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  • Did Apple Wait Too Long to Fix Final Cut Pro?

    February 1st, 2012

    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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    26 Responses to “Did Apple Wait Too Long to Fix Final Cut Pro?”

    1. Philip says:

      When this issue is discussed, it's often boiled down to "It can't open FCP 7 projects" or "It can't do multi cam". But quite frankly, I'd be prepared to walk away from being able to open FCP 7 projects if FCPX was good enough - but it isn't, not even part way good enough. It has broken so, so many of the professional editor's paradigms that it needs a COMPLETE reinvention. The lists are available elsewhere, but for me would include OMF audio export, multitrack audio, removal of the magnetic timeline, removal of the 'Send to CNN iReport' options, etc. All attempts to make this an editing island are wrong-headed - the pro business operates with many, many vendors, and always will.

      I would suggest Apple renames FCPX as iMovie Pro away and starts the reinvention of FCP again, this time actually looking at how FCP 7 and Avid work, and how editors want to work. The baby has been hurled out with the bathwater, and it will take a lot of persuasion to ever get pros to ever buy an editing app from Apple ever again, no matter how fanboyish we might be.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      Even if the workflow is utterly broken, you wonder why Apple would add multicam, broadcast monitoring and similar features if they didn't intend FCP X to be a tool for pros.

      Peace,
      Gene

    2. Philip says:

      You're right - they would obviously love to still be in the consideration set. But they still seem to not understand that their attempts to reinvent paradigms in an industry are utterly unwanted. There's a reason we like dual monitors for Source and Record - we often need to see what the shots look like side-by-side. There's a reason we don't want to mix our own audio - others who specialize at it are better, and our focus should always be story, story, story, and let those who love to polish pictures and sound handle the artistry of finishing. There's a reason we want to be able to arrange our raw media the way we want to over multiple drives and folders - it can make it easier to share assets later in the project. We don't want a magnetic timeline because we often WANT to slide clips over others destructively. We LOVED Copy and Paste Attributes. And if we're working for the BBC, why would we want to see CNN's brand built-in into the package?

      Hubris has destroyed what was a truly superb storytelling platform. I'm hoping that Tim Cook will see this - it's not beyond the bounds of belief that it had been Jobs' arrogance that convinced him he could make people work his way.

    3. Did Apple wait too long to fix Final Cut Pro X? | iWallet says:

      [...] Read more in the full article here. [...]

    4. Pedant says:

      Want the real conspiracy answer?

      They were being too successful everywhere else, so they made it into a sacrificial goat, short term.

      In 2-3 years, they can re-release a killer version that everyone will flock back to.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Pedant, Not necessarily. Nothing prevented Apple from simply doing an incremental update to FCP 7, and holding off FCP X for another year to make sure the features were fully fleshed out. It's not as if Apple doesn't have the resources to do both.

      Once you lose a customer, getting back that customer is not easy. They become accustomed to different workflows, and it's harder to convince them to return after getting shafted, or feeling they've been shafted. Apple belatedly became sensitive to the havoc they caused, but obviously some FCP users have remained on the sidelines or adopted Avid, Adobe Premiere or something else.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. AdamC says:

      I am with you Gene, the FCPX is not for today editors but for tomorrow editors who are students now. The entry point is very affordable and the feature of not needing to render is worth its weight in gold because time is money.

      And it is very difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. Kind of like my friend who refuse to learn to use the computers until his wife bought him one.

      Or people calling Lion the Vista, I love Lion and now use a trackpad instead of a mouse because I can do more with it. Yes relearning is difficult but it can be done.

    6. Philip says:

      I'm afriad I have to strongly disagree Adam. Not needing to render is about as relevant to most edtors as the fact that the Bugatti Veyron can do 260mph - mostly, you never care and don't use the feature. Yes, time is money, but for most editing jobs, you spend hundreds or thousands of hours figuring out storytelling nuances and how the dialogue flows, and maybe ten hours rendering - it's an irrelevancy. And your comment that "it is very difficult to teach old dogs new tricks" is another commonly made assertion in the FCPX debate that is utterly unfounded. I'm not unusual in having learned at least 20 different software packages to a completely professional level over the years. I started on the Bosch FGS 3D animation system, moved to Softimage, DP/Max, then Quantel Paintbox, Hal, Henry and Harry, then Discreet Logic Flame, Flint and and Inferno. I started editing on 3/4" tape, learned to cut film, used Ampex ACE and SONY 9000, then Avid, finally landing on FCP in the early 2000s. Along the way, I learned Photoshop, Filemaker Pro, Dreamweaver, Compressor and countless other pieces of software in the imaging business. I'm not bragging - I'm saying that it's the NORM for professional editors to learn new software tools - we do it every day, and love it, as it usually solves problems for us. Ask any editor - learning new tools is absolutely part of the game, and if you don't keep up, you're dead. It's always been like that in this tech-heavy business.

