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There’s been much consternation over the past year about Apple’s commitment to Final Cut Studio – and what it means to post-production video. As someone who specializes in Final Cut Studio workflows, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the state of Final Cut Studio and its commitment to me and my business.
NotwithstandingÂ occasionalÂ proclamationsÂ of the upcoming Final Cut Pro 8’s totally tremendous awesomeness andÂ chocolate’yÂ melt-in-your-mouth’ness – I’m going to discuss the one thing I know is absolutely true…
FCP’s past success has unshackled the post-production community’s need for FCP to be Â successful in the future.
What do I mean? Come, walk with me . . .
Three Signs of Final Cut’s Waning Influence
Sign #1. NAB 2010: Avid and Adobe had landmark releases in 2010. These releases were significant enough to keep Avid competitve and tag Premiere Pro as being a viable FCP alternative.
- Avid finally broke away from its ‘film editorial’ heritage and incorporated the “cut, paste, swap” freedom that so many FCP editors value. And they did so without dumbing down Media Composer. Avid successfully walked a tightrope.
- Adobe has super-charged Premiere Pro (PP) targeting FCP’s reliance on Quicktime and ProRes’ “one codec to rule them all” attitude – which requires upfront transcoding (and downtime).
- Both Avid and PP outperform FCP’s mixed-format, mixed-framerate, timeline – Avid does it with superior quality, PP with superior performance and convenience.
Sign #2. General Purpose Computing on Graphics Processing Units (GP-GPU): In 2010 several high-end apps have appeared on the Mac that rely heavily on the GPU for their video processing. CUDA on nVidia cards (nVidia’s proprietary programming language) is the highestÂ profile example of a GP-GPU – it is one of the cornerstones in Adobe’s “Mercury Engine” and give Premiere Pro it’s amazing real-time performance.
GP-GPU technology also powers Autodesk’s high-end finishing system Smoke on a Mac and BlackMagic’s high-end color grading system DaVinci Resolve on a Mac.
[Sidebar] Snow Leopard (10.6) opened up the use ofÂ OpenCL, an ‘open source’ graphics library (supported by both nVidia and ATI graphics cards) – but currently Final Cut Studio isn’t OpenCL-aware and doesn’t derive any of the raw horsepower from the graphics card as, say, Premiere Pro does with CUDA. Because of this, to date FCP feels sluggish and it seems as if it’s not keeping pace with the performance improvements you’d expect as the years roll onward. At this point, the best FCS will probably do in Version 8 is catch up to the rest of the crowd.
The upshot of this GP-GPU revolution? High-end, high-performance solutions can unshackle themselves from niche computing platforms and vastly expand their audience by letting off-the-shelf GP-GPUs do the heavy lifting. The result, Autodesk Smoke slashes its price by 90% and releases a software-only version. DaVinci Resolve slashes its price by 90% and releases a software-only version.
The big boys are jumping into this pond – and are making big-boy splashes. Powerful, throughly professional content creation tools are finding their way onto Mac towers and laptops.
Sign #3. In 2010 Apple didn’t show up at any of the trade shows… and no one noticed. This is pretty damning. Apple’s absence is a given. It’s expected. It’s not worth remarking upon.
It hurts their credibility.
Watching What Apple Does
A lot of pros complain about Apple’s secrecy.Don’t be fooled, they are talking to us every day, all the time. They do so in their actions. Lets look at some of those actions:
“Real Artists Ship”
That is one of my all-time favoriteÂ quotes. The fact that it’s attributed to Steve Jobs, the leader of my favorite company, is just icing on the cake. To me, the quote says: Professional artists set deadlines and then abide by those deadlines. Deadlines set amateurs apart from professionals. Professionals ship. Amateurs endlessly dither.
At first, there was only one iPhone. The first iPhone. Now,Â we’re on iPhone 4. This implies, there will be an iPhone 5… and an iPhone 6. And Apple has clearly and consistently established a timeline for when we’ll see these new iPhones. They are committed to the iPhone and their actions leave no doubt about it.
In fact, Apple has committed so completely to the iOS platform that they had to label a recent technology preview, “Back to the Mac” – and reaffirmed their commitment to the Mac OS by… setting a release date for theÂ update at the end of the summer 2011.
They set a deadline. They are now committed. They will ship.
By contrast, what version iPod are they shipping? Does anyone remember? When do new iPods get released? Do you have an idea? I sure don’t. iPods get updated when they get updated. On Apple’s schedule – with no ship dates announced or implied.
What do you think: Which product do they give a higher priority? iPods or iPhones?
Apple’s actions speak loud and clear as to theirÂ commitmentÂ to their products.
Apple’s Commitment to Final Cut Studio
What about Final Cut Studio?
The first version of the Studio package was released in 2005. It was called Final Cut Studio.
In 2007 Final Cut Studio 2 was released. That release included Color, a color grading application which 6 months earlier had cost $20,000. Apple bought the product and bundled it into FCS 2 – without a penny of a price increase! That’s a big commitment. They seemed on top of its game.
In 2009 Final Cut Studio was released.
NOT Final Cut Studio 3. Just plain old Final Cut Studio – which still causes confusion to this day, since that was what they called theÂ originalÂ Studio package just 4 years earlier. Apple dropped the numbering. It even created a bit of confusion on their Road Shows where presenters had to explain that there is no Final Cut Studio 3.
