Final Cut Pro X: What I thought in 2011

This is an interesting look at where I thought Final Cut Pro X and Apple's Pro market was going in 2011. Now it's 2014, and a lot has changed. There's a new Mac Pro. There's a much improved FCPX out. I am using both.

I think, conceptually, I was spot on. The software just needed to catch up, and now FCPX is a viable tool for professional editors and entry level editors alike. FCPX 10.1 is to me, where it should have been launched at however, insofar as pure pros go.

I will write about my experiences with it when I have time, but for now - as a preamble to that upcoming post - let's look back at 2011. Was I right? Did what I say come to pass?

Feel free to comment below.


OSX 1.0. The $200 reduction in price for iPhone. iOS 3.0's buggy first release. The end of 99 cent songs. iTunes. App Store developer agreement changes. Antennagate. And now, Final Cut Pro X.

I could go and on and on about all the times people have suddenly boiled over in rage at Apple for the decisions they have made. It's actually kind of stunning to me the level of emotional vitriol that is leveled against Apple when they make a mistake, just as much as the nearly in-tears-from-happiness level of religious epiphany people feel when they hold up a new iPad 2 after waiting in line for 6 hours.

Why have people reacted to Final Cut Pro X (FCPx) the way they have, with all the seeming emotion that encounters the release (or in some cases, removal) of every Apple product? Is it just about the program, it’s launch, or is there perhaps something bigger going on? I’ll try to examine all of those elements here.

This article isn't necessarily about the technical intricacies of what Final Cut Pro X (and isn’t). This article is more about the emotional connection people, especially creative people, seem to have with Apple, why they feel that way, the changing definition of what a Video/Film Pro is, and what Apple seems to be trying to do about it all (good or bad).

The Better Way?

In my life, I'm not quite sure I have ever seen a company run like Apple. During the Steve Jobs years (pre and post NeXT) Apple has nearly single-handedly turned the consumer electronics world on its head. Apple has an incredible knack for making beautiful, durable hardware combined with slick, "it just works" operating systems and software that no other company can quite seem to manage in the same space.

People always ask me what my fascination is with Apple. I love Apple products because, for the most part, they indeed "Just Work". I worked with Microsoft Windows products for many years (and still do at work) and I find them and the hardware the OS runs on often a convoluted, cheap mess. The cruft left over from having to support decades of computer hardware and legacy software has come to bite Microsoft in the ass time and time again and as a result, nothing the company puts out for personal or creative computing that can be called "elegant" (Xbox aside). Even when Microsoft tries to start over (Windows Phone), they inevitably fail because they don't also control the hardware. OEMs add all kinds of their own stupid differentiating skins and add-ons that do nothing but serve to complicate the experience for the user. Microsoft (and to a lesser extent, Google with its Android tablets) can’t seem to win. There’s something to be said for vertical integration and controlling the eco-space. Microsoft did just this with XBOX 360, and we can all see what a success that was (yes, it was.)

What’s the practical result of all this vertical integration? Well, when you combine it with a cult-like, symbol-laden company presentation and philosophy people start to feel a personal connection with the company and the brand. Think the Apple store experience for example. People go to the magical Apple store with its stark simple displays and prominent display of iconography. They are amazed by the nowhere-else-seen curved glass staircases and elegant stone and metal. Even an idiot can understand when they enter an Apple store that they are in a special place: There’s no clutter in the store or the product. Everything is (seemingly) self-evident. The smart and creative people feel like someone understands them. The average person feels that someone finally cares enough to simplify technology for them so they can get to what they really need to do in their lives. Even utter morons suddenly feel smart and creative. Then all these people go on to buy their iDevice, their Macbook, or what have you and feel that someone (perhaps even the spirit of Steve Jobs) has reached out personally to them to offer them a better way.

