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Apple surprises developers with iOS 8's Metal graphics API and Swift programming language

Upgrade path from Objective-C and OpenGL
Apple surprises developers with iOS 8's Metal graphics API and Swift programming language
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In a surprise move, Apple has announced the iOS 8 SDK will contain two new development technologies.

Revealed in its WWDC 2014 keynote, Swift appears to be the longterm replacement for Objective-C, Apple's proprietary programming language for Mac OS X and iOS.

Designed to be compliable with Apple's Cocoa and Cocoa Touch APIs, Apple says Swift combines the efficiency of compiled languages (it uses the same compiler as Objective-C), with the flexibility of scripting languages.

In that context, Apple positively benchmarked the performance of tasks written in Swift to those written in Objective-C and industry-standard scripting language Python.

Swift is also said to "coexist" with Objective-C, meaning that developers can add code written in it to existing apps and programs.

Pedal to the metal

More radical, however, was the announcement of new graphics API Metal.

From the details provided in the keynote, this looks to be a replacement for the industry-standard OpenGL API, which Apple claims will result in a 10-time performance increase when it comes to tasks such as rendering.

Metal's features
Metal's features

Specifically, Metal is designed to work with iOS 8 and Apple's A7 chip, meaning it won't be backwards compatible in terms of running on older hardware.

Apple said it has been working with tools companies such as Unity, Epic and Crytek to ensure the technology is supported with their development engines and to limit fragmentation.

During the WWDC keynote, EA showed a demo of the console version of Plants & Zombies, which was developed in its console-focused Frostbite engine running on iPad, while Epic Games showcased an interactive technology demo called Zen Garden.

Epic's Tim Sweeney with Zen Garden
Epic's Tim Sweeney with Zen Garden

Developed using the Unreal Engine 4, this will be released onto the App Store when iOS 8 is made available to consumers later in 2014.

Finally, Apple said the iOS 8 SDK will feature its 2D casual game engine SceneKit, as well as enhancements such as per-pixel physics and inverse kinematics for its SpriteKit tool.