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Complete guide to Apple Metal, and what it means for Mac, iPad and iPhone gamers

Lou Hattersley | June 19, 2015
At WWDC 2015, Apple announced that its Metal graphics technology will be coming to Mac. But what is Metal, and what does its inclusion in OS X mean for Mac gamers?

It's the same story for multithreaded access. With the general purpose computing capabilities of Metal we'll start to see the A7 really shine in unexpected ways. Apps like Capo will be able to leverage the GPU on iOS as it does on OS X in order to accomplish software tasks that previously hadn't been possible.

Metal on iOS: benefits for all

Which is all well and good, of course, but what does this all mean from the perspective of an iOS device user? In some ways, advancements like Metal are similar to building the Large Hadron Collider - we actually don't know exactly what kind of opportunities we'll discover, but it's a brave new world and one that's full of possibilities.

In a more practical sense there are concrete benefits that users will certainly appreciate, including faster load times (due to better resource management, pre-compiled shaders, etc.), more detailed worlds (due to the faster draw calls, more stuff can happen or be drawn), and likely a ton of applications that can use the GPU as a computational platform.

Of course, none of these apps simply appear because Metal has been introduced. Developers will need to adopt the new system and write their software specifically for it. But, the good news on that front is that the major game companies on the iOS platform have already demonstrated their commitment. Both Unreal and Unity, the two biggest game engines, have announced support for Metal. So, even without developers investing in understanding and implementing an engine with Metal, many big games that use those systems will benefit from its improvements anyway.

Taking a step back from the technical details Metal also has interesting political implications. Apple is, as it often does when it can, taking its destiny into its own hands. Rather than be tied up with The Khronos Group (the body responsible for OpenGL and OpenCL), Apple is free to make changes to Metal as quickly as it would like, in order to continue to best address its hardware.

This is a big strategic move, because it signals that the company believes it has the developer base and enough devices in the field to forge its own path. It'd be hard to argue that it's wrong about that. It also signals that Apple's taking gaming more seriously than ever before. Apple has famously never had a great platform for gaming, but with iOS that has changed - and it appears that Apple is changing too. Metal and the investment Apple's made in its development and support shows that the company's now taking gaming very seriously, indeed.

None of this is to say that OpenGL (or OpenCL) will be going away or won't serve their own purposes. There are still many, many applications for which they're perfectly well suited. But Metal is a lower level, more accurate, model of modern chips like the A7. And once we start seeing apps that use Metal we'll start to see what the A7 is really capable of.

 

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