Microsoft shows how it wants apps to look on its new dual-screen computers

Key Points
  • Microsoft has a list of suggestions for developers to create apps that run properly on Windows 10X  laptop/tablets with two screens, like the upcoming Surface Neo.
  • Software developers may balk at doing extra work for a platform that doesn't have many users yet.
  • But Microsoft can lead the way by making its own flagship apps for the platform.
The dual-screen Surface Neo.

Microsoft recently showed off some examples of how it wants apps to look on new dual-screen computers that are coming this year.

Microsoft's first dual-screen Windows 10X computer, the Surface Neo, will launch ahead of the holidays this year, and partners like Lenovo have already announced similar products.

The design recommendations from Microsoft below show how the company is thinking about apps that run on two screens.

Take this image below, for example, which shows how Microsoft envisions a menu appearing on a computer with a divider between two screens. If a developer doesn't make the app properly, the pop-up could appear right where there's a screen gap.

Microsoft guidelines for Windows 10X

Microsoft makes a bunch of other suggestions to developers: Menus and other windows also should appear on either one side of the screen or the other, not in the middle.

Microsoft guidelines for Windows 10X

Also, if you have lots of columns, like in a spreadsheet, you should break it up so the middle of the spreadsheet doesn't get caught in the same area

Microsoft guidelines for Windows 10X

Suggestions, not requirements

Microsoft is hedging its bets by making these recommendations instead of requirements. If it required developers to revamp their apps , it would run the risk of app-makers just ignoring the platform completely. Software developers may balk at doing extra work for a platform that doesn't have many users yet.

But if developers just ignore the guidelines, that could create headaches for users. Imagine opening a game where there's just a big divider right down the middle blocking out stuff. Or opening an app like Slack where a bunch of the chat is just cut off. (I'm guessing Microsoft's competitor, Teams, will work just fine!)

There are areas where Microsoft has actual platform requirements for developers. The Windows App Store, for example, has very specific terms for apps that developers have to abide by. Microsoft could, under the rules, force new apps in the store to support two screens properly.

One rule for the Windows App Store is for "usability," for example. "Products should support the devices and platforms on which they are downloaded, including compatibility with the software, hardware and screen resolution requirements specified by the product."

Microsoft could also lead by example. If it shows off a really exciting version of one of its apps, like OneNote, for example, where you can draw on one side while seeing other open notes on the other, it might show consumers how and why these computers are powerful and unlike the laptops they already own.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold

But it's early yet. Microsoft may share more, including actual requirements, during its Developer Day online event on Feb. 11. In a blog post, Microsoft suggested it may have one potential solution in place already: "Your app by default will occupy a single screen, but users can span the app to cover both screens when the device [is open]."

Microsoft could potentially limit apps to running on only one screen if they aren't designed to work on two screens at once. That would at least alleviate some headaches for consumers.

Microsoft unveils Surface Neo two-screened laptop, for 2020 release