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The Danger of Jumping to Conclusions About Apple’s Plans

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.