Apple, at least while Steve Jobs has been with the company and in charge, has always followed this philosophy of giving people what they need, whether they realize it or not at first. Apple ignited the personal computer revolution (their words) with the Apple II first and then Macintosh. They revolutionized the phone and handheld computing with the iPhone (and some would say, Newton). They are leading the post-PC revolution with the iPad that companies could only dream of 20 years ago but never execute. And they do this by emerging from their airy, bright glass and metal temple bearing new shiny metal and glass products, adorned with a relatively high price tag and crisp one word descriptors written in the clean Myriad font.

Apple, in other words, simply offers people a better way: The Apple Way. They come up with one path, one way, that offers what they see is the best of the best with the least resistance to getting to a better place. They introduce technology to people in ways they perhaps have never thought of before. They democratized computing, and now they are leading the way in the ways we compute (and create), all with a quasi-religious fervor not seen in ages in the annals of business, much less technology.

Ah, there’s a problem with this approach however. The more complicated the computing problem, the more intricate the process is that Apple is trying to simplify and open up, the more risk that you will alienate someone.  And when people have come to love you, to revere you, and you let them down… that alienation will be quite severe and personal. Even if you are a large multinational company called Apple.

How Dare You Steve!

When a company elevates to the level of Apple, where some people literally measure on their brain scans the same reaction at the cellular level as when they speak to God, there’s bound to be a negative reaction when that company changes course. I am not immune to that negative reaction myself, however it is important to put things into context when considering them (and something the 140 characters of Twitter makes near impossible.)

Let’s travel back about 10 years for a moment. Apple is trying desperately to re-enter the computer market with a bang. They want people to buy their computers to create things, to feel things, to enrich their lives. One way Apple chooses to do this is to court the professional creative market. After all, if the mere mortals out there (non-creatives/consumers) see the people making stories are using the same equipment are, it must be good right? The average person will start to feel “heck, I can do that!” and start purchasing the same tools (we see a lot of this in the recently completed DSLR “revolution” led by General Philip Bloom et al.)

However, in order to truly attract creative Pros (back) to the platform, Apple had to encourage the software along. They bought Final Cut from Macromedia, tweaked it a bit and released it as their own. The key things to note here is that a) Apple brought into the field what would soon become a high-end pro product for less, cost wise compared to its competitors, and b) they were courting true Pros of all levels (I will elaborate more on this later). Over time they added to this portfolio in grand ways with various software and hardware products aimed at Pros, and in no particular order:

  • The PowerMac G5 then the Mac Pro
  • XServe Server
  • XSAN Storage Area Network Server
  • MAC OS X Server
  • Aperture
  • Shake
  • QuickTime
  • Color
  • Motion
  • Compressor
  • Soundtrack Pro
  • LiveType
  • Final Cut Server
  • Final Cut Pro/Studio
  • DVD Studio Pro
  • Logic Pro and Logic Express
  • And so on.

As time marched on, however, Apple as a company began to change. Many would argue for the better; after all they are now the world’s largest consumer electronics and computing company. They removed “Computer” from their name. They moved towards making computing more accessible, and added a number of revolutionary products to their portfolio. These household names now account for the majority of their revenue (though the Mac remains strong at nearly half their revenue) and they are projected to have almost $50 Billion in cash in the bank by the end of this quarter:

  • iPhone (including all variants)
  • iPad (1 and 2
  • iPod (and all variants of which there are a lot by now plus a whole ecosystem and iTunes)
  • Apple TV
  • iLife (iMovie, Garageband, iPhoto,  iWeb, iDVD) (the last two are going away and are no longer updated)

Now the iPhone and iPad in particular also have gained a foothold in the Enterprise and are growing quickly in those segments. However they were conceived and sold at least initially as consumer products (with some pro applications) so I will leave them in here.

Not to let the prosumer market down, they also added some “prosumer” apps, though the first two have been since discontinued:

  • Logic Express
  • Final Cut Express
  • iWork

Finally, let’s take a look at what remains from the Pro line as the company has transitioned to more of a consumer electronics company:

  • Mac Pro (with increasingly rare updates and very high prices)
  • MAC OS X Server (only as a $50 add-on to OS X Lion, no longer a separate product)
  • Aperture
  • QuickTime was replaced by the castrated QuickTime X which presents an interface that does little more than play movies and allow trimming
  • Motion (currently Motion 5)
  • Compressor
  • Final Cut Pro X
  • Logic Studio (Soundtrack Pro still lives in there but was removed from Final Cut Studio along with the whole Final Cut Studio suite)

Do you see a pattern here?

