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Apple brings 'Metal' graphics optimization tech to iOS 8
Apple brings 'Metal' graphics optimization tech to iOS 8
June 2, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Today in San Francisco at its annual WWDC conference, Apple has unveiled a new graphics technology to better power game graphics on its iOS devices. Called Metal, it's a proprietary technology that, according to Apple, drastically reduces processing overhead as compared to systems like OpenGL, offering vastly better performance.

Metal will launch alongside iOS 8, which is due this fall. It is designed to work with the Apple A7 chip, which powers the iPhone 5S, and current iPad Air and iPad Mini tablets.

The tech has reportedly been developed in cooperation with engine and game companies such as Unity, Crytek, EA, and Epic Games, Re/code reports. Epic Games' Tim Sweeney took the stage at WWDC to demonstrate an Unreal Engine 4 "Zen Garden" demo created using Metal, which will be distributed on the App Store alongside the upcoming iOS 8.

Metal has also been incorporated in the mobile version of Crytek's CryEngine and EA's Frostbite, reports MacRumors. Unity is also supporting Metal. Here's the reaction from its official Twitter:

Apple has updated its official site with a tidbit on Metal, which reads in part: "Metal is a new technology that will allow [developers] to squeeze maximum performance from the A7 chip. Itís optimized to allow the CPU and GPU to work together to achieve optimal performance. Itís designed for multithreading, and there are great tools for putting it all together in Xcode."

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SD Marlow
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So, it's like AMD's Mantle. Wonder if Apple plans to release an A7 based micro-console by the end of the year? (iPad TV, or just iV, lol)

Brad Borne
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Baffling that this isn't for Macs with how abysmal the OpenGL drivers are in OS X. Would be nice to one day not have to boot into Windows just to get decent performance in a game.

Adam Campbell
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Not really.

Apple wouldn't create a proprietary API for Nvidia and Intel chips - too much work, too much variation, and IP they don't have access to.

Wendelin Reich
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@Adam: Thats interesting, 'cause it would suggest that Apple has a strategic interest in emphasizing its iOS/A7 devices (and their successors) as its premier gaming platform.

Given what people like Tim Sweeney have said about the Nvidia's Tegra K1 chip ("didnt expect mobile graphics to reach this level for another 3 years"), that wouldnt even sound far-fetched.

What do you think?

Robert Green
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Apple probably have a strategic interest in emphasizing iOS as its premier everything platform. They try to present both platforms on stage as if they're equals, but in terms of users it's no contest.
Adam is right though - this is likely the sort of thing you only do if you own the chip. And that's a really interesting turn of events in itself. Back in the early days of GPU's, there were a bunch of competing API's, then everything got standardised around OpenGL and DirectX, and now all of a sudden we're seeing people want to start developing proprietary API's for competitive advantage again. I wonder if this all turns out to be cyclical? Or perhaps, if enough people are relying on engines like Unreal and Unity for their development, the average team won't really be dealing with graphics API's anyway, so it won't matter.

Adam Campbell
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"Or perhaps, if enough people are relying on engines like Unreal and Unity for their development, the average team won't really be dealing with graphics API's anyway, so it won't matter."

Bingo! I think the rise of multi-platform middle-ware here is a huge factor. Deploy to PS3, Deploy to Mantle, Deploy to WiiU, Deploy to Metal. Developers are almost completely abstracted away from the API now if you're using one of these many great engines.

Adam Campbell
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I agree. The only reason I'd imagine a 'hardware manufacturer' engineering a close to the metal API is to emphasize its performance for demanding 3D applications i.e. games. Whether its a console manufactuer like Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo - or those with their own chips i.e AMD, Apple.

iOS devices are effectively consoles, with very consistent architecture and tightly controlled software - 'Metal' is a great fit for here especially as they appear to be getting more and more serious about gaming and getting a leg up on performance. Even if a slightly more power Snapdragon, Tegra or Exynos for example comes along, it will probably have huge overheads on Android.

As for the K1, even without super optimised, low level APIs, its interesting to think it can potentially outperform the Intel HD 4000 GPU from last year, a common feature in many ultrabooks and Macs.

Karl Schmidt
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Actually Apple has full control over the Intel OSX drivers. But I would guess that gaming on iOS devices generates a lot more money than gaming on OSX.

Stefan Johansson
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Apple do actually have shared ownership of the PowerVR chip as they are a large shareholder in "Imagination Technologies" which also owns the MIPS processor architecture.