Final Cut Pro X = iOS

Apple released the new version of their professional video editing software Final Cut Pro. The older version is Final Cut Pro 7, the new version is a huge step forward...X. Within hours of the release, the critics came out in droves. They have been not only negative, but they've also used this to pass judgment on Apple as a company and the decisions they've chosen to make.

I need to make a few things clear before I move on:

  • I do not own Final Cut Pro X (I don't have the extra income to make a $300 purchase, especially for software I don't use on a regular basis)
  • I have read extensively on the new product (when Apple releases a "dud," it is always intriguing) and have considerable experience with Final Cut Pro 7 (though I am in now way, form, or fashion, a "professional" at Final Cut Pro).
  • Apple is a 90-90 company. Apple makes decisions based off of what 90% of the people want/need to do 90% of the time (I didn't come up with this myself, I stole it from Alex Lindsay, founder of the Pixel Corp).
Because of these things above, I've come to one basic conclusion: most who are criticizing the product (no matter their prestige in the video editing world) do not understand Apple as a company.  After all, Apple makes some seemingly-crazy decisions on a regular basis. They seem, under Steve's leadership, to be doing ok.
It is my goal here to draw comparisons between Final Cut Pro X and iOS, as Apple has made strategic decisions with both of the products.  I do, in fact, think that iOS is indicative of the direction and market Apple is pursuing. I think these decisions parallel, in many ways, the decision that Apple has made with Final Cut Pro.  It's not a clean analogy by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it has some ring of truth to it.
It's hard to remember the first iPhone now. But, not too hard.  There were no direct competitors.  Today is the four year anniversary of the launch of the original iPhone. Let's compare some features that we take for granted now, shall we?
The original iPhone had:
  • no multitasking (this is true of the original iPad as well, when it first released)
  • no third-party applications
  • no home screen backgrounds
  • no Microsoft Exchange support
  • no front-facing camera (the original iPad didn't have any cameras)
  • no 3G support or coverage
  • an audio jack that required an adapter for a regular headphone set
  • no intelligent way to deal with notifications
  • no push notifications
  • no user-replaceable battery (still true today)
Slowly, thanks to adequate competition from Android, Apple has added a majority of these over the past four years. Slowly, but surely, Apple has redesigned some of the most basic features in Mac OS X to work in ways that are best suited for the mobile environment.  Many argue whether these are the best strategies or not, but no one argues whether or not they are working...they are.
Because here is what happened with iOS: Apple wanted to make a mobile phone (Steve has discussed on stage that this actually started with the pursuit of a tablet device). It was important that this device be radically different than anything within the market.  Because the original idea came from a tablet form factor, a big candy-bar shaped piece of glass seemed like the best idea. If they could implement a worthwhile digital keyboard (and they did), then the full glass front would prove to be a great solution.  Apple had a leg up on the competition for two reasons:
  • they saw a new phone not as a mobile phone, but rather as a mobile computer.
  • they already had a phenomenal proprietary operating system.
The enabled them to start the iPhone OS with a strong foundation: Mac OS X.  This was, in fact, one of the points in Steve's original keynote when he introduced the iPhone. Here was the problem though: no one was going to use a mouse to navigate the iPhone's screen. Because Apple makes decisions often based on minimalism or simplicity, they also threw out the idea of using a stylus. Steve has said it before: When you throw out the stylus, you have to use your finger. Mac OS X was built so that someone could have the precision of the tip of a cursor.  Without a stylus, you don't have that precision. You have a finger tip, which is much, much cruder.
Apple, taking the foundational elements of Mac OS X, designed a completely new interface to the iPhone's operating system. It is important to understand this distinction. When Windows 7 went "touch-enabled" Microsoft did little more than make it a bit easier for a hardware manufacturer to add a touch screen. A touch experience on Windows 7 today is more than painful (try it and you'll see). Apple took a different approach. The rewrote EVERYTHING so that it would work with the point of a finger. iOS (originally called, iPhone OS) required Apple to, more or less, start over.
