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,