      But that's not the point. The point is not that FCPX "needs to be learned", it's that is wasn't designed with much of an ear for editor's needs. It's as if it was designed by ear specialists, for sewage engineers. There's a reason all pro editing apps have both a Source and Record monitor, and it isn't something that we'd love a 'new vision' on.

    7. Philip says:

      One other comment I have to respond to: "FCPX is not for today editors but for tomorrow editors who are students now" - I also strongly disagree with this. The filmmaking work of any student who comes out of film school expecting to do final colour and sound on his or her own is going to be worse than those who allow the pros to help. Anyone who has seen ten minute long credit crawls at the end of major movies can understand that specialization is the reason the list is so long. And those specialists do better work in their fields than any generalist. Without their involvement, be it a music editor, or a colourist, or an ADR editor, or a sound effects mixer, etc, your "I did everything myself!" movie is going to look and sound pretty lame.

      Students can certainly use FCPX as an excellent sketch tool for their ideas, but if they want a career in the business, they'll need to learn other platforms, and more importantly, other WAYS of working. Which was not the case with FCP 7, btw.

    8. Jeff Garner says:

      I don't want to burst the bubble of the "professional video editor" posters here but you are a dying breed and frankly Apple is willing to let you go if they can gain a new prosumer/student market.

      From a recent industry report:

      Video Postproduction Services in the US: Market Research Report

      "While GDP is forecast to grow at an annualized rate of 1.0% over the five years to 2011 and at a rate of 2.7% over the five years to 2016, the revenue of this industry is projected to decline and stagnate throughout this time. Even more drastically, industry value added to the economy is projected to fall at an annualized rate of 10.4% over the five years to 2011 and rebound at a 2.8% annualized rate in the five years following. Additionally, the number of establishments, enterprises, employment and total wages paid by this industry are expected to decline during both time periods. For example, employment is expected to fall 6.1% over the five years to 2011 to 17,666 people and further at an annualized rate of 3.2% to 15,040 people in 2016"

      Given this you can't expect Apple to keep investing in a product that is going to slow more and more. I think Apple is perfectly happy to give this declining industry to Adobe, just as Adobe is dealing with declining physical printing firms. I mean when is the last time anyone cared about Adobe InDesign vs. Quark Xpress?

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jeff Garner, I won't quibble with your stats. But, from the new features added to FCP X, it appears that they do want to keep the pros happy. They just went about it in a way that failed to communicate their plans to the industry.

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. Philip says:

      Dying breed we certainly are, but the fact is that people still want to consume movies, TV and radio, and although the entertainment market is indeed fracturing, more and more movies are being made. And someone has to make them, and make them well, no?!

      But, I do agree with the idea that Apple is giving up on the Pro market in favor of the kids. and I do agree that there's probably more dollars in it for them if they go that way. I just wish they would put the codebase of FCP 7 out to the open source market, so that someone could take the excellent ball that was and run with it.

    10. javaholic says:

      If the decision was made to blow off pros in favour of expanding FCPX into a broader market, why are we seeing this belated “wait – don’t go – it’s not finished yet!’ stance from Apple? Did they want an industry standard product or not? Or did they in fact misread the market? Problem is, while Apple is busy ‘reinventing’ everything, not everyone, businesses in particular, work at that same speed. In the consumer space, iPhones, iPads - they become throwaways once the next upgrade comes along. Investing heavily in a professional workflow isn’t. I’m sure FCPX will appeal to the new wave of content creators coming through and find its place. Still, I wonder how those new content creators looking for employment in existing houses and their workflows will fit in?, so however the transition plays out will be interesting. In the end Apple made the choice to roll FCPX out the way they did and wound up with 2 black eyes – a PR and product blunder. Saying the missing features ‘will come later’ after release feels almost condescending.

    11. Usergnome says:

      Gene,

      FCPX may eventually grow up – but really, nobody was asking for iMovie Pro. We wanted a 64bit FCP7 with some evolutionary new stuff, maybe. Apple shafted a lot of people and trashed a huge amount of investment in Apple-based businesses with FCPX. With no explanation. Life may have been difficult inside Apple with Steve sick and getting sicker, and perhaps this was a pet project. But at this juncture Apple would earn some points if they even explained what they were thinking. Why did they injure so many of their best and most loyal customers in such a strange fashion?

      BTW, are we sure that FCPX will really appeal to the prosumer market? The price is right, but FCP8 at a lower price would be even more appealing I would think.

    12. KB5M says:

      As far as who's responsible for this... I believe that to be Randy Ubillos. Now how he became emperor and why nobody in the Pro Apps Team was willing to tell him he had no clothes... that would be SJ.

      Amazing to think, in light of the uproar over the change to iMovie, that pro users would not react similarly and louder.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      Forgetting the features that have been restored -- and the ones that'll be added -- what I'm hearing in this discussion is that many of you really didn't want Final Cut Pro to change all that much. That too much change was not change they could believe in. Would you have preferred, say, a Final Cut Pro 7.5 with a few added frills?