Clearly this whole, ‘lets drop the numbering’ attitude is not a company-wide phenomenon. the latest release of iLife is named, “iLife ’11”. The latest release of iPad? iPad 2.
Final Cut is treated more as the iPod than the iPad.
Yes, Apple has spoken loudly – no longer can we expect Suite-wide upgrades. Individual apps will see upgrades – but the Suite as a whole? Probably not.
Heck, in the 2009 release – Color, just 2 years after it was folded into Final Cut Studio, only saw enough developer attention to garner a .5 upgrade with no significant feature upgrades (beyond new codecs). Even if Color sees a major upgrade in 2011, it’s tough to see how it can overcome nearly 4 years of no significant movement and catch up with its new competitor, DaVinci Resolve.
Apple revels in its profit margins. They have the highest margins in the computer industry. They do that by offering amazing products – at decent prices. They don’t compete on price, they compete on value. They provide a ton of features for any comparably priced product from their competitors. And where they can charge a premium, they do: iPhone.
Final Cut Studio runs strongly against this culture. Sure, for years FCP was an amazing value – but only because it was So. Damn. Inexpensive.
Final Cut Studio gained market share based on a price-slashing model.
Is it hard to believe that Apple execs don’t notice this? That this doesn’t annoy them? Sure, FCP has market share in the NLE niche. But at what price? And at what opportunity cost elsewhere in the company?
Many pros argue that Final Cut Studio is a loss-leader, making up in cachÃ© what it doesn’t gain in profit. And that might be the case. But no one likes to throw money at loss leaders.
Apple might throw just enough cash and engineers to keep it relevant.
2011 will tell us that much, at least.
[UPDATE: Carey Dismore has pointed out in the comments that they likely sees significant returns on the sales of Upgrades of FCP and that it is NOT a loss leader. That’s probably correct. The point I’m making here isn’t if Apple sees FCP as a money maker – but that their Final Cut pricing strategy is to undercut the competition… which seems to run counter-culture to the way Apple runs the rest of its operations.]
[UPDATE: An astute point from Martin Baker – “Hardware is certainly priced at the premium end but I’d say Apple have a pretty consistent history for aggressive pricing on software…which they can do because the cost of production is negligible. Look at the pricing on iLife, iWork, Logic, Aperture, even OS X, Of course there’s also nothing better than high quality affordable software to help drive sales of that higher margin hardware!” ]
Back in 2002 when I started my company, specializing in Final Cut workflows for high-end projects – I did it with the confidence that Apple would market the snot out of Final Cut Pro. I wouldn’t need to tell my clients about Final Cut – Apple would do that for me.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Did you notice in 2009, Final Cut Studio’s new version was barely featured on their website? Combine that with their expected absence at professional trade shows and soon we’ll have clients asking, “Remind me again, why Final Cut?”
Apple IS Speaking
Adding all this up, this is what I think Apple is telling us: You’ll get what you get, on a timeline of our choosing, dictated by non-Pro App considerations – and not all apps in the Studio will be given equal priority.
Final Cut Studio is not a priority.
I’m not saying they’re killing Final Cut Pro or sees no value in the Suite. Their actions are saying they no longer see ProApps as a priority – either in terms of revenue or marketing value.
As post-production professionals, can weÂ confidentlyÂ rely on Apple to keep churning out the tools we need to stay competitive?
And even if this release of FCP 8 is ‘unicorns and rainbows’ – are you confident they won’t sit on it for another 4 years before the next ‘unicorn’ release? Meanwhile… the competition keeps marching forward.
The Silver Lining:
You Can Safely Ignore All Of The Above
If there’s one thing I’ve learned running my own business – no one cares about your business or your career they way you do.
As we survey the NLE landscape there’s an app for every market, at every level of quality, and at amazing prices – even while staying on our favorite platform: the Mac OS.
For producers and editors, Premiere’s real-time performance will knock your socks off. If you need support for professional tape decks and delivery, Avid continues to knock the socks off FCP. Do you specialize in delivering commercials or broadcast programming? Smoke on a Mac. Is your niche color grading? DaVinci Resolve. All of the aforementioned? They run on a 2008 Mac or later.
We. Have. Choices.
In the 2000’s Apple triumphed with Final Cut Pro. Their slash and burn pricing model has fundamentally rocked our business – for good and ill.
What Apple started in our business will go on. Every few months we find another high-end app slashing pricing and moving away from dedicated hardware solutions.
Media Composer, Premiere Pro, Smoke on a Mac, Resolve on a Mac, Quantel is starting to dabble in this arena (on the PC side), heck LightWorks has gone friggin’ Open Source.
It doesn’t matter if we are happy (or not) with the next release cycle of Final Cut Studio – we have choices today that didn’t exist 5 years ago. Thank you Mr. Jobs.
And if FCP’s success was merely bedding for its ultimate demise? If FCP turns into iMoviePro?
Pros adapt. Pros migrate. An Overwrite is a friggin’ Overwrite no matter the NLE we use.
We can rejoice in the world FCP ushered in… and then we move on.
And if FCP 8 turns out be as sexy as aÂ Ferrari and as functional as a tractor? Hooray for us.
Just remember – Apple is speaking to us all the time. You only need to watch them.
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