And start over they did.  If you look at the history of iOS, it becomes obvious that people at Apple sat down in a room and said, "If we were going to reinvent computing, what would we do different?"  You can imagine that they thought of things like malware, spam, viruses, ease of writing, finding, and downloading apps, battery life, the file system, price, etc. Little by little, with their own unique approach, Apple has fought each of these things. If there are features that people want/desire on an iPad or iPhone that their computer has, Apple slowly implements those features in a way that suits the device that they're running on.  It hasn't been perfect, but it is hard to argue that it hasn't worked.
So, how does this relate to Final Cut Pro?
Final Cut Pro 7 (the older version, just replaced with FCPX) was a 32-bit application. Apple has migrated most of their apps to 64-bit over time. Final Cut Pro was one of the last. And Final Cut Pro was on old product. Somewhere along the line, I imagine that it was decided that to take FCP to 64-bit, a significant amount of re-coding was going to need to have been done. Here is a big change, and it needs to be re-written to work well (sound familiar?).
One must imagine that at some point someone working on this re-coding said, "If we're going to re-write this anyway, why don't we just start over?" as if to say, "If we were going to reinvent movie editing, what would we do differently?"
And so they did. They did this a while back with iMovie. Now it was time for Final Cut Pro. So, they re-wrote it, from the ground up.
We can make a strong argument that Apple is willing to enrage 5,000 high-end professional users in order to satisfy 2 million new users.  That argument would be valid.  We can argue that they lowered the price to entice new users to come.  That argument would be valid.  We can argue that most of Hollywood is already using AVID and is unlikely to switch (editors get very quick and comfortable with editing environments that they know and love).  That argument would be valid.
But my argument is that they're starting over.
There are a lot of things that they've done well this time:
  • Distribution and licensing is much easier as it is handled through the App Store.
  • Stepping up from iMovie is much, much easier with the new FCPX.
  • Many of the extra features that used to exist in stand-alone applications are now well-integrated into the Final Cut Pro experience.
  • Magnetic timelines have made it so that non-educated or non-experienced users can easily perform tasks that used to be a burden.
  • The user interface resembles iMovie so that all of their products have a seamless workflow to them.
  • Rendering is done in the background so that the editor doesn't have to worry with telling the computer to re-render every video edit.
  • Final Cut Pro works works much better with Motion (so much so that using Motion to create FCP Title templates is much, much easier) than it ever did.
  • Everything is 64-bit.
  • Final Cut Pro renders footage more useful now that it has facial recognition built into its logging of clips.
  • Many, many more new features.
The two biggest complaints from the high-end professional world have been:
  • The interface is too foreign (unchangeable and too much like iMovie Pro)
  • It doesn't import old timelines and projects.
Apple has said that the second one is simply impossible. Many might ask, why would Apple go forward with a project that wasn't compatible with the old one? The answer is easy: when there is something better in the future (and for Apple, this is much better) a few sacrifices sometimes need to be made. Remember when the iMac released without a floppy disk drive? Yeah, that didn't work for them at all...
iOS was a complete re-write, leaving out key features until they could add them in a way that made sense.  Final Cut Pro X is a complete re-write, until they can add the features users want in a way that makes sense.  It's a compromise that Apple made to please tons and tons of amateur video editors at a low cost, knowing good and well that the high-high end market may react because it is...different.
It's almost like asking a computer programmer to write an app on the original iPhone.  They'd probably laugh.  When you asked why they were laughing, they'd say, "It doesn't have the right tools."  To which you would reply, "yet."
Does this hurt their growth in the high-end professional market? Probably.
Does it help their growth in the low-end amateur market?  Without a doubt.
The high-end market is tiny.  The low-end market is huge.
Can you really blame a company for making any different of a decision?
People really seem to like their iPhones and iPads.