Vulkan Graphics API: what is it and why should I care?


What is Vulkan?

Presented for the first time in 2015, Vulkan is a 3D graphics platform developed and published by Khronos Group. This application is intended for everyone but it is focused on developers who will use it to produce 3D content, be it for applications, video games or other interactive platforms.

What will happen to OpenGL ES, the platform which already fulfils this role on Android? To answer simply, OpenGL ES will gradually be replaced by Vulkan API, starting with current high-end products and moving on to new smartphones down the line.

comparative test Samsung Galaxy S6 edge vs galaxy s7 edge vulkan picture 00
Vulkan, the new API which looks to replace OpenGL. / © AndroidPIT / Samsung

What are the benefits of Vulkan?

The truth is that Vulkan has many strengths, but let’s focus on the most smartphone-relevant. The first big news is that Vulkan looks to reduce the overload on different chips and, therefore, allow the CPU to process data more smoothly.

Thus, progress made with Vulkan will help to improve not just graphics, but device performance overall, as it could alleviate the load demands placed on processors.  

Additionally, Vulkan employs a simple, unified language, which will reduce the problems porting games from one platform to another (like from Windows to Android); something that should make life easier for game developers. 

The final major advantage? It’s going to improve the graphical capabilities of Android games and devices. 

vulkan lab Mali
A demo image created using the Vulkan API. / © ARM

What role does Google play in this?

Google intended to bring the platform to Android Marshmallow in 2015, but this plan was eventually shelved (presumably due to time constraints). Now, with the announcement of Vulkan’s compatibility with the new Samsung flagships, it seems that Google has not forgotten the API.

The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are the devices which open the way for Vulkan 

For now, only Samsung has announced Vulkan compatibility, but this exclusivity is surely limited. Looking across the playing field, we can see that many upcoming flagship are set to feature the Snapdragon 820, which will be natively compatible with Vulkan.

At MWC 2016, Samsung flaunted Vulkan compatibility by producing a magnificent graphics demonstration led by Tim Sweeney, who is CEO of the famous American games studio Epic Games. That said, it’s unclear what variant of the Galaxy S7 (the Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890) this demonstration was presented on.

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