ProApps Users: Apple is Speaking. Are you Listening?

[Note: There’s some good reader reactions in the comments. Be sure to scan them.]

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.

Notwithstanding occasional proclamations of the upcoming Final Cut Pro 8’s totally tremendous awesomeness and chocolate’y 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  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 highest  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 of 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 favorite 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,  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 the  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 their commitment 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 the original 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.

Pricing Matters

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 caché 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.

Maybe.

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!” ]

Marketing Matters

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 we confidently 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 a 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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34 Comments

  1. Scott Simmons March 16, 2011 at 3:31 PM #

    I could not have said that better or articulated my feelings and more perfectly about Apple and FCP in the pro video space. Well done.

    • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 3:44 PM #

      Thanks. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, letting it marinate. I tweaked it a bit this morning and it seemed ready.

  2. ashercastillo March 16, 2011 at 3:56 PM #

    Great read. I agree that Final Cut Pro is no longer the celebrated app that it was when it first came out. Sure this has a lot to with the fact that iPhone and iPads are extremely popular and make a huge amount of revenue for Apple, I could ask the similar questions about the MacBook Air or MacPros.

    I have taken their positions on product marketing as hard to get, or only make a big deal out of things that they think are huge very new products, (in spite of the anti-climactic Beatles launch.)

    Looking at upgrade investments options, FCP, or Premiere Pro will only make my current business go a little faster, maybe more efficient, where as I think a Smoke, or Davinici investment could possibly grow into new business.

    I agree that Apple has down an awesome thing through FCP, and that pro-apps seem less important.

  3. Philip Hodgetts March 16, 2011 at 4:47 PM #

    FCP doesn’t get any benefit from OpenCL at the moment. Once it’s rewritten to Cocoa then, and only then, can it call OpenCL, and more importantly, Grand Central Dispatch for efficient use of all available cores.

    • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 4:51 PM #

      Thanks for that Philip. I had in mind Motion and Color when writing that. I’ll revise to be more precise.

      • Philip Hodgetts March 16, 2011 at 5:25 PM #

        While both draw on the graphic card, I don’t think the released versions of Motion and Color use OpenCL.

        • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 5:28 PM #

          You’re quite right. Updated accordingly. Thanks to both you and Martin!

    • Dan March 29, 2011 at 9:28 PM #

      OpenCL does not require Cocoa

      • Philip Hodgetts March 29, 2011 at 11:36 PM #

        While OpenCL is based on C, it would have been extremely, extremly difficult to rewrite the Carbon FCP to stay as it was and use OpenCL. It was less work to rewrite on AV Foundation OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch, in my not so humble opinion

  4. Martin Baker March 16, 2011 at 5:10 PM #

    It’s certainly true that the FCP phenomenon has forced competitors to change their game but I think it’s a bit early to seal this chapter of the history book. I’ve been saying for a long time that the “Apple haven’t done anything with X, so they’ve given up on that product” conclusion runs the risk of being short sighted. The reality is that if you have big changes in the pipeline then at some point you put the brakes on and stop throwing money at the old stuff. FCS(3) in 2009 was a relatively light release. You can interpret that as either “Apple aren’t committed to the product” or “Apple are busy working on bigger things”. It’s not hard to imagine that a rewrite would take longer than a 2 year product cycle.

    Avid and Adobe have been creating a lot of buzz since NAB 2010 but since they knew that Apple wouldn’t be announcing anything in 2010, they’ve just been making the most of their ‘window of opportunity’. Hence why we see Adobe sponsoring FCP user groups to push PP to “disillusioned” FCP users (who I’m not sure are actually as disillusioned as they’re made out to be). It could also be said that Avid has certainly been playing catch up with FCP in some areas.

    BTW I’m not sure there’s any indication that any of the pro apps currently use OpenCL technology.

    • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 5:18 PM #

      Martin, isn’t Motion and Color OpenCL accelerated?

    • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 5:26 PM #

      I should have researched that point a bit more. Quite right. OpenCL acceleration was introduced with 10.6. And there’s no mention of FCS being OpenCL aware. Thanks. I’ve updated the posting.

      • Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 6:50 PM #

        Good read Patrick.

        Some thoughts: Both Motion and Color’s GPU utilization are pre-OpenCL. Furthermore, they are heavily optimized/skewed for ATI (now AMD) GPU architectures. The proof is in the benchmarks…making for hard choices when you are setting up an edit machine where you want to use both the FCP and Adobe suites. Going forward, Apple have made it clear that they are committed to an OpenCL approach. For their part, NVidia have committed to support OpenCL as well on their hardware, as it is designed to be a GPU-brand-agnostic approach to GPU accelleration. NVidia and their proprietary CUDA are certainly in the lead at this time. They simply built their own solution and got it out their first. They committed their engineers to developers (like Adobe) to camp out and work on optimizing utilization. The work on Premiere actually pre-dates CUDA itself. Amazing things are possible due to this level of commitment, albeit, the leverage is proprietary to NVidia. Will OpenCL get there? Honestly I don’t know. Probably? Right now the lead is with CUDA.

