Now that iOS 8 and the new iPhones have shipped, mobile gaming is about to get HUGE. Why? Because of a new Apple technology called Metal. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Metal?
At its most basic, Metal the name of a new iOS API for developers enables them to create games of console quality that run on your iPhone and iPad. The name “Metal” is derived from a phrase many developers use –– “close to the metal” –– that means code runs on top of the hardware (the metal), or as close as possible without the need for a bunch of extra graphics commands.
Before iOS 8, the games you were running were separated from the A7 and its graphics processor by OpenGL ES. OpenGL ES takes the code of a game and translates it into graphics commands, which are then sent to the processors, which then display your game on screen. Though OpenGL ES is relatively powerful, this extra layer means games load more slowly and also that OpenGL ES could never support the types of graphics we are used to seeing on consoles. That all changes with Metal.
What does Metal do?
Here’s Apple’s soundbite on Metal: “Metal is a new technology that allows them to squeeze maximum performance from the A7 and A8 chips. It’s optimised to allow the CPU and GPU to work together to achieve optimal performance.”
So what does that mean?
In iOS 8, games that are written for Metal will use it instead of OpenGL ES to take the code of a game and translate it into graphics commands faster –– and with less work –– than before, meaning developers can use more of the raw horsepower of the GPU in your iOS device to render graphics. Matter of fact, Apple says games that use Metal will be able to render graphics up to ten times faster than OpenGL ES.
This means your games will load quicker and they’ll be more responsive and feature mind bogglingly rendered environments. Sure, don’t expect PS4 quality just yet, but PS3? You bet!
What are the device requirements for Metal?
When Apple introduced Metal at WWDC this year it revealed Metal was built for the A7. Naturally, since the new iPhone’s use the next generation A8 chip, Metal is also built for them as well. Since only the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display sport an A7 or A8 chip, those are the only devices that can take advantage of Metal.
However, a game written in Metal can run on any device running iOS 8 just fine (like the iPhone 5c). You just won’t get any of the graphics benefits if those devices don’t have the A7 chip or later.
Does Metal impact battery life?
You would think that more powerful graphics performance means Metal would eat through your battery quicker, but Apple says Metal actually gives you a better battery life because it does away with the extra processes OpenGL ES uses. Since your devices need to run through fewer commands, battery life is saved even though your graphics are much better.
Is Metal only useful for games?
Nope, any app that uses the CPU and GPU can benefit from Metal, such as photo and video apps. So while it’s mainly for games, the technology is useful for other apps too.
Does Android or Windows Phone have something similar?
Yeah. Google is working on a new feature in Android L called the Android Extension Pack, which allows developers to bring better compressors and shaders to games. AMD also has a technology called Mantle and Microsoft has DirectX 12, both of which seek to accomplish similar things to Metal.
What could Metal hint at?
Well, it proves that Apple is taking gaming on iOS VERY seriously. There is also a lot of speculation that Metal on iOS could be a road test for bringing Metal to the next-generation Apple TV. Rumours abound that the next version of Apple’s set top box will sport its own App Store and you know this will include games.
The current Apple TV still uses the A5 chip, but if Apple puts an A8 in the next one, thanks to Metal, games running on the Apple TV could be as good as the ones found on the PS3. If I were a betting man, I’d say there’s a 90% chance of Metal and gaming being a key feature of the next Apple TV.
What games use Metal?
Check back in a bit! We’ll have a complete roundup of the best Metal games soon!
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