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  • The Danger of Jumping to Conclusions About Apple’s Plans

    June 14th, 2012

    I suppose it all started with the release of Final Cut Pro X. Apple threw out the playback for its professional video editing app, and many video editors who depended on FCP for their workflows howled. Yes, they had good reason at the beginning, because Apple had to dump mission-critical features to get the first release out. That move may have made some sense from a marketing standpoint, but Apple PR should have delivered a clear explanation that power users that their concerns would be addressed. They didn’t until later, which may have been a huge mistake.

    Indeed, the FCP debacle was very much a PR fiasco. A number of video professionals jumped to Avid and Adobe, and ditched FCP, and perhaps their Mac Pros because of the impression that this workstation was on the chopping block. They felt that Apple dumbed down FCP to make it more suitable for the so-called prosumer market at the expense of the film and TV community that had previously embraced the app. In later updates, an extraordinary powerful multicam feature (for multiple cameras) was added, along with other features that are clearly meant for pros. But was it too little and too late?

    It recalls the iMovie upgrade where cherished features vanished in the rush to deliver a new interface. At the time, Apple even kept the older iMovie HD version available to give you time to adapt. It took a while for the new iMovie to take over. It’s also true that Apple resumed selling Final Cut Pro 7, and nothing forced video editors to upgrade from a tool that was fully functional. But Apple’s image took a beating, and I don’t know if they are beginning to recover, or will ever recover.

    One of my colleagues, who shoots and edits documentaries, can’t stop railing against FCP X. He may be a lost customer, though it’s also true he has older Macs that wouldn’t benefit from the new FCP anyway.

    When it comes to the Mac Pro, there was legitimate reason for deep concern. It hadn’t been updated in two years. Worse, it wasn’t mentioned at this week’s WWDC, which saw a very minor chip upgrade for the current model, and no announced game plan for the future.

    But there were glimmers of hope. Tech journalist Jim Dalrymple, who has knowledgeable sources, recently said he could assure us that the Mac Pro wasn’t being discontinued. This week, David Pogue, of The New York Times, announced that an Apple executive told him to expect a Mac Pro upgrade next year, along with a new iMac. The latter statement was later withdrawn from Apple, which appears to mean you’ll see a new iMac a whole lot sooner.

    The clincher, however, came in the form of an email from Tim Cook to a concerned Mac user. It’s worth repeating, because some serious questions are answered in a very direct way. I also believe this message did come directly from Cook because of some of the language and punctuation imprecision.

    Franz,

    Thanks for your email. Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro at today’s event, don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year. We also updated the current model today.

    We’ve been continuing to update Final Cut Pro X with revolutionary pro features like industry leading multi-cam support and we just updated Aperture with incredible new image adjustment features.

    We also announced a MacBook Pro with a Retina Display that is a great solution for many pros.

    Tim

    I see no reason whatever to believe that Cook is being anything but forthright in his response, and not just about the future of the Mac Pro. He is clearly trying to reassure professional video editors that FCP X is going to continue to receive “revolutionary pro features,” and that pros will also find value in the MacBook Pro with Retina display. With the apparent discontinuation of the 17-inch MacBook Pro, you have to wonder whether a 15.4-inch note-book, despite having a much sharper display, will proof sufficient. Don’t forget that the new MacBook Pro also loses FireWire 800 and Ethernet ports (though each can be replaced with $29 Thunderbolt adapter cables).

    If anything, Apple has made it possible for you to use other Macs to do heavy-duty content creation without requiring a Mac Pro, thanks to Thunderbolt. But the Mac Pro is here to stay, although it appears some members of the tech media didn’t get the memo. As I write this, yet another story went up about about the “MacPro” (sic) being doomed. Well, if it’s doomed, just what is Tim Cook and Apple’s PR department doing? Well, obviously, they are attempting to reassure content creators that Apple is not deserting them. They are simply trying to change things, and change can be very difficult for some people. They may need to be dragged along kicking and screaming. They may prefer the old Final Cut Pro, or a minor refresh dubbed Final Cut pro 8. They may prefer a 40-pound computing behemoth, rather than embrace a successor product that I expect to be slimmer and lighter, maybe even cheaper.

    Obviously Apple won’t rest on their laurels. For better or worse, that’s one lesson Steve Jobs taught, and Apple’s executives have learned it well.



