Apple's Challenges

Posted on by Larry

Since Apple launched Final Cut Pro X last Tuesday, I’ve had more than 3,500 emails that range from “I’m enjoying FCP X and creating useful projects,” to “FCP X will destroy my ability to make a living.” (And, ah, far worse, I’m sad to say.)

When I first saw Final Cut X, I was excited by its potential, but warned Apple that this release would be intensely polarizing to the editing community. It does not give me pleasure to see that I was right.

Worse, Apple has alienated the very people who can make a very visible statement as to the inadequacy of the program. No clearer example can be found than the public ridicule of FCP X on the Conan O’Brien show.

Or, as David Pogue wrote in his New York Times blog: “…let me be clear on this point — I think Apple blew it.”

With the possible exception of the launch of MobileMe, I can’t think of an Apple product launch which has spun more wildly out of control than this one. Apple did not just blow this launch, they went out of their way to alienate their key customer base.

Which is a shame, because FCP X has such great potential — but now, Apple has to concentrate on damage control, rather than getting people excited about the new program.

After the launch, Apple compounded their problems with three extremely poorly timed moves:

1. Canceling Final Cut Studio (3) and pulling all existing product from the market. This is devastating to shops that can’t use Final Cut Pro X. The two applications can co-exist on the same system — killing FCP 7 will not boost sales of FCP X to those shops that can’t run it. All it does is set up a black market for FCP 7.

2. Not providing – then publicly stating (thru David Pogue’s New York Times blog) that they do not plan to provide – a conversion utility from FCP 7 to FCP X. Not only does this render a HUGE number of past projects inaccessible, it sets up the obvious conclusion that if Apple is willing to discontinue support for legacy applications with no warning, what’s to prevent them from doing so again in the future? Every time you watch a movie that is more than 6 months old, you are dealing with legacy assets. Not providing a conversion utility is completely inexcusable.

3. Leaving the support for interchange formats – XML, EDL, OMF and others – to third-parties; or not supporting them at all. Yes, the video and film industry needs to move into the current century. However, Hollywood is very reluctant to change what works. Meeting deadlines is far more important than adopting new technology. Apple’s walled garden approach is totally at odds with the nature of post-production, where the editing system is the hub around which a wide variety of other applications revolve. On any editing project I routinely run 5-10 other programs simultaneously — only three of which are from Apple. I am constantly moving data between programs. This, combined with a lack of support for network-based storage, highlight grave development decisions in determining what features to include in the program.

NOTE: Apple told Pogue that they are working on providing the specs for their XML API. This is essential for any third-party developer to access conversion “hooks” in the program. David didn’t report that they mentioned when this would be available, however.

When I was talking with Apple prior to the launch, they told me that they extensively researched the market to determine what needed to be in the new program. In retrospect, I wonder what people they were talking with.

As I was working with the program, developing my FCP X training series, I often felt that the program was developed for two different audiences. Some features, effects for instance, are clearly geared for the iMovie crowd, while others, like trimming or 4K support, are geared for pros. The program sometimes felt like it wasn’t sure what it wanted to be when it grew up.

In FCP X, Apple got some things amazingly right. But they also got key features amazingly wrong. And if they don’t change course, this software, which has significant potential, is going to spin further and further out of control. At which point, its feature set is irrelevant, its reputation will be set. We’ll be looking at another Mac Cube.

Apple does not normally ever comment on future products – though they did this year, prior to WWDC, because they needed to reset expectations. Because of the visibility of this product into an audience that can cause extensive PR damage to Apple, I suggest that Apple break its usual vow of silence and do three things:

1. Immediately return Final Cut Studio (3) to the market. If it is not compatible with Lion (and I don’t know whether it is or not) label it so. But put it back on store shelves so consumers have the ability to work with the existing version until FCP X is ready for prime time.

2. Fund the development of a conversion utility – either at Apple or thru a 3rd-party – and announce the development with a tentative release date.