Let me clarify it for you if you don’t. A) Serious Pro apps are dropping off of Apple’s portfolio. B) Apple has reduced the price of the apps they have left significantly, and in many cases made them more accessible.

This course of action has me both very concerned (“Apple doesn’t care about Pros anymore” was  recent Tweet of mine) as well as very excited.  I’ll tell you why in a bit, but first let me take you on a side journey and get back to the discussion on what is and what is not a “Pro”.

What is a Video/Film Pro, Exactly?

There has been a ton of discussion on Twitter and in the Blogosphere as to what is the definition of a Professional or not, at least as it applies to creatives who use digital tools. This is a fairly long section but is important in the discussion of where Apple is going with their tools and corporate philosophy so please bear with me.

The Dictionary states the following:

pro·fes·sion·al:

  1. Of, relating to, or connected with a profession
  1. (of a person) Engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime
  1. Having or showing the skill appropriate to a professional person; competent or skillful
  1. Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person
  1. Denoting a person who persistently makes a feature of a particular activity or attribute

Now you can see a fair degree of subjectivity even in the definition of the word. I choose to use #2 as the most literal definition – a Pro is someone’s main paid occupation is (x) vs. being just a pastime or hobby. I also choose to use #3 and #4 as many people who don’t make (X) their main paid occupation can obviously show the skills necessary to do that if they had the job.

Me myself I fit within all three categories. As for #3 and 4, I have been creating visuals of some sort and still and moving photography since I was a child. However, most of my work was in graphic design for print and as such my video work (as part of my paid job) was a 2nd priority. I kept engaged on my personal time, and performed paid video work when I could but most of my time was as a creative professional again, creating art for print, intranets, training classes, etc. So in this respect I’d be a professional as defined under #3 and #4 as it relates to visualmaking, albeit via different media.

Currently, I work for US DHS. As part of that job (but not all of it) I make “films” as well. I also have a video production company that performs paid work on my own time. In this case I qualify again as #3 and #4, and partially under #1 as most portions of my paid occupation in total involve creating visuals with about 50% of that time being cinematography and photography.

Looking at my personal situation, one could reasonably call me a professional who works with moving pictures, and stills. I am also a pro who persistently demonstrates the features and attributes that a visual creative does. However, until I am spending all my time making moving pictures I don’t qualify under the first definition. So what am I? What are you?

To make things far simpler here, I’ll take all the above into consideration and narrow it down even further: You are a Video/Film Pro if you make money that you rely on doing film or video production work.

But that's not the long and short of it; there are other factors to consider. For one, whether you make most if your money on it or not however is another important piece of the puzzle. I posit just like the definition states that there are multiple level of professionals. There are therefore multiple levels of money (and associated risk). Therefore, i’ve further broken down these definitions as I believe they apply to Video/Film Pros to make things a bit clearer. These are my classifications for this article, not anything set in stone:

High-End Video/Film Pro relies completely on income provided from making film and/or video. They likely also work for a company that too, has that as its main pursuit such as a major broadcaster or film studio. In other words, a if a top level Pro screws up it may literally mean their livelihood and possibly the future of the business they own or work for, and on a large scale in the millions of dollars at that. These are the most demanding group, and with good reason.

Then you have a Mainstream Video/Film Pro – someone who makes money solely performing video or film work but if they screw things up they may not lose their job or business entirely. Perhaps they have a wide selection of clients to make mistakes up with, or the budgets of their projects are smaller (and consequently the risk associated with having problems is lower). This might be someone who works at a small post processing shop or a company with perhaps a few employees.

