In case anyone is interested in my take on the release of Final Cut Pro X, here it is.
First, let me say this first article is just about the release, and not about the software itself. I promise that henceforth I will focus on the actual FCPX software and forget all the hullabaloo.
But this article is about Apple’s business strategy (or lack thereof), my industry perceptions, and looking back a bit to see if we can predict the future.
First, some background so you take this article seriously
I am the guy with a lot of the FCP “firsts”. From what I know, I have been editing with FCP longer than anyone in the world. (Outside the original dev team, of course.) With my wife Michelle (the brains of the operation), I produced the first FCP training course, Final Cut Pro PowerStart. I was the first to demo FCP 1.0 in public, launched the first FCP website (fcp411.net), taught the first FCP workshops, presented first FCP free seminar tours, hosted the first FCP user group meeting (May 1, 1999), co-hosted the first Apple trade show hands-on classroom (with Randy Ubillos), produced the first FCP marketing CDs for Apple, and I’m pretty sure I was the one that got Apple to start putting cool-looking reflections under all their graphics (okay, that’s not really an FCP first.).
Remember, when FCP was released, Apple stock was at $11 and they were largely considered to be on their way out. FCP 1.0 was released only a little more than year after Michael Dell famously answered the question about what he would do were he in charge at Apple with, “What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders”. At that time, FCP 1.0 was not in any way a foregone conclusion. It could have come and gone faster than Avid Liquid.
In the first few years of FCP’s existence, through workshops, free seminars, disc-based courses, trade show seminars and our website, DVcreators.net (with huge help from Apple, of course) introduced well over a hundred thousand people to FCP, people from most cable channels, Hollywood movie studios, people from most major magazines and newspapers, most Fortune 500 companies, most major ad agencies, major universities and branches of government.
Many believe that the massive efforts of DVcreators.net, along with people like Michael Horton, Phillip Hodgetts, Lawrence Jordan and a few other pioneers, to make the first impression of FCP a hugely positive one to thousands of core media professionals, and support the early adopters with quality training and resources in the first 24 months after release served as a major “tipping point“– creating a viral buzz in the pivotal early years at helping FCP achieve critical mass and become the standard for editing software.
Okay, enough bragging, let’s get to the point!
A brand new editing app has been released, called “Final Cut Pro X“.
Here are some points, keep in mind most of the below is just my speculation and opinion. Bring on the flames and kudos in the comments! (I reserve the right to moderate)
Totally Avoidable Branding/Product Management Catastrophe
What I would have done [were I in charge], is continue to sell Final Cut Studio 3 and brand the new app simply as “Z”. A brand-new editing app. Think of the buzz! Think of the awesome logo!
Of course, people would immediately ask, “What’s the future of FCP7″, and “Will there be an FCP8″ and Apple’s position would be, “We might add minor, incremental features to FCP7, but we feel FCP7 is a stable, full-featured app, and is working well for millions of people, so don’t expect major changes or a major new version anytime soon (or maybe ever). FCP is the standard for professional editing. We are focusing on developing Z until it has feature parity with FCP7 and is ready for professional use, and at that time we recommend pros look into switching to it.” Pulling the plug on FCS3 prematurely was a bad move– all downside, and what’s the upside?
This positioning would have been a humble, honest approach to avoid the firestorm they should have known would ensue from releasing something called “Final Cut Pro” without even the ability to import the previous version’s projects. Major gaffe.
Maybe they thought they had to put the words “Final Cut” in the name for it to sell? Huh?!? Like a brand new app called “Z”, with a beautiful grey blue gradient glowing behind it, wouldn’t have attracted attention and buzz (you know, positive buzz)? Come on, Apple, like no one knows who you are? It’s not 1999 anymore, have some confidence! You invented the smartphone and tablet, two things no one knew they needed before, and you are taking over the world. A brand new app would have avoided all this hullabaloo, (and made for a cooler logo as well).
Pros would then look at the new app as a possible addition to their toolbox for certain projects, or not. At any rate, with my positioning strategy, how could anyone bash Z, it never promised anything! It’s brand new, and it is what it is. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. By not EOLing FCS3, the pressure would be off Apple (see below) and they could take their time adding features into Z.
(Of course, I would have to figure out what to do about Motion 5. $49 is way too cheap for this app- should have been $299 as well. Maybe a baby iLife version would be $49. But I digress.)
Here come the “XFCP-ers”
Even beyond the missing workflow features, I understand the editors that feel betrayed. After years of anticipation of what new magical new Final Cut Pro would emerge from the sparkling Apple castle on the hill, being delivered to us by flying white-winged yaks surrounded by rainbows and 3D particle-system-generated pixie dust, an reaction of shock from users at a “Final Cut Pro”-branded app that threw 20 years of non-linear editing conventions out the window was inevitable.
