Apple & Pros

July 01, 2011

So, FCP X happened.

That is: Apple released a product called Final Cut Pro X, which they market as a major upgrade to version 7. But both technologically and spiritually, it’s more of a new product than an evolution, and unfortunately, that’s not universally regarded as a good thing. Accusations are made, refunds are demanded (and, in some cases, granted — despite a sales-are-final policy), petitions are signed (crickets), and everyone is suddenly an expert on video editing; particularly as it pertains to demands of high-end cutters.

The new version lacks a ton of features from distant-cousin predecessor; as I understand it, in some cases (like multicam editing), the latter was even good at it compared to the competition. To a point, it’s history repeating itself. Over and over. The closest parallel in Apple’s own line-up is iMovie; version ‘08 sported a radically different look-and-feel compared to version HD, and many were none too pleased about what was nowhere to be found any more. (A timeline, for example. A video editing program without a timeline seemed downright blasphemous.)

Or, looking further, there’s products like the iPod nano: it replaced the hugely successful iPod mini, came with 50% less capacity and no more accessory port, and was far less sturdy. (Plus, no more colors.) The iMac came without serial ports or ADB, and didn’t even have, gasp, a floppy drive. Mac OS X, as it initially shipped, had no CD burning or DVD reading (this was in March 2001), was unbearably slow and unstable, and broke with many of Mac OS Classic’s conventions. (And while I personally didn’t mind, a friend of mine wouldn’t stop whining about the excessive pinstripes.)

Adobe InDesign 1.0, too, was not very popular among the existing base of Quark XPress users.

Here’s what these examples have in common:

For its first two or three years, a sizable group of people wanted Mac OS Classic back. (Remember how Kuching discussion there used to be about the oh-so-flawed Dock? Now, look at Windows 7 and Ubuntu’s Unity desktop.) Now, it’s firmly entrenched as an excellent OS all around. The iPod nano eventually got far more capacity, as was inevitable, and colors came back, too. Nobody cares about floppy disks any more, and the iMac’s reliance on USB was, we can safely say 13 years later, prescient. Quark did a great job destroying their huge market lead and handing it to Adobe on a silver platter; they, meanwhile, kept improving InDesign quite a bit. And as for iMovie? Features in versions ‘09 and ‘11 like precision editing make it quite popular. Now, it even runs on an iPhone, making for a unexpectedly powerful, versatile video editing capabilities on a phone.

So what of FCP? If you only skim the reports, I can’t blame you for the impression that it’s heavily dumbed down and entirely worthless for professionals. Its lead, however, is Randy Ubillos — who also created the first three versions of Adobe Premiere, and the Macromedia project “KeyGrip”, which later became the original Final Cut Pro. In other words, it’s probably not a case of having the wrong guy in charge. It may however be one of priorities. Says Gruber:

I think Apple plans for Final Cut Pro X to grow from where it is today to eventually meet the needs of high-end pros. What this release shows is not that Apple doesn’t care about the pro market at all, but rather that they don’t care enough to prevent Apple from releasing a version that pros can’t yet use.

Agreed. I’m torn on the “care” phrasing, but given that Apple has idiotically even stopped offering the old version altogether, I may have to swallow it.

There’s a bigger, more systematic story here, though. Apple doesn’t really want a Pro distinction. People have been calling the new version “prosumer”, also pointing to the fact that it replaces Final Cut Express’s precious price point. And Apple doesn’t want an Enterprise distinction either. Here, people point to the discontinuation of Xserve.

It’s true: consumer products make for more volume. In that sense, bean counters in Cupertino may prefer them. But I think that’s a minor concern. The big one is empowering the user. Rather than convincing, as Microsoft, IBM and HP may have been wont to do, corporations why iPhone deployment makes sense for them, Apple release a product which employees and bosses alike wanted, badly, no matter what the head of IT thinks. It’s not so much “Pros” that Apple doesn’t care about. It’s interaction and compatibility with the existing world of workflows and policies. They’d much rather create the next big thing to wow you than worry about whether it works well with what you already have. That sucks if you rely on the present tense a lot, which chances are you do. But it rocks if you can spare 20% of your time living in the future, slowly yet boldly sarin to move away from the crufty conventions we keep on creating year after year.

The next time someone argues that Apple doesn’t care about the Pros, consider this: they care about creating the next generation of Pros.