Next you have a Part-Time Video/Film Pro – someone who makes money again performing video or film work but it’s not their only pursuit. Perhaps they work for an employer that doesn’t judge performance solely on that creative output. They may also run a business on the side (alone or with a small amount of help), which if it fails will be bad to them but perhaps not completely expose them to collapse and/or ruin their livelihood or expose many employees to as much risk. The budgets are even smaller here, as are the crews so more can be done with less (or has to be). However these people also rely on video or film work as a significant part of their income and/or reputation. This is where I fit in. Lots of people like me are online looking for better ways to do things at a lower budget.

Next you have an Video/Film Enthusiast “Pro”. These are not fully Pros in the strict sense that they make little or no money on their pursuits, aside from perhaps a few bucks here and there for weekend projects. Still, that money is important to them and clients are clients. Their risk is minimal however if something screws up. There are a lot of these people on Twitter too, usually talking like they are high-end or mainstream Pros but having no real experience in using tools to make the kind of money where careers, companies, and reputations can be on the line.

Next we have the rest – Hobbyists/Students/Dabblers. They’re in this purely for fun, have a creative bent, but don’t count on any of it for any money. They are not at all Pros according to our definition.

And finally below this level, you have the average person (or your audience) who is not necessarily creative but likes to look at pretty pictures.

An important thing to remember here is that it is quite possible for any of these levels to use the same or similar tools. There’s no piece of equipment that purely defines a Professional of any of these levels in and of itself, it’s what is being done with the tools and more importantly, the level of risk being exposed by using or not using a certain tool or technique as it relates to the project the person is working on. A Hobbyist may have the money to buy a DSLR to make videos, just as the $100+ Million dollar productions like Iron Man 2 use DSLRs for certain unique shots. A hobbyist is perfectly capable of renting an Arri Alexa and a massive 50 foot crane with a rain rig if they want to make the best home movie ever as well, although this is unlikely due to cost.

Another thing to realize is that this strata of Pro is proportional. In other words, the highest end may represent only 10% of the market, followed by 20%, then 30%, and finally 40%. Simply put: the less skilled and “in demand” you are, the more people there are in the pool.

I believe what Apple is doing here is trying to cater to all but the first level of this supposed Pro strata, as collectively they are the biggest chunk of the Pro or Potentially Pro market.

Apple’s Changing Pro Market

Even initially, with the exception of perhaps Shake, Color, and Logic Pro which were purchased applications from other companies I don’t think Apple ever aimed for the High-End Pro. That group has the money and resources to buy or work with edit suites in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost. The issue here is that this is such a small market.  What I think happened is that Apple was actually aiming for the lower tiers all along, hoping to gain more people to use the Mac platform by encouraging them by showing high-end users making magic on Macs. The "small business" creative Pro and the other 90% of the market is much larger, and they will buy much more Apple product. There is also an alurustic "let's change the world" mentality in aiming for more people that is part of the fabric that is the way Steve Jobs sees the world and Apple's place in it.

It follows then that what happened over time is that Apple’s consumer products helped revolutionize how we think of and approach computing in general. Apple saw far more creative users emerge who didn’t have the money or resources to “perform big” but certainly had the intelligence and creativity to “think big”. In the camera gear market (albeit by accident), this is the same niche the DSLRs have recently filled in. Apple saw the need for professional quality tools but at a more accessible level.  Complexity goes down and the ability to create a result that will look “pro” to the average soul goes up. Apple has been at the forefront of the democratization of digital visualmaking in this regard.

However, the sticky point is that I don’t think Apple really understood where all of this was going until fairly recently. This is when you suddenly see their Higher-End Pro portfolio start to drop off the face of the map in favor of still Pro but more wide-reaching apps (as far as the larger pro market goes). This seems like a shift in strategy, but really it was a shifting back to where they imagined the computing world to be all along. I don’t think Apple thought many of their apps would be used by High-End Pros, but they were eventually adapted that way. Final Cut was being used to make feature films, even when Apple expressly advised against it (see Cold Mountain). This kind of thing however was not meant ultimately to be Apple’s market and I don’t believe it was ever their intention for it to grow as important as it did to the few high-end Pros out there.

