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iPhone 3D Programming by Philip Rideout

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Getting Started

Assuming you already have a Mac, the first step is to head over to Apple’s iPhone developer site and download the SDK. With only the free SDK in hand, you have the tools at your disposal to develop complex applications and even test them on the iPhone Simulator.

The iPhone Simulator cannot emulate certain features such as the accelerometer, nor does it perfectly reflect the iPhone’s implementation of OpenGL ES. For example, a physical iPhone cannot render anti-aliased lines using OpenGL’s smooth lines feature, but the simulator can. Conversely, there may be extensions that a physical iPhone supports that the simulator does not. (Incidentally, we’ll discuss how to work around the anti-aliasing limitation later in this book.)

Having said all that, you do not need to own an iPhone to use this book. I’ve ensured that every code sample either runs against the simulator or at least fails gracefully in the rare case where it leverages a feature not supported on the simulator.

If you do own an iPhone and are willing to cough up a reasonable fee ($100 at the time of this writing), you can join Apple’s iPhone Developer Program to enable deployment to a physical iPhone. When I did this, it was not a painful process, and Apple granted me approval almost immediately. If the approval process takes longer in your case, I suggest forging ahead with the simulator while you wait. I actually use the simulator for most of my day-to-day development anyway, since it provides a much faster debug-build-run turnaround than deploying to my device.

The remainder of this chapter is written in a tutorial style. Be aware that some of the steps may vary slightly from what’s written, depending on the versions of the tools that you’re using. These minor deviations most likely pertain to specific actions within the Xcode UI; for example, a menu might be renamed or shifted in future versions. However, the actual sample code is relatively future-proof.

Installing the iPhone SDK

You can download the iPhone SDK from here:


It’s packaged as a .dmg file, Apple’s standard disk image format. After you download it, it should automatically open in a Finder window—if it doesn’t, you can find its disk icon on the desktop and open it from there. The contents of the disk image usually consist of an “about” PDF, a Packages subfolder, and an installation package, whose icon resembles a cardboard box. Open the installer and follow the steps. When confirming the subset of components to install, simply accept the defaults. When you’re done, you can “eject” the disk image to remove it from the desktop.

As an Apple developer, Xcode will become your home base. I recommend dragging it to your Dock at the bottom of the screen. You’ll find Xcode in /Developer/Applications/Xcode.


If you’re coming from a PC background, Mac’s windowing system may seem difficult to organize at first. I highly recommend the Exposé and Spaces desktop managers that are built into Mac OS X. Exposé lets you switch between windows using an intuitive “spread-out” view. Spaces can be used to organize your windows into multiple virtual desktops. I’ve used several virtual desktop managers on Windows, and in my opinion Spaces beats them all hands down.

Building the OpenGL Template Application with Xcode

When running Xcode for the first time, it presents you with a Welcome to Xcode dialog. Click the Create a new Xcode project button. (If you have the welcome dialog turned off, go to FileNew Project.) Now you’ll be presented with the dialog shown in Figure 1-2, consisting of a collection of templates. The template we’re interested in is OpenGL ES Application, under the iPhone OS heading. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a fully functional OpenGL application and serves as a decent starting point.

New Project dialog

Figure 1-2. New Project dialog

In the next dialog, choose a goofy name for your application, and then you’ll finally see Xcode’s main window. Build and run the application by selecting Build and Run from the Build menu or by pressing ⌘-Return. When the build finishes, you should see the iPhone Simulator pop up with a moving square in the middle, as in Figure 1-3. When you’re done gawking at this amazing application, press ⌘-Q to quit.

OpenGL ES Application template

Figure 1-3. OpenGL ES Application template

Deploying to Your Real iPhone

This is not required for development, but if you want to deploy your application to a physical device, you should sign up for Apple’s iPhone Developer Program. This enables you to provision your iPhone for developer builds, in addition to the usual software you get from the App Store. Provisioning is a somewhat laborious process, but thankfully it needs to be done only once per device. Apple has now made it reasonably straightforward by providing a Provisioning Assistant applet that walks you through the process. You’ll find this applet after logging into the iPhone Dev Center and entering the iPhone Developer Program Portal.

When your iPhone has been provisioned properly, you should be able to see it in Xcode’s Organizer window (Control-⌘-O). Open up the Provisioning Profiles tree node in the left pane, and make sure your device is listed.

Now you can go back to Xcode’s main window, open the Overview combo box in the upper-left corner, and choose the latest SDK that has the Device prefix. The next time you build and run (⌘-Return), the moving square should appear on your iPhone.

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