As Architosh noted shortly after the news came out at Apple’s WWDC, the introduction of Metal for Mac OS X was not without surprise. Architosh spoke with Neil Trevett, Vice President of Mobile Ecosystems, at NVIDIA and also President, Khronos Group, earlier in the year, when the Khronos Group unveiled the new low-level graphics API, Vulkan. And at that time the prospect of Metal for OS X was looming.
Apple First Out of the Gate
While Trevett was speaking to Architosh about the new Vulkan API, a brand new industry standard API designed to eventually replace OpenGL, when he said that “any new API takes time to be adopted in the industry and become widely used” he could have been speaking about Apple’s Metal as well.
To test that premise Architosh reached out to Nemetschek Vectorworks, the leader in CAD on the Mac, to gauge their reaction to Metel for OS X. Nemetschek Vectorworks’s chief technology officer, Dr. Biplab Sarkar had this to say: “I am very excited about the prospect of using the unified API (that combines OpenCL and OpenGL) in Vectorworks and enhancing the graphics performance.”
While admitting it is too early to know all the details, Dr. Sarkar believes Metal could be quite similar to Vulkan and its benefits.
But So Many CAD/3D Vendors Have Been Rewriting their OpenGL Engines
If Metal turns out to be very similar to Vulkan that would be a good thing. Those who follow the CAD and 3D industries closely may have been learning that in the past few years many vendors have been investing in entire rewrites of their OpenGL rendering engines. Recently Graphisoft redid their OpenGL engine for their latest ArchiCAD 19, released just a month ago.
Similarly, the formZ folks rewrote their OpenGL core code as well, for formZ 8. And so have the Vectorworks folks. In fact, Dr. Sarkar’s graphics team is two phases through a three phase massive development of its proprietary VGM (Vectorworks Graphics Module). “I am hoping that we can make use of the Metal API in VGM,” he told me earlier in the week.
Adobe, Autodesk and The Foundry
From the WWDC 2015 keynote this week we learned that Adobe is quite enthusiastic about Apple’s new Metal for OS X. And more importantly for the CAD and 3D markets, so is The Foundry and Autodesk, both makers of massive war chests of 3D and CAD tools running on Mac, Windows and Linux platforms.
Speaking of which…
How will Metal affect cross-platform development in the CAD and 3D markets going forward? That’s the 64 thousand dollar question.
Here’s something that the folks at Arandtech said today that was interesting. “Metal, despite being the third such low-level API to be introduced, was the first to reach production status. Microsoft’s DirectX 12 is arguably not there yet (Windows 10 is still in testing.)”
By “there yet” they clearly mean Metal on iOS, not OS X. Now here’s a little snippet from Wikipedia on Apple’s last proprietary attempt at a graphics API: QuickDraw 3D. “QuickDraw 3D had little impact in the computer market, both as a result of Apple’s beleaguered position in the mid-1990’s, as well as several fateful decisions made by the design team about the future of changes in the 3D hardware market that did not come true. Apple abandoned work on QD3D after Steve Jobs took over in 1998.”
Apple’s New Confidence in OS X
Unlike the late 90’s, Apple today is the largest technology company in the world and worth more than any other company on the planet. Still, those facts don’t change developer realities. Once again, Apple is using Adobe to demonstrate loyalties and to fan the flames for Apple’s latest development moves. Will this be enough to promote interest and adoption of Metal on OS X?
Adobe is one thing, what will be more promising is seeing Autodesk, The Foundry, Trimble, and Nemetschek AG’s many Mac programs and others all embrace Metal in short order.
If AutoCAD, Maya, Mari, NUKE, MODO, SketchUp, ArchiCAD, Vectorworks and Cinema 4D all come out to embrace Metal for OS X—then, as Judy Garland famously said in the film The Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Indeed. If Apple can not only beat the industry to a working, shipping, programmed-for low-level graphics API, but have the guts to go proprietary again on the desktop, then times have truly changed. This marks a milestone of sorts in Apple’s own confidence in OS X and its developers.
One Last Thing
Back in March, Trevett (from NVIDIA and Khronos Group) said, in reference to CAD and DCC (3D) developers, that “what CAD and DCC need for 3D graphics are, generally speaking, quite different.” Most CAD and DCC developers will continue to find OpenGL and OpenGL ES most useful for their software applications, while a minority of them will be quite interested in taking advantage of Vulkan.”
The reason why is because with less hardware abstraction, the programming skill required for writing for low-level API’s rises quite a bit. The trade-off between a high-level API like OpenGL and low-level API’s like Metal, Vulkan or DirectX 12, is nearly all the same: you trade away ease of programming and speed to market for more raw power.
For what’s its worth, the CAD community has been painfully attacked by the gaming community for holding back OpenGL development at the industry standards level. Unlike the game companies, CAD and DDC companies tend to lag in interest in pushing what is possible in the hardware. What matters most for their users, professionals getting work done, is application stability.