Apple’s intention was (and is) to enable people to create and do more with computing devices than ever before, easier, simpler, and in a more accessible manner. Period. By doing this, they also happen to make an assload of money. But the goal has always been emotional, even primal in Steve's mind: to empower the smaller guy, the mid-level creative pro and the person who wants to become one to be more creative, more easily. To empower the rest of us. "The computer for the rest of us" was in fact Apple's slogan for some time.

Somewhere along the line however, Apple got a little lost while they purchased these high end tools like Shake and Color in order to get the technologies behind them to produce more accessible products for the mid-range Pros and enthusiasts. After a transition period, they realized this and cut the high-end products out. And more recently they vastly reduced the price of the Pro products that remained, while integrating some of those purchased technologies. It started with iLife and now in the case of Final Cut Pro X, they re-wrote everything to the exact target they were focusing on in the first place - the 90% of Pros who aren't working with large high-end productions.

In short, I think Apple is re-focusing on where they have wanted to be all along. They wanted to find a better way for most of us to express themselves. And their philosophy is Steve Jobs' as well, hence the title of this article. Whether this was the proper course of action remains to be seen. After all, the other levels of Pro still consider what they do critically important and no less than high-end. But the reality is their needs are truly different. They don't have a TV Network to answer to. They dont have huge Hollywood-level budgets. They are not the anomaly, they are the reality for most video/film professionals.

Final Cut Pro X and the Perfect Storm - Why it Sucks, for Now.

The problem with FCPX is not that it exists, but how and when and in what form it was introduced. Full disclosure: I purchased FCPX, worked on it for 8 days diligently, and then requested a refund.  Now as I mentioned earlier, I am not a high-end Pro who needs some of the high end features missing from the product in my workflow. But I do need the program to work. FCPX was released in a horribly buggy state that was simply unreliable. I was losing the scrubber tool randomly. I was getting imported video without sound. I was getting synced sound that wasn’t actually in sync. My projects were disappearing or not auto saving through many crashes.

In addition to these issues, what I think are simple things like being able to pick ProRes LT as a transcode codec, or being able to export audio to share with my audio engineer friends, or the ability to easily edit multiple cameras was also a tremendous roadblock to performing even entry level “Pro” work. And simple things like in and out points not sticking to clips when you select away from them or being able to batch import video with keywords you set in the import window are really egregiously missing bits of functionality. In this respect, FCPX was released unfinished and buggy. Even Apple admits core functionality is missing!

The second major issue with FCPx’s introduction is that Apple sold it as an extension of a tool (Final Cut Pro and Studio) that high-end Pros were using for years (after multiple additions that brought the app away from Apple’s target market and focus). Unfortunately for that market,  that’s not what FCPx currently represents to them, as many of the core features they need are gone. Yet Apple discontinued the old versions of the program immediately upon the release of the new software. High-End Pros were suddenly stuck.

If Apple had explained that they were making a new app for the “rest of the Pros”, and perhaps called it something different I do believe people would have at least understood. But they did not. In this case Apple’s communication skills (usually so well done they create a religious reaction in people) absolutely were off-base.

What has happened here unfortunately is Apple managed to piss nearly every level of Pro off, aside from perhaps the Hobbyist moving from iMovie. The high end Pros lost functionality which will not be replaced (at least not yet) and gained a program with an entirely different (to them) editing paradigm. The mid-level Pros got a program that is horribly buggy and loses work and also misses some features they need. And the rest just got a buggy program.

The result has been an at-times nearly childish severe outbreak of pure anger and disgust against Apple. Every level of Pro feels betrayed in some form. This has created a perfect storm of disgust against the company, but one I don’t feel is proportionate with the necessary response. People are forgetting why Apple did this and what their end goal is, which is hard to do when you are served a piece of unfinished code and a destruction of the high end of the market that you either are a member of or aspire to. It's a tough pill to swallow.

The Future of Apple’s “Better Way”

So where do we sit now? Apple is trying to make a new revolution in filmmaking come about. They are trying to show us a better way by making enormously powerful communications tools more accessible to more levels of Pro. Over time, we can see that Apple is focusing on the 90% of the market that they want to be better aligned with, and casting away the highest end of the market (at least as far as their software goes though it seems their Pro hardware is enjoying the same fate).

