My Examination of the vapor bridge is live, but even at 5500 words it barely examines the raw potential of Valve’s laptop. Which means it’s time to really dig and explore. Just hours before the review embargo was lifted, as the press frantically edited articles and videos, Valve added Major Functionality. One such feature that might be overlooked in reviews is a “Non-Steam” tab combined with 1-click app installs.
The potential for this unique feature to unlock the raw versatility of Steam Deck is enormous. Let’s examine why.
What is a “Non-Steam” tab?
You’re probably familiar with adding non-Steam games or software to Steam via a shortcut dialog, right? Well, the Non-Steam tab on Deck collects all the apps you’ve added in “desktop mode” (the full desktop Linux experience with Arch and KDE Plasma). It can be anything from Firefox to Lutris to a Nintendo Switch emulator like Yuzu.
But I suspect that normal users who want to enjoy Steam Deck primarily as a console won’t even want to touch desktop mode, especially if they’re unfamiliar with Linux. So what excites me the most is the existence of one-click installs in this “Non-Steam” tab. The first app available is a custom app Flat pencil case version of Google Chrome. As you’d expect, it offers a full desktop browsing experience within the Steam Deck UI.
Chrome on Deck: your gateway to cloud gaming
That means more cool features like launching a YouTube video to listen to while you play Ring of Elden, Google Chrome is also your gateway to cloud gaming on Deck. Valve has worked with Google and Microsoft to ensure Steam Deck controller inputs are recognized by Chrome, likely for use with Stadia and Xbox Cloud Gaming. (Valve didn’t explicitly mention services.)
Modern consoles should provide software beyond games, and it should be easy to switch between running apps. I’m happy to report that it’s super easy on Deck. Just press the Steam button and you’ll see your currently active software and games at the top. (And yes, you can play an idle game while playing a real game.)
It’s very convenient because I can launch Chrome, browse YouTube, start a music playlist, or listen to a podcast like On the bridgethen start playing my game again.
To see this in action, watch this short video:
Heroic, Netflix, Spotify, Discord? So many possibilities!
These one-click installs have so much potential. They remove all complexity for the average user; especially those unfamiliar with a traditional Linux desktop or its package management systems. And they open the door to better multitasking, more features, and easily accessible game libraries.
Imagine Heroic (an open-source alternative to the Epic Games launcher) being available at the click of a button, especially with its new controller-based navigation capability. Boom! There’s your entire Epic Games library, available without leaving the Steam Deck UI.
What about Spotify or Lollypop for music? How about Discord to chat with your friends during gaming sessions?
Plex already has a native Linux app, but a one-click version for Steam Deck would be absolutely brilliant. Twitch would also be a wonderful addition.
The possibilities are limitless.
How can app developers take advantage of this?
The best way to prepare for this is to ensure that your application is packaged and distributed as a Flatpak. Once that’s done, most of your work is probably done.
I reached out to Valve to specifically ask what developers can do to get their apps onto Steam Deck with just one click. Valve surely has a procedure, but they don’t share it yet. The response I received was “we will have more information on this soon”.
Rest assured that I will write it when the answer comes.