Apple supercharges iOS gaming with Metal

With new developer tools, Apple pushes the capabilities of mobile gaming for both casual and hard-core titles.

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Tim Stevens/CNET

Apple unveiled a powerful new developer tool -- Metal -- onstage Monday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. The company is aiming to elevate its gaming offerings, with speedier performance and more graphically intensive titles that will more efficiently use its iPhone and iPad hardware with the release of iOS 8, its next mobile operating system, this fall.

With Metal, Apple hopes to replace the industry-standard 3D-graphics API (application programming interface), called OpenGL, with its own development API that sits between the game software and Apple's A7 mobile chip. The A7 present in its iPhone 5S handset and iPad Air and latest iPad Mini tablets brought, at the time of its unveiling last fall, an unprecedented 64-bit architecture to the world of mobile games.

However, that boost has remained largely untapped without a developer platform to utilize the A7 and squeeze a noticeable jump in performance and graphics from its GPU. That's what Apple is trying to deliver with Metal.

Onstage, Craig Federighi, Apple's software head, said Metal can provide up call rates at up to 10 times current speeds and substantially less overhead when compared with OpenGL. In non-developer speak, that means games are not as bogged down by the API and can access more of the A7's horsepower.

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Tim Stevens/CNET

To demo Metal, Apple brought up Epic Games co-founder and CEO Tim Sweeney. Epic, makers of the widely used Unreal Engine powering numerous console and PC games, from Gears of War to Bioshock, is also Apple's longtime partner on its mobile front as the developer behind the popular Infinity Blade iOS series.

Sweeney called Metal's tenfold increase in rendering efficiency a "stunning breakthrough." An Epic employee demonstrated it on an interactive zen garden app, which Epic will release for free this fall alongside iOS 8.

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Tim Stevens/CNET

However, whether or not Metal will become a ubiquitous graphics API tool in mobile game development, like OpenGL, will depend more on its accessibility and usefulness to mainstream apps, like Epic's Infinity Blade for instance, than those of static environments like Zen Garden.

 

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