Unfortunately, there is a growing, very vocal and influential group of “XFCP-ers”– this could have been mostly avoided. Articles like “Did Apple screw up with Final Cut Pro X?” and “The Final Cut Pro Backlash” are appearing by the hour. Even Fortune magazine has joined the fray, with “The Final Cut Pro X debacle“. Refunds are being processed as you read this sentence. At this writing, FCPX has a 2.5 star rating on the App Store, and even two days after release, even at $299, it’s not even the top Paid App, being beat by the .99 FaceTime.
At Apple, they may be thinking, this will all blow over, no worries, when we add some features, the natives will calm down. But if that’s what they’re thinking, they should be taking this initial reaction a little more seriously.
As Phillip Hodgetts has pointed out, FCPX has some not-insubstantial revenue potential for Apple, and as I added in the comments of that article, when you factor in the Mac Pros and MacBook Pros that Pro Apps sales drive, and let’s not forget that famous “halo effect” (how many FCP editors have you seen pulling out their iPhones in the middle of an edit session?), this has the potential to snowball into a real problem.
If they lose a few thousand influential, tweeting, blogging ditchers, that could then virally turn into ten thousand, then a few hundred thousand, and so forth, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. It’s no exaggeration to say that billions, not millions of dollars, over time, are at stake. Do the math.
But what does the future hold?
Well, Apple may have a problem they haven’t thought of. Just adding in OMF/XML/multicam etc., at this point, may not put FCPX over the hump. At first glance, the footage organization and editing might look kinda similar to FCP7, but it’s not. When intelligent, experienced editors explore FCPX in depth, giving it a real, bona fide chance, and give up, you have a problem. Working with media, and editing, are as different from FCP7 and other editing apps as flying a helicopter is to driving a car. And FCPX is not as intuitive as FCP 1-7.
Imagine someone used to driving a car upgrading to a helicopter. You can read the helicopter manual. You can watch hours of manufacturer-certified training movies of people flying helicopters. But when you try to fly one yourself, you will most likely crash and burn before you master it. Apple can say helicopters are cooler than cars, but who cares if there’s no good way to learn how to fly the dang thing?
If most the people who download FCPX, whether professional, prosumer and consumer, have a frustrating first, second and third experience, give up and head back to FCP7 to cut that trailer, commercial, movie, industrial or kid’s birthday party, and Apple does not reverse course and put FCS3 back on sale (which I predict they won’t), it could mean trouble for the Pro Apps division. Think this is ridiculous? Maybe. It’s at least as ridiculous as saying Blockbuster’s dominance of video rentals will someday be over, or Tower Records will someday not be the place you go to buy records, or MySpace won’t be the cool place to connect with friends any more. Technology, and the way it’s introduced, has a funny way of radically changing the path of the future, and no one knows this better than Apple. As a company, Apple is fine. With the release of FCPX, the Pro Apps division is at a crucial juncture.
Are you a freelance video professional? Search for yourself here: http://dvcreators.net/members/
I WILL BET ANY DITCHER A SUSHI DINNER+BEER THAT APPLE WILL ADD THE FOLLOWING FEATURES WITH A FREE UPDATE IN THE NEXT 90 DAYS:
- XML export/import (allowing FCP7 projects to be imported)
It’s obvious to me that QC people inside Apple have been testing XML import into FCPX for a while, so the only reason they wouldn’t have enabled it in the 1.0 version is because there are so many problems importing FCP7 timelines with certain elements, like nested sequences, speed changes (especially reverse motion), embedded Motion projects and other oddities. They feared even more negative fallout from people screaming that their projects wouldn’t import than not including it at all. (With my “Z” strategy, they could have called it “limited” XML support, saying “Yeah, it will import FCP7 edits except for certain elements” and the pros would have said “cooool!”)
FCP7 PROJECT IMPORT UPDATE: A few items have surfaced regarding FCP7 import. One quickly extinguished ray of hope is a Brazilian MacMagazine article in which someone digging around in the code found a function called “importFinalCutXML“.
However, Apple’s answer to:
“Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X?” is:
Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. In addition, Final Cut Pro X features new and redesigned audio effects, video effects, and color grading tools. Because of these changes, there is no way to “translate” or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you’re already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so after installing Final Cut Pro X, and Final Cut Pro 7 will work with Mac OS X Lion. You can also import your media files from previous versions into Final Cut Pro X.
And, Randy Ubillos replied to a user email, saying:
“FCP7 projects do not have enough information in them to properly translate to FCPX (in FCP7 all of the clip connections live in the editor’s head, not in the timeline). We never expected anyone to switch editing software in the middle of a project, so project migration was not a priority.
Final Cut Pro X 1.0 is the beginning of a road, not the end.”
So, it appears Apple tried, but could not get import to work, so my prediction is most likely wrong.
