Apple’s Metal vs Android Gaming – Androidizen

Hi everyone. So here we are with a look at Apple’s big announcement. They announced Metal at their WWDC conference. Now what this basically is, is a way for games developers to reach the lower level of hardware without as much Open GL sitting in the way. Now the reason this is kind of important is because Apple has kind of stolen a march on Google here in the Android operating system. Apple have taken technology concepts which we’re becoming very familiar with in the traditional gaming space with, for instance, AMD’s Mantle technology and Microsoft’s push to DirectX 12 which will also provide what we call their Metal access to the GPU technology. That’s the bits that basically makes graphics work on a mobile device, games console or a PC. Now the reason Apple are doing this is quite simple. Open GL is a bit of a bloated mess. It’s been known as a bloated mess for a very very long time. DirectX is also a bloated mess. Now the idea here really is to get away from having an abstraction layer, a big thick, chunky abstraction layer getting in the way that basically means that every time a developer wants to do something on the GPU it first has to go through decades’ worth of cruft to get its instruction to the GPU, get a response back and do the processing on screen.

Now with Metal, games developers are able to basically send their information directly to the GPU program directly on the GPU and have that information returned to the screen and that is allowing for some truly stunning results. I am NOT joking when I say this is a watershed moment in mobile gaming. Now the reason we’re talking about this here is because, well, how will people respond? More importantly CAN Google respond with a fragmented ecosystem the way they do? The reason the likes of AMD, Microsoft and Apple are able to go for this bare Metal access is because they control their ecosystems to a certain extent. AMD for instance makes the Radeon style of graphics cards, popularised by ATI before they bought them. They control the hardware, they control the drivers and they control to a certain extent the Open GL DirectX that is operated on those cards. By providing a third path, a path that doesn’t have either Open GL or Direct 3D available that gives direct bare Metal access AMD can effectively tell developers, hey, if you do it like this, you will get this massive performance boost.

We’ve seen it before in other games, it’s worth a minimum 30% in some cases – a 30% performance boost over other techniques. That’s a watershed moment guys. Now, here’s our problem. Where everybody else is able to control the chip designs, the software layer and to a certain extent the way games developers are going to access those resources, for Google they’re kind of in a bit of a strange space. Yes they control the software implementation, but they have zero control over the hardware implementation and that’s where this kind of technique, this direct bare Metal access technique can really come into its own because we have the likes of Samsung, Qualcomm and a multitude of other processor design companies building ARM chips creating their designs based on ARM’s reference, the same way that Apple does.

We find ourselves in a strange situation where Google essentially has to get all of these hardware manufacturers to agree to a single principle, a single way to access those reference designs in hardware. I can’t see that is going to happen anytime soon in my opinion. Mostly because the fragmented nature of Android but also because, well, can you imagine trying to get four or five chip companies to all agree on a single way to handle GPU? It isn’t going to happen. There’s too much infighting within the Android ecosystem to ever see that happen. What I think we’ll find is Google will partner up with the likes of Samsung, likes of Qualcomm, to produce a single reference design for GPU, probably based on Krait or its next cousin as it were. Now if Google isn’t able to make that happen, what I’m afraid we’re going to see is really a two-tier gaming within the mobile space. You will have what Apple can do and what Google can do, and Google, I’m afraid, the Android ecosystem would be potentially 30-40% behind what Apple can do.

Now we’re not talking about raw frame rates here, what we’re really talking about is graphical fidelity. The number of polygons you can push around a screen the texture quality, the level of textures things like depth of field, bloom and everything like that. Essentially Apple is able to get very close to recreating console gaming graphics on their mobile paths. Google on the other hand may find itself unfortunately playing second fiddle for a fair while to come. We’re going to have to wait and see what happens at Google IO 2014. I do expect there to be some movement on graphics aspect but I don’t believe we’ll see Google move to a bare Metal process..

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