Despite being disparaged by practically everyone, Microsoft’s Windows 8 has left a mark on the personal computing landscape by creating a new product category, the 2-in-1. A 2-in-1 tablet (or laptop) looks like a laptop computer, but you can separate the monitor from the keyboard.
Key to 2-in-1s is that the “guts” of the computer (processor, memory, and storage) and battery co-exist with the monitor so that it can function as a standalone tablet. The keyboard portion has no intelligence, and therefore you see very thin keyboards like Microsoft’s Type Cover for the Surface and more traditional looking keyboards like the one with the ASUS Transformer book.
I think computer manufacturers came up with 2-in-1s because they recognized that users expect computers running Windows to have a keyboard. Further, because there were so few Modern UI apps, users are most likely going to run “full” Windows desktop apps that require keyboards and a mouse or trackpad.
Continuum is a feature in Windows 10 that appears targeted at the dual-personality of 2-in-1 computers. The idea is that when a keyboard is attached to a 2-in-1, a user will want Windows to run in desktop mode, so Continuum automatically switches to desktop mode when you attach a keyboard. Desktop mode, as shown to the right, is the traditional Windows desktop with re-sizable windows and the new Windows 10 start menu.
Conversely, if you detach the tablet from the keyboard, Continuum assumes you want to run Windows in tablet mode, and so it automatically switches to tablet mode. Tablet mode displays a start screen, as shown to the left, and apps display maximized or full screen.
Continuum works as advertised on my Surface 3. When I detach the tablet from the Type Cover, Windows automatically switches to tablet mode. When I attach the tablet to the Type Cover, Windows automatically switches to desktop mode. I can manually switch between modes by tapping a button at the bottom of the Action Center.
I also use the Surface 3 with a Logitech K480 bluetooth keyboard, and the first time I connected the K480 to the Surface 3 I expected Windows to switch to desktop mode, but it did not. Apparently Continuum knows nothing of bluetooth devices. Why should a bluetooth keyboard be any different than a physically attached keyboard? If I connect a bluetooth mouse to a Windows tablet, isn’t that the surest sign that I plan to use it and will not use touch and therefore prefer desktop mode?
My recommendation to Microsoft is to make Continuum work like the Trusted Devices feature of Android 5.x, “Lollipop.” Trusted devices monitors bluetooth and when it detects that the phone has been paired with a new bluetooth device, it asks whether the user wants to treat it as a trusted device. If you select Yes, every time you connect that device to the phone and then enter your PIN or password, the device will by-pass that lock screen as long as the device remains attached.
I think Continuum ought to monitor for new bluetooth pairs, and when a new keyboard or mouse is attached ask the user whether they want to use Windows in desktop or tablet mode. Doing so will enable the user to tailor how they use Windows whenever a mouse or keyboard is attached, regardless of how it is attached.
Windows has long supported the use of bluetooth keyboard and mice, and people have been using bluetooth keyboards with tablets almost as long as there has been tablets. Continuum ought to support whatever keyboard options that a user choose to buy and not be biased towards 2-in-1s. After all, the Type Cover is not bundled with the Surface and a user may prefer a lower-priced bluetooth keyboard.