3. Publicly announce a road-map for FCP X that just covers the next 3-4 months. Apple needs to be in damage control mode and the best way to defuse the situation is to communicate. Answering the question: “What features will Apple add to FCP X, and when?” will go a long way to calming people down.

I have written in my earlier blog (read it here) that FCP X has a lot of potential, and, for some, it meets their needs very nicely. I still believe that.

I was also pleased to provide training on FCP X so that new and existing users can get up to speed on it quickly.

I don’t mind helping a product develop into its full potential. I enjoy providing feedback and helping people to learn new software. I don’t even mind that FCP X is missing some features; this is to be expected in any new software.

But I mind a great deal being forced to adopt a product because other options are removed, forced to lose access to my legacy projects, and forced to work in the dark concerning when critically needed features will be forthcoming.

This launch has been compared to Coca-Cola launching New Coke – resulting in a humiliating loss of market share.

With Final Cut Pro X, however, the situation is worse — with New Coke, only our ability to sip soda was affected. With Final Cut Pro X, we are talking losing livelihoods.

Let me know what you think,


253 Responses to Apple's Challenges

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  1. Bill Munch says:

    When Apple throws a dog a bone, it doesn’t ask that dog how it tastes. Quit crying about wanting more meat on the bone, just be glad you got the bone. Apple makes it, you buy it. Got it? Remember, it is an honor to buy Apple products. You are not just buying the software or PC, you are joining an elite group of trendy cool people! Please don’t question Apple’s decisions, they are waaaay smarter than you and know what is best for you. Keep the faith, and ye shall be rewarded. Rumor has it, that there is a totally awesome version of FCPXI in the works that will revolutionize everything! If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to be AMONG THE VERY FIRST to buy it from the APPSTORE! Apple’s products are the very best, and they are perfect in every way. Sometimes, I feel that Apple’s products have issues or problems, but then I realize that I just lack faith. Over time, I have become stronger in my faith in Apple. FCPX is part of Apple’s master plan. Let go of thoughts and opinions about it and just believe! Think different!

  2. Brian Cooney says:

    Right on Larry. After working with FCP since 2001, I’ve been contemplating the move to Adobe Creative Suite. But I still have hopes that Apple will do something kind (if not reasonable) in the near future for all its loyal worshipers. They never seemed to care much for meeting customer concerns in the past. Their unwritten mantra seemed to be; “we are the innovators, follow us or get left in the dust.” Maybe Apple has an ace up its sleeve yet still. Maybe we are all just playing into Apples hand? Maybe I’m just extremely hopeful….It’s hard to change religions.

  3. Chad Peacock says:

    I have not heard much in the wake of FCPX release on the impact to educational institutions. As a secondary school media educator I can tell you it’s going to have very big ramifications for us.

    I have used FCP since version 3 for personal freelance work and lobbied hard to get FCP installed on the mac labs where I teach (the argument to get the labs was largely based around FCP). We now have over 60 macs running FCP 7 teaching video editing to over a hundred students. To now have the rug pulled from under us after the implementation of a very costly site license with no upgrade information forthcoming is very disconcerting. Also the fact that our teachers will now have to largely relearn the software from scratch is a major concern (personally I was half way through the training for final cut 7 certification which seems pointless now!).

    We cannot even trial the software to see if it will suit our needs which makes our next move difficult to discern. I for one will be taking up adobe’s 50% cross-grade offer (after ten years on FCP) and will be advocating we switch back to adobe for all our media labs and teaching programs.

  4. Ivan says:

    I used to just like Apple. Now I only like the products, and without that sense of loyalty I once felt, indeed for over 10 years!, I am now looking at other products where before I would not have even considered it. The shame of it all is that I used to think of Apple as a friend. I agree with what they are doing, they are a company out to make the most profit. That makes complete sense to me, but I have lost a friend, and Apple is losing me.

    I also know that if I put info in Apples cloud, and something better comes along for Apple, I may be dropped again. Fool me once…

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