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. Philip says:

      "Would you have preferred, say, a Final Cut Pro 7.5 with a few added frills?"

      Incontrovertibly, "YES!". A generation of editors had given suggestions and recommends to the app and it was already excellent. There were some bugs that needed to be fixed, some significant new capabilities that needed to be added, some new codecs that needed to be handled, and some features that needed reworking, but it was basically all just fine. However, we all understood the codebase was huge and old and 32-bit, and updating it was sounding like an impossible task. But given that, there was no reason to reinvent the wheel, especially if the reinvention was to make it square and with eccentric axles.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Philip, Apple doesn't work that way though, in retrospect, maybe they should have brought in more input from existing video professionals before the big change.

      On the other hand, version 10.0.3 appears to have gotten a four-and-a-half star rating from customers at the Mac App Store. Clearly the implementation of multicam support and other restored or improved features are bringing back support from a fair number of users.

      Peace,
      Gene

    14. Shameer M. says:

      I know this is off-topic, but does anyone have any approximate clue when the next version of Aperture & Logic Pro will be released?

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Shameer M., When it comes to Apple, any guess is apt to be wrong.

      Peace,
      Gene

    15. Usergnome says:

      AdamC wrote:

      "And it is very difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. Kind of like my friend who refuse to learn to use the computers until his wife bought him one."

      Ignoring for the moment how flat-out insulting this is, it's just hugely misinformed. Edit pros are the heart and soul of innovation. They are constantly trying new technology and if they find something that works better they jump on it with both feet. In fact, that's why so many pros adopted FCP in the first place.

      Here's what I wonder about Apple's strategy on this. What influences a prosumer to pick one edit system over another? He talks to people, researches, finds out what the people at the top of the field are using – and then tries to get as close to that as possible. When I made the choice to move from Media 100 to a newer system I had to choose between Avid and FCP. Avid was established but FCP was rapidly gaining ground. FCP was being used for high quality television series, commercials, and even some features. That told me there was growth potential in that choice.

      What about FCPX? Would I choose that if starting out? What will research tell you? It will reveal that those who know editing best think it's a misguided tangent that reinvented a wheel that only needed to improved and modernized - not turned into a hovercraft.

      I didn't suffer any monetary loss on this as I work by myself mostly and don't have a huge investment in FCP gear. I will even devote considerable time to learning FCPX well, but I won't be going to FCPX for projects unless I examine every other suite available and can't find anything I like. And, as a consultant, I won't be recommending FCPX to any institutions anytime soon. Maybe someday, but Apple will have to issue some kind of statement that they regret hurting their most loyal customers and that they won't do it again.

    16. Shameer M. says:

      @usergnome

      You make some excellent points. But I will add that anytime you re-architect a major piece of software from the ground up that will be good for the next decade, you are going to hurt some loyal customers (at least in the short term). It's the old saying, you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Over time, features that were initially missing, may get added back but with better implementation due to the fact they're taking advantage of a much more efficient architecture and / or improved UI. The FCPX 10.03 update, from what I can tell, looks to be a major update and brings it much more closer to "Pro" level.

    17. Philip says:

      @Shameer "FCPX 10.03 update, from what I can tell, looks to be a major update and brings it much more closer to "Pro" level."

      Not at all. It's like they finally added a fourth wheel to the car. But the steering wheel is still located in the back seat, pointing backwards. And you can't change gear.

      Yes, I'm confident it will improve over time, but the point is that they missed the mark so, so widely, there's more than just incremental updates need to happen to bring it 'back to Pro level'. Much of what's needed is deep, large, and more to do with the concepts of editing than any particular feature here or there. Until there's both a Source and Record monitor, for example. Or until multiple audio tracks are brought back. And lots more.

    18. Just FYI: This review comes from a publication that's definitely not pro-Mac or pro-Apple:

      http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387491,00.asp

      Peace,
      Gene

    19. Usergnome says:

      Shameer,

      You realize the same guy who made the comment about the omelette also said, "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of ten thousand is a statistic." :-)

    20. Usergnome says:

      It's a fair review Gene –

      Although it does kind of start by ruling out consideration of the key reason people are peeved. It doesn't let you edit better, it makes you change the way you work to a method that Apple thinks will provide a seamless upsell from iMovie.

      I can readily see the elegance of iMovie as an app - but I hate working in it. (A widely shared opinion) and I can see why they might want to create an iMovie pro. Fine - knock yourself out Randy. But why blow up the app that a majority of pros count on at the same time? (I know, limited number of programmers, simplicity of product line, huge project, etc., blah, blah, blah)

      So, do them both: FCPX and FCP8. I find it hard to believe that Apple, possessing more cash on hand than the United States of America, couldn't find a way to do that.

      Although, I admit – and this may be Apple's secret weapon – that as time goes by it will all start to matter less. They can probably do without my business until the day that they stick something into FCPX that's too cool to resist. Ain't there yet though.

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