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    3 Responses to “The Danger of Jumping to Conclusions About Apple’s Plans”

    1. David says:

      I think Tim Cook understands the importance of offering customers a complete eco-system. If you can no longer use an Apple product to do your job then the likelihood of buying Apple products for your home may be lower. There is no viable replacement for the Mac Pro in Apple’s current lineup so if they want to hold onto what’s left of that market they need to come up with something new.

      Unfortunately they seem to think the new MacBook Pro is a suitable replacement for the 17″ model. Many of my colleagues vehemently disagree. If we wanted limited screen real estate we’d have purchased smaller MacBooks in the first place. The new MBP, even with variable desktop scaling, cannot show as much information at a legible font size as our 17″ MBPs do and we can’t pick up our external displays and carry them with us to meetings or on the road to client meetings.

      I’m certainly not holding by breath waiting, but maybe just maybe Apple is taking their time to design a new 17″ MBP based on the new MBP and Air. A new thinner and ever so slightly narrower and shallower design that’s roughly the same weight as the old 15″ MBP would be very appealing to me and many of the people I work with. I believe weight is the only reason why my female colleagues chose the 15″ MBP over the 17″ one.

      Apple is very careful not to introduce too much new stuff at once. They want people to focus on a small number of things and appreciate the effort that went into them. After the hype has died down they make the next announcement.

      I’m confident that we’ll see an Ivy Bridge based iMac in July alongside Mountain Lion. Apple might even make it a trio by updating the Mac Mini at that time too. I posted a complete list of specs to another site and would be very surprised if I get more than a couple things wrong.

    2. KW says:

      A couple of points: first, why do these web articles keep pointing to the FPC X multicam as a feature for professionals? All the reviews I have read say this and then acknowledge that because of serious limitations in audio tools while in multicam mode, the feature is virtually unuseable by professional editors in its current state. The same is true for the claim that Apple has responded to pro users by providing for export of audio “stems” using Roles. It seems that these “stems” are flattened audio tracks with no clip handles, so not that useful for going out to audio editing apps. I wonder who Apple’s target audience is with these features. Is it a marketing exercise directed at bloggers like the current author?

      I think that even if Apple does really plan to make FCP X a professional tool (and I no longer trust what Apple says enough to accept such statements at face value) it will be years before that happens, and it will occur after many editors have already learned another editing platform. At that point FCP X will have to offer some serious advantages to get those editors to go through the process again to learn FCX.

      Second, the late 2010 MacPro was only a firmware update, so the Mac Pros haven’t actually been updated in any significant way since early 2009. Am I the only one to see the parallel between the Mac Pro situation and the events leading up to the release of FCP X? Years without any substantial upgrades, user dissatisfaction, a statement by Apple’s CEO assuring users that relief is just around the corner (Steve Jobs promising in an email to a customer that a new version of FCP was in the works and it was going to be “awesome” and Tim Cook’s email saying a “really great” Mac Pro is coming in 2013). If the pattern holds, Apple will release some consumer-level desktops missing critical features–iMac Plus, if you want to complete the comparison to the iMovie Pro label that was attached to FCP X–all the time claiming that it is a truly amazing professional tool. Apple is now believed by many to be capable of doing exactly this, which is why there is still speculation about whether the Mac Pro is dead.

      Fortunately, all the serious video editing tools for the Mac are also available on the PC, so editors will have a place to go regardless of what Apple does, but in the meantime Apple may lose pro users who need new workstations and cannot wait to see if Apple is credible in their promise of a “really great” Mac Pro in 2013. After all, 2013 could mean 18 months from now. If Apple is serious about keeping its pro customers, it needs to release information about its roadmap for the Mac Pro that is much more specific than “they are going to be really great.”

      • @KW, I won’t presume to argue with someone who works in the pro video market. As to the Mac Pro, Tim Cook says it’ll be a big deal when it’s upgraded next year. If that schedule holds, you’d probably see it around the 2013 WWDC, which is a good time for pro-level product intros.

        I agree Apple needs to be more forthcoming for at least some of their product roadmaps. For consumers, I can see the competitive issues. For pros, they need to say more. Why not write to Tim and see what he says?

        Peace,
        Gene

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