Windows 10: All you need to know about Continuum and why it's relevant for 2-in-1 users

(Read Part 4 of our series on Windows 10: Everyone's excited about Windows 10, but what's the real deal?)

With mobiles and tablets now regularly featuring higher resolution screens than desktops and laptops, and are closing the performance gap as well, the lines between different computing devices are blurring. We already have mobile phones and tablets that are a lot more powerful than the ARM-based Microsoft Surface devices that ran Windows RT.

(Also read: Is it worth upgrading to Windows 10?)

People tend to forget that Microsoft’s first touch-enabled OS was actually Windows 7, which supported multi-touch screens natively, and even included gestures for zooming, and browsing. It’s hard to call Windows 7 touch-friendly by any stretch. That honour goes to Windows 8.

Where Windows 8 went wrong

Windows 8 introduced a great touch UI, but managed to do so in a way that made its traditional non-touch interface tedious. It’s important to know where Windows 8 went wrong to understand how Windows 10 gets it right.

Microsoft Windows 8.1 updates

Windows 8 felt more like a tablet OS.

In a nutshell Windows 8 felt like a tablet OS and a desktop OS hastily glued together. If you could choose one to boot into on startup they would both fare better. As it stands though Microsoft integrated both aspects of the OS far enough to interfere with each other, but not far enough to work together.


With gestures and a pointer friendly approach, Windows 10 is a friendlier desktop OS.

It forced mouse users to use gestures and touch users to use the desktop. It has two different ways to switch between classic and Modern UI applications. The touch UI couldn’t work with desktop and the desktop UI couldn’t work with touch apps.

Where Windows 10 gets it right

Windows 10 introduces a new user experience that Microsoft calls Continuum. The idea behind it is that not only Windows applications but Windows itself should be able to adapt its interface to suit the form factor and inputs available on the device. Most importantly it should be able to do this at runtime. So a mobile or tablet should be able to move between a touch UI and a desktop UI smoothly.

(Also read: All you need to know about Windows 10)

After all the mobile device doesn’t really care if the 1920x1080 pixels it’s pushing are to a 5” mobile screen, 23” monitor or even a 40” TV. All that is needed is for the interface to adapt to the new screen dimensions and the new forms of input.

To that end users will notice a new ‘Tablet mode’ button that when clicked kicks in Continuum, transforming your UI to better suit a touch-based tablet. This transformation can be subtle in some cases, but is quite powerful.

Tablet mode

You’ll notice that the currently active window will maximise to take up the entire screen. For Modern UI apps even the title bar will be hidden to give maximum preference to the content area.

In this mode you can either run windows in full screen, or snap them next to each other. If you already had windows snapped next to each other, they will remain so, with the addition of a divider between them that lets you give one app more space then the other.

The task bar and system tray are cleared of all icons, the search bar contracts to a single search icon and a new back button appears next to the start button. The task view buttons and search buttons work the same, but the addition of the back button now allows you to navigate inside and between apps that support it. Finally the start menu now turns into a start screen, similar to the one in Windows 8, but with some differences in how it's laid out.

If you'd still like to see your task bar and system tray icons, Microsoft has you covered, you can enable these as well.

Expanding support for Continuum

Best of all, if your device supports it, removing your notepad’s keyboard will automatically switch it to tablet mode, while docking your tablet with a keyboard and mouse will switch to the desktop UI.

In fact, some of this is even possible with a mobile running Windows 10. Connecting it to a desktop screen will allow you to run supported apps like Microsoft Office in windowed, desktop mode, even from a phone. The phone can even turn into a trackpad and touch keyboard in this mode.

On the other side, application developers developing desktop apps for Windows 10 can detect if tablet mode is engaged and switch their UI to a touch-friendly one.

Continuum isn't a new idea, but Microsoft is the first to have something of the sort up and running in a way that you can use right now, and it just happens to work quite well. With increased support from application developers, it'll only get better with time.

(Read Part 6 of our series on Windows 10: Everything you need to know before you hit the upgrade button!)

Published Date: Jul 27, 2015 03:45 pm | Updated Date: Jul 27, 2015 03:45 pm