Apple introduced the new A17 Pro silicon on the iPhone 15 Pro, which features a new Pro-class 6-Core GPU. Apple emphasized how it significantly improves the graphics rendering, and a crucial factor is the new ray tracing mechanism. In this article, we want to show you everything you need to know about the hardware ray tracing on the iPhone 15 Pro.
Fun fact, Apple planned to integrate hardware ray tracing on the A16 Bionic with last year’s iPhone 14 Pro but pulled the plug at the very last moment. Apple has added the feature this year and claims that this hardware ray tracing will bring a monumental change to gaming with the iPhone. But what’s the deal with ray tracing, and why does it even matter? Let’s find out!
What Is Ray Tracing in Gaming
Ray tracing is a technique used to generate realistic visuals in video games and virtual environments. This technique simulates how light interacts with all the objects in the virtual environment. Instead of approximating how light behaves in the virtual environment, ray tracing follows the path of individual rays of light as they travel through the scene. Ray tracing is widely used in 3D environments for its ability to render stunning visuals that closely mimic the behavior of light in the real world.
How Does Ray Tracing Work
Ray tracing imagines numerous light rays and the entire path they travel as they go out from a source, say a virtual camera, through a 2D plane into the 3D environment, and back to the source.
These rays bounce around the objects, pass through objects, or even be blocked by objects – just like how rays of light behave around such objects in the real world. As they interact with objects, the light rays collect information about what they hit and see. Lastly, these light rays are traced back to the source, and the information is gathered and processed to produce the visual on your screen.
Here’s an illustration developed by Nvidia that does a good job of explaining the concept:
How Is Hardware-Based Ray Tracing on the A17 Pro Different
Ray tracing is an intensive task, and it requires a significant amount of processing power. Until the launch of the iPhone 15 Pro, the high-quality, realistic visuals were only made possible with software-accelerated ray tracing. There was no specialized component within the GPU for ray tracing, and the existing hardware was used to accelerate the software ray tracing algorithms.
However, calculations and approximations made on software-based ray tracing are much slower than hardware-accelerated ray tracing. Therefore, the quality of renders in a software-based ray tracing mechanism is often less accurate and less realistic.
With the launch of A17 Pro, Apple introduced hardware-accelerated ray tracing for the first time on an iPhone. While we can’t wait to get our hands on the new iPhone and experience it firsthand, we were able to catch a glimpse of the feature and how the new ray tracing mechanism is different during the launch.
Apple shows a comparison where ray tracing is approximated by cube maps – which is a 2D representation of a 3D environment used to simulate reflections and lighting effects on objects in a scene. However, with hardware-accelerated ray tracing, the visuals – mainly shadows, object illumination, and light reflections seem far more accurate.
Further, the graphics performance with ray tracing on the A17 Pro does not take a hit, and the frame rates are considerably smoother.
Additionally, the A17 Pro is power efficient and performs ray tracing that is four times faster than the software-based ray tracing on the A16 Bionic. However, if this seems like an innovation in the smartphone industry brought in by Apple, you’re wrong.
A17 Pro Has Competition: Smartphones With Hardware Ray Tracing
In 2022, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform with hardware ray tracing support. Along with Qualcomm, MediaTek also announced ray tracing with their Dimensity 9200 Chipset and Samsung with their Exynos 2200 chipset.
Popular smartphones that feature these chipsets include the Samsung Galaxy S23 Series, OnePlus 11, Xiaomi 13 Pro, Oppo Find X6, and more.
However, Apple boldly claims with the A17 Pro CPU that it offers the best gaming performance among all smartphones. We’ll know more once we get our hands on the iPhone 15 Pro.
Apple has joined the ray tracing bandwagon with other big names, and this feature seems to be a norm on most flagships in 2023 – but how does it impact mobile gaming? Let’s understand.
How Will Hardware Ray Tracing Impact Mobile Gaming
Hardware-accelerated ray tracing on smartphones will undoubtedly result in a more realistic and immersive visual experience while gaming. However, it would be unfair to expect console-level accuracy and detail regarding visuals, even with hardware-accelerated ray tracing on smartphones.
Moreover, ray tracing is a spectrum – an entire scene may be rendered with ray tracing, or only a few parts of the scene may be rendered with ray tracing. However, we can expect accurate shadows and reflections for less demanding visual components within a 3D scene.
With the first-generation processors with ray tracing, a fair expectation would be to render basic to decent-quality shadows, illuminations, and reflections. In the coming days, we’ll understand if ray tracing on the iPhone 15 Pro is as good as Apple claims and if there is a shift in the benchmark.
What’s worth noting is that when ray tracing was announced on the Snapgragon 8 Gen 2, no companion games that supported ray tracing were featured. But with the launch of the A17 Pro, we saw many titles that take advantage of the new hardware on the iPhone 15 Pro – thus providing an outlook on the future of gaming on the iPhone.
If you have any further questions, look at the FAQ section below.
FAQs on Ray Tracing in Apple A17 Pro
No. Ray tracing will only be available on games that use the hardware or the ray tracing algorithm on your smartphone.
No. Hardware-based ray tracing is not available on the iPhone 15.
Yes, ray tracing will lower the frame rate than normal since it demands additional hardware resources. However, a dedicated hardware component for ray tracing on the A17 Pro will ensure a smoother frame rate.
A New Era for Gaming on the iPhone
That is everything you need to know about ray tracing in A17 Pro on the iPhone 15 Pro. Based on what Apple showed us in the launch event, it is fair to say that we are heading towards a new landscape for gaming on the iPhone.