- AAF/OMF import/export
- SDK so Blackmagic/AJA/Matrox etc. can update their drivers for real broadcast monitoring support (not sure about tape/timecode)
- a published plugin SDK
- multicam editing (with way more streams than FCP7 on the same machine)
- native support for RED and XDCAM
- the ability for a network of edit stations to work from shared storage, and share clip metadata (I am kind of going out on a limb on this one)
I have no “inside info” about these things, except that I’ve known Brian Meaney for 12 years and I can guarantee that he would not have stood idly by while a brand new app got built that did not have the ability to fit into the professional workflows he knows high end post houses require.
With FCP, he has always had the product positioning philosophy of “get Hollywood first, everyone else will follow” (A philosophy I do not completely share, I recommended in the early days that Apple forget Hollywood and focus on making it “the editing software for the rest of us” (the millions of emerging education/industrial/training/science/medicine/politics/religion/documentary/independent video producers) and let Avid keep the couple thousand hardcore high end editors). But I understand the Hollywood strategy, and Brian has done a great job making sure FCP added the necessary features and codec support that would ensure it became a mainstay in the big post houses– and help win some Oscars!).
Now, Brian, save me the sushi funds and make sure my predictions come true!
(*By the way, by “any ditcher” I mean “any one ditcher”– not all of them! Sheesh!)
The Truth about the Origins of Final Cut Pro X
People have called FCPX “iMovie Pro”. Not true. (Not exactly true.)
Randy Ubillos, creator of Premiere, KeyGrip (later renamed Final Cut Pro), Aperture and several other amazing programs, is brilliant, a visionary, and a true innovator. With the original Premiere, he added a new dimension to the editing timeline, allowing “vertical” (compositing) as well as horizontal (storytelling) editing. Key Grip took this further, with keyframes, blend modes and keying. Randy is on a short list of my all-time personal heroes, I’ve known him for 12 years, and taught alongside him daily at NAB. Though we’re not close friends, I have been privileged to talk with him on several occasions and I feel like I know how he thinks. (Like Randy, when I design software, I always start from a blank slate and let common sense and user experience drive the process without any influence from “this is the way things have always been done.”)
I remember one time, probably ten years ago, we were riding in the back seat of a car after a trade show and I told Randy that I envisioned Final Cut Pro moving towards more pre-production features, like scriptwriting and timeline storyboarding, where FCP would print out shotlists and a shooting script, and then after shooting, the actual takes would drop in and replace the storyboard placeholders. I remember he didn’t seem to like the idea much, so I’m sure this conversation had little or no influence on any future development, but at any rate, a few years later Randy came back from a diving vacation and going through his footage realized that the standard UI paradigm of Avid/Premiere/Final Cut/Vegas/Liquid/etc. (all somewhat similar in media management) were not an ideal environment for the very first step in post-production: organizing raw footage.
So Randy starting writing an app: “First Cut”, a professional-level “feeder” app for Final Cut Pro. You would launch First Cut, import all your raw footage, then quickly skim through, keywording, organizing, marking as good or rejecting, and finally building a rough edit.
Then you would “Export to Final Cut Pro”, and import the rough cut XML into Final Cut Pro to fine-tune edits, color grade, add titles and effects, composite, key, mix sound and do your final mastering. First Cut was born for one purpose only– to make plowing through and organizing mountains of footage efficient and even enjoyable.
I don’t know whether Randy decided to repurpose First Cut or His Steveness saw it and decided it should be the new iMovie, but somewhere along the line it was decided at One Infinite Loop that First Cut would become iMovie ’08. Other features were added, and iMovie was released– to decidedly mixed reviews.
David Pogue wrote a scathing review for the NY Times: “Apple Takes a Step Back With iMovie ’08″:
Most people are used to a product cycle that goes like this: Release a new version every year or two, each more capable than the last. Ensure that it’s backward-compatible with your existing documents.
IMovie ‘08, on the other hand, has been totally misnamed. It’s not iMovie at all. In fact, it’s nothing like its predecessor and contains none of the same code or design. It’s designed for an utterly different task, and a lot of people are screaming bloody murder… …iMovie ‘08 is an utter bafflement… …What the [bleep]! What was Apple thinking?
(Ironically, Dave seems to have done a 180º, and now he loves FCPX, for some of the same reasons he hated iMovie ’08. Ah well, journalists…)
The “Export to Final Cut Pro” option in iMovie ’08 bespoke of its roots, too bad only a few people used it in this way, I tried it and it worked great in this workflow. (Because people didn’t “get” the new paradigm, and there was no one to show them the way, due to public outcry Apple had to put a download link for iMovie 6 back on the iMovie page.)
Although FCPX was built from scratch, and not from the iMovie codebase, it’s clear that Randy’s vision for a revolutionary new way to manage media (and find the right clip), as well as edit video footage, is at the very foundation of Final Cut Pro X.
So, the people calling Final Cut Pro X “iMovie Pro” are wrong, like people who say humans are descended from monkeys. (We’re not, though we share a common ancestor.)
Finally, Josh’s take on Final Cut Pro X
[This paragraph has been edited.] I will post a full review in an upcoming article.
Thanks for reading! Let the comments/flames begin!