When Apple released a totally new version of Final Cut Pro last spring, at a bargain basement price of $299.99, a frightening number of video editing professionals howled. How dare Apple destroy their work tool in order to expand the market to consumers?
This unfortunate decision struck many as similar to what Apple did when they totally overhauled iMovie several years ago. As with that switchover, critical features that loyal users depended on were lost, with only vague promises that some might return in a future update. You couldn't even import projects from the previous version, Final Cut Pro 7.
A blog from Danny Greer summarizes the worst of Apple's lapses in reinventing FCP. Apple clearly was tone deaf about the potential impact, because they stopped selling the previous version, so customers who couldn't wait for FCP X to be fixed would still be able to purchase a version that would suit their needs.
Into the breach came Avid and Adobe, with special deals to entice customers to switch, and I suppose they were able to boast some success. You had to wonder just what went wrong here, and was it true that Apple no longer cared about the movie and TV industry? Is the Mac Pro, a staple among content creators, also an endangered species?
Well, with iMovie, Apple simply left the previous version, iMovie HD, as a download if you didn't want to switch. Faced with a level of protest that they clearly didn't anticipate, Apple soon restored FCP 7 to the lineup. But was it a case of too little and too late?
Looking back at the entire episode, it's clear Apple screwed up big time. Maybe they even released the FCP upgrade prematurely. Had they waited another year, most of the critical lost features would have been restored and updated. At the same time, it is clear that Apple failed to be proactive about explaining to the industry the reason for the changes, and assure customers that the feature set would be fleshed out over time. Sure, it makes sense that Apple wouldn't want to add critical features to a professional app before they are ready, but a White Paper or two explaining the logic behind the changes and plans for the future would have reassured lots of customers before they jumped ship or just stood on the sidelines.
Understand that I'm not a professional video editor. I have used FCP and other video editing software from time to time for simple projects, so I'm not totally ignorant of the editing process. But some candid communication would have avoided many of the problems. Certainly the existence of a new version of FCP didn't somehow render the previous version nonfunctional, nor did it mean that Apple wouldn't release bug fixes as required. Nothing stopped customers from simply waiting until the new version was ready for prime time.
This week, FCP X took another step towards becoming a credible replacement for the previous version. The 10.0.3 update, available free to existing users, includes two of the mission critical features promised last year. With multicam editing and broadcast video monitoring, post-production specialists may begin to feel more comfortable about upgrading. There are also significant improvements to the Chroma Key feature, and other essential enhancements.
There also appears to be an increase in third-party support. For example, FCP 7's XML 1.1 enhancement brings with it more tools for video editors. The 7xX app, a $9.99 download from Intelligent Assistance, exploits XML to import FCP 7 projects into FCP X. That appears to remove at least one key objection from the existing user base.
Now I wouldn't presume to say that the changes and the enhanced third-party tools have, at last, removed all the obstacles for potential upgraders. This is a ground-up reimagining of a video editing app, which means that users will have to learn new skills or adapt existing techniques. Certainly folks who are immersed in an editing project aren't going to want to switch and cope with new quirks and new workflow strategies. To think they'd just switch without planning is absurd.
Even with a more compelling package, it's not at all certain if customers who have already gone elsewhere will ever return. Those who are accustomed to the FCP 7 way of doing things are also not apt to want to switch right away, or ever.
On the other hand, the low price of FCP X and its add-ons make it possible for more and more students and others entering the industry to acquire professional tools to help perfect their skills. In the end, Apple might actually build a much larger user base, and those users will, of course, continue to buy the most powerful Macs to handle video editing chores. There's even third-party support for Thunderbird peripherals, meaning that you won't need to drag a Mac Pro with you on a remote shoot. A MacBook Pro may be just fine.
All in all, despite taking a short-term hit, maybe Apple's long-term plans will be vindicated. But it would have helped if they had done the right thing on the very first day, making sure that loyal customers knew what was happening and what to expect before they were struck with an unpleasant surprise.
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