At WWDC ’14, Apple gave viewers their first look at the future of Operating Systems in the form of OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. While many are eagerly anticipating the launch of new Apple hardware in 2014 — presumably the iPhone 6 and a new generation of iPad — this particular presentation was focused solely on software.
From a smartphone user’s perspective, iOS 8 offers a wealth of useful new features, like the iCloud Drive for storing files (photos, video, etc), a smarter messaging application, better predictive typing, FamilySharing for paid apps, music, and other downloads, and a new Health app. In essence, the iOS 8 update bridges the gap between Apple and Android devices, while eliminating the use for some secondary apps/services like DropBox.
And although both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 look to offer unique advantages to iPhone and Mac users, for our purposes we want to talk about Metal. No, not that metal; Metal is a new iOS technology that will give mobile developers more power than they’ve ever had before.
As Apple’s Craig Federighi explained, Metal gives developers access to greater (about 10-times greater) rendering efficiency with the same chips, in this case the A7 chips that power the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air, and the second-gen iPad mini. This is important for game development because it reportedly gives developers the tools to create more immersive and impressive experiences without waiting for the next generation of iOS devices.
Apple is working closely with premiere developers and platforms like EA, Crytek, Unity, and Epic Games to ensure Metal gets the attention it needs. It’s obviously very theoretical at this point and most of the info Fedrighi detailed was technical in nature, but there was one demo for Metal that did enough to show how the promise of the tech will likely not disappoint.
After some general bookkeeping about Metal, Epic Games‘ Tim Sweeney took the stage to show off an interactive experience they’re calling Zen Garden. As you might expect, the app is an interactive garden complete with coy pond, Japanese rock garden, and cherry blossom tree. But what was most impressive about the Zen Garden demo was the detail.
From the numerous petals floating in the wind to the way the grains of sand deformed to specific motions, the Zen Garden demo showed that Metal is capable of suitably upping the ante as far as visuals and rendering detail are concerned. Granted, it’s likely going to take more than a Zen Garden to get casual gamers excited, but for a first look the demo showed promise for the tech.
While Metal was just one piece to a big Apple announcement, the promise of the new mobile-focused tech is certainly there. If mobile devices are to rival the console experience, even in the slightest, more power is going to be necessary, and Metal is the first step towards that goal.
What do you think of Metal? How would you like to see Apple improve support for mobile gaming?
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