This sucks, right? Apple, the creative force, the enabler of all things magical has decided to dump the very market that helped create them, right?

Not exactly. I think Apple has reached another strategic inflection point in their existence with FCPx. Apple, for better or worse, has come to see that computing technology and digital video have come so far that it is finally possible to ignite the latent creativity within more people. FCPx is one first step in making that a reality (along with their iPad apps among other things).

This change in direction does not mean Apple is now making “toy software”. A poorly executed launch does not mean Apple is abandoning all Pros. But they are clearly re-focusing on the largest Pro market, and the one that can make the most impact on the sale of Apple’s other products.  Despite the admittedly botched launch of FCPx, I don’t think the direction they are going in is necessarily a bad thing, just different.

I mistakenly said that Apple doesn’t care about Pros on Twitter. This is obviously false. They wouldn’t have spent the time, energy, and resources to create a whole new pro-level tool called Final Cut Pro X to try and reignite creativity in the space if they did. Say what you want about the product (I even call it iMovie ProSumer Pro, mostly due to it’s untimely release in a clearly unfinished state), but it’s at least on the road to getting more Pros to a place where they can make more art, easier and more efficiently. It’s clearly not there yet but it also clearly can be with a little more development time.

When FCPx is released in a stable and more feature-complete form I do believe it will open more doors for those who are not Pros to become them, and help most levels of Pros to get even better. It may even be upgraded to such an extent that it scrapes at the high-end again. But at the same time I do believe they have clearly abandoned the high-end Pro market, at least for now. Looking at all the hardware and software they have dropped, it’s clear that Apple cares more about reigniting the creative spirit in the rest of us than duplicating the high end present in other products such as Dell servers and Avid Media Composer.

Where’s the tragedy here? All I am saying, is give Jobs a chance.

To quote the New York Times’ David Pogue, in the case of the FCPx launch yes I agree that “Apple blew it.” But that’s the launch of that particular program. I do believe Apple will fix the mess the best they can (their recently posted FAQ states much of this). But the program will never become the old Final Cut Pro, nor be aimed at the high-end of the market.

I don’t think Apple’s obvious re-focus on the majority of Pros and nascent creatives vs. purely the high end vs. average person split of the past is unsound or somehow tragic. The world of Digital Visualmaking is becoming ever more accessible, especially with the advent of multi-core processing, super-fast GPUs, HDSLRs and now new sub-$5K Super 35mm digital cinema cameras. The change that Apple is trying to effect is more positive to more people in the long run, but it will take some time to see that. Yes, most truly high-end Pros are getting the shaft here. I do think they are an fortunate casualty in this shift in focus. However due precisely to the fact that they are high-end Pros, they both  have other tools they can choose from (on their Macs) and a intricate skill set that can be both expanded over time and taught to others regardless of the tools being used. Yes, their existing expensive investments in Apple high-end Pro workflows was just summarily shit on, and no I don't think that's right. But we need to understand where Steve Jobs and Apple have been aiming to put things into perspective.

Now this shift has turned pretty nasty for a lot of people, mostly due to its suddeness. It's quite possible that Apple will stumble and fail in their quest to re-focus on creative enablement for more people and more levels of Pro that were created by the digital revolution they themselves helped to invent. But I don’t hope they will fail, because if there’s any company that can succeed in helping the world enjoy more art, express themselves more often, and enable more people to make more money doing it, it's Apple. And I'm all for it. Even if that upsets the high end of the Pro market.

Once/IF they fix the bugs and missing elements in FCPx (which may never happen), I say let’s give it a chance. And even if Apple never fixes FCPx, let's at least give the concepts behind the new Pro According to Steve Jobs a chance. I'm sorry for the high-end'ers, the majority of whom can never rightly trust Apple again with their workflows. But if we look past the mess of the FCPx launch, perhaps we can see that in the end Steve thinks this new focus will make the world a better place.

And maybe it will.

Thanks for reading.