  5. Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 7:14 PM #

    Hey Patrick,

    Good job on the article. Plenty there for me to agree with. But I have to quibble with one component of it. It’s not just your article, but something that gets repeated a lot all over the internet, even on the IMUG and AE Lists, to the point that people think it’s true.

    Basically, there are two assertions out there that I want to debunk:

    1. Apple Pro Apps don’t make any real money because they are so cheap.
    2. Pro Apps can’t possibly be important to Apple anymore in the era of iPhone and iPad juggernauts, as the PERCENTAGE it contributes to Apple’s bottom line is now infantesimal.

    Let’s take these on together, shall we?

    Let’s do it with some basic math, with some nice round numbers.

    From the best sources I can put together, Apple spends somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-12 million $US per year developing Pro Apps. This doesn’t include anything new they might acquire, this is simply paying about one hundred developers in the department.

    FCP releases are somewhere in the 2 year timeframe. Therefore, taking the high-end of their annual burn rate the development cost could look something like this (on the high side)

    12 million per year x 2 years = 24 million dollars to crank out a release of FCP Studio.

    That is probably high, but remember—round numbers and worst case scenarios.

    Major Final Cut Studio releases typically sell for $499 upgrade price. Let’s keep the math simple and call it $500. I know the last FCP release was cheaper at $299 but that was because it wasn’t a “major” release.

    Never mind full retail price for now, let’s just talk upgrades as their is a huge installed base.

    FCP Studio (insert number or date here) will most certainly ship at least 500,000 paid copies in it’s first year on the market. That estimate is probably low, but again, worst case, right?

    $500 x 500,000 units = $250,000,000.

    That is TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS or gross revenue on a development cost of, maybe, 24 million.

    Sure, there are other costs but still, a greater than 10-fold return on investment is enough to keep any product in development.

    No matter how many billions flow into Apple from other massive-selling products like iPhone and iPad, it simply does not mean that Pro Apps are not one heck of a profitable business. Who wouldn’t LOVE 10-fold (1000 percent) returns in ANY business?

    You see, economies of scale really favor Apple on this one, even in a smaller market like Pro Apps. Not to mention the cachet Apple enjoys being influential in the industry, and certainly not to mention the tremendous amount of high-margin Apple hardware that is sold to power these systems.

    Pro Apps is indeed a good business unit that more than pulls it’s weight. It doesn’t take much more than a pocket calculator to figure that out.

    Now, just to be clear, this was not the main thrust of your article, and I’m not singling you out on this one Patrick, I just needed to get this counterpoint out there.

    The other 98 percent of the post is a very good summary and I’m in agreement with it.

    Carey

    • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 7:44 PM #

      Carey – Thanks for pointing out that I’m not making the two arguments you’re addressing. I suppose I agree with you, lacking any real numbers (I can’t tell you how clients I meet that are still on FCP 6… 4 years later) concerning how much Apple makes off of FCP in upgrades.

      What I am saying – based on how Apple acts on products that it considers important… FCP doesn’t look like iPad or iPhone.

      And unlike the iPad or iPhone, or heck even the Mac OS… I don’t make my living off those apps. FCP is my *business* tool. We have to look at Apple’s treatment of it from that perspective. And I’m saying, don’t put on the blinders…

      • Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

        Yes, and that point is made and taken. Apple may quibble with it but I certainly won’t as someone who also makes his living in large part from work I do in FCP. Work, that I am often doing in PPro now, when the client-workflow-interchange doesn’t require I stick with FCP.

  6. Philip Hodgetts March 16, 2011 at 7:24 PM #

    Just another comment about Apple not showing at trade shows. Apple do not do trade shows. Ever. No matter whether it’s retail or professional. That decision was made about 5 years ago and fully implemented more than 2 years ago. Don’t look for Apple at a trade show because they get more traffic into their stores every day, than they do at trade shows over a year.

    BTW, hate this Disquis comment system.

    • Patrick Inhofer March 16, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

      Philip – I understand. At the time Apple partially used Avid’s withdrawal from trade shows as cover. Except Avid re-grouped and came back stronger and is back at trade shows. If Apple thinks its customer base doesn’t do trade shows… then I think we know who they DON’T consider their user base.

      RE: Disqus – I don’t much prefer the WordPress comment system either. Do you have an alternate suggestion? Disqus does do an excellent job of protecting me from comment span (ie – I get none).

      • Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 8:00 PM #

        I haven’t encountered any issues with Disqus and I comment regularly on blogs using it. Thinking of deploying it myself. I like threaded comments and also the