of playing on Windows. PC gamers have to go through overlay conflicts with each other from different distribution services, and when you want your controller to control an app on Windows, Xbox takes over when you don’t want that. . Looks like Microsoft Wants The Xbox app is an inclusive solution for PC gaming, but it continues to ignore the many ways PC gamers play, leaving the app isolated from everything else and often creating conflict in the process .

The solution starts with the app recognizing that it is not, and never will be, a true all-in-one solution for PC gaming on Windows. The bulk of most PC players’ libraries are stored on Steam, and as we continue to see competitors like the Epic Games Store and publisher-exclusive launchers like EA Apps, the PC gamer’s library is only becoming more fragmented. Microsoft can bring them all together into a single, unified launcher by allowing you to add your other games to the Xbox app.

Xbox Game Bar display overlay.
Jacob Roach/

This would be a big boost for devices like the ROG Ellie, which are currently in a frustrating situation where you sometimes need to jump through multiple launchers to play games. If you can choose a launcher and play All Through this for your PC games, using Windows 11 on a handheld will be much less difficult. Desktops will also benefit from this, especially if you want to set up your PC on a TV and play with a controller.

The idea of ​​adding non-Xbox games to the Xbox app isn’t a crazy concept. Xbox is already integrated with Ubisoft Connect for EA apps and Game Pass titles, and platforms like Steam and GOG Galaxy allow you to add basically any program to your library. This is with the ironic exception of Xbox games. You can’t add Xbox games to Steam without a program like UWPHook. It’s decisions like this that make Xbox apps feel at war with themselves, on the one hand wanting to provide PC gamers with everything they need, while on the other hand unnecessarily restricting what you can do in your games. We do.

Microsoft’s approach with Xbox apps doesn’t seem that different from Microsoft’s approach to its Edge browser – not you passed To use Edge, but Microsoft will make sure you know it exists. A simple UI tweak as compact mode seems absolutely silly when you consider this huge issue with the Xbox app on Windows. It’s a step in the right direction, but we should expect more from an app that’s over four years old and comes from a $2 trillion company.

A dedicated game mode

Asus ROG Ele Handheld Side-by-Side.
Jacob Roach/

Support for non-Xbox games is a first step, but for the Xbox app to really shine on handhelds (and desktops for that matter), it needs to go further. Microsoft needs to bring the Xbox app to full-screen.

Currently, the Xbox app is just a single window. It’s a window that you can navigate with a controller, but it’s a window nonetheless. It’s not out of the question for Microsoft to add some kind of “Game Mode” to Windows 11, allowing you to instantly go to a full-screen view of the Xbox app without messing with or landing on the normal Windows login screen. Desktop.

This is exactly what’s been missing in Windows for handheld devices – something similar to Steam’s Big Picture Mode. I know a lot of people, including myself, who bypass the Xbox app altogether and use Steam Big Picture mode on the ROG Alley. Having something like this that you can launch directly when you start your PC would be a game changer.

However, it is important that such a feature comes after support for non-Xbox games. The full-screen version of the Xbox app only works if you don’t have to go to your desktop to launch other games, so we need support for other games in the Xbox app first. This is really what Windows is lacking for handheld devices, but it goes away if you’re limited to just Game Pass titles.

A step is still a step

Asus ROG associates with Windows lock screen.
Jacob Roach/

As much as I have issues with the Xbox app on Windows, I’m really happy to see Microsoft taking the handheld gaming experience a little more seriously with Compact Mode. This may be the bare minimum in terms of what we should expect from the app, but at least it’s something that improves the user experience.

Hopefully, Microsoft will continue that trend, and perhaps one day, Xbox apps will be a key part of not just handheld gaming PCs, but entire gaming PCs. That seems to be the goal. On the day Microsoft released Compact Mode to Xbox Insiders, it renewed its commitment to that community, highlighting that it wanted to “improve communication” and “about the first actionable steps in our plans.” I wanted to discuss more with everyone.” Most of all, the Insider team said it “can’t wait to show everyone what we have in store.”

This could mean that the compact mode is just a sign of a design change coming. I’m sure Microsoft is continuing to work on the Xbox app, but support for non-Xbox games and features like full-screen mode should be at the top of the priority list.

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