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iPhone 3GS SGX GPU to cause game coding headaches?

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By Charles Starrett

Contributing Editor
Published: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
News Categories: iPhone

The new iPhone 3GS contains a PowerVR SGX graphics core, according to a new report, which also suggests that the new OpenGL ES 2.0 features may cause difficulties for game developers. Citing people familiar with the matter, AppleInsider reports that the new iPhone contains the new PowerVR SGX chip from Imagination Technologies, which has been integrated into the handset’s system-on-a-chip, manufactured by Samsung. Prior reports had suggested that an “international electronics systems company” had licensed the SGX technology for its own use in a multi-use, multi-year deal. It was later revealed that Apple had bought 8 million shares, or a 3% stake, in Imagination, further evidence of a relationship between the two companies.

The new SGX technology enables OpenGL ES 2.0-specific rendering features, including programmable shaders, while maintaining support for OpenGL ES 1.1 fixed-function rendering. However, games written to take specific advantage of the iPhone 3GS’s OpenGL ES 2.0 capabilities will need to contain two codebases, one for OpenGL ES 2.0 and one for 1.1, or break compatibility with older devices. This creates obvious difficulties for smaller developers who may not have the resources to create both sets of code; it also makes it less likely that currently-available games will be updated to take advantage of the iPhone 3GS hardware, as the financial benefits will most likely not be able to make up for the development time spent.

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Comments

1

This had to happen sometime. Continuous hardware improvements always allow new applications to take advantage of features unavailable to older hardware. We saw this with games that had seperate iPod 5G and iPod classic versions, there was never any doubt to me that it would happen with iPhones as well.

In my mind the bigger issue that needs to be raised now, is how can older iPhone users be sure that the apps they are looking at are compatible with their hardware. iTunes will need to be able to filter out apps that aren’t compatable or else it will be a huge mess and lots of disappointed customers.

Posted by Ryan on June 10, 2009 at 8:45 AM (PDT)

2

From the iPhone 3GS announcement, this isn’t a big surprise. With not updating the Touch at the same time and having a high upgrade price to the iPhone 3GS, Apple must have been quite aware that they would create a split.

I suspect that, for quite some time, the number of older iPhone and iPod Touch users will far outweigh the number of iPhone 3GS users. That might make it unattractive for many, if not most, devs to use any of the new iPhone’s tricks.

Posted by Beef Jerky on June 10, 2009 at 9:13 AM (PDT)

3

Nothing new.. This is called software development.. Developer deal with runnng on different hardware and enabling different features every day…

Posted by Ralph on June 10, 2009 at 9:45 AM (PDT)

4

#1, yes. Just note that the iPod classic + nano 3G games actually were downgraded from the prior iPod 5G versions, which is different than in the present case.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM (PDT)

5

Welcome to the world of Apple. Apple changes hardware technology often: Mostek 6502 to Motorola 68000 to AIM PowerPC to Intel, ADB to USB, NuBUS…, SCSI…, Firewire…, etc.

Apple knows how to pull it off, and how to help developers make the transition. That’s what WWDC is for, and that’s why this year’s WWDC is a sellout.

Posted by Steve W on June 10, 2009 at 10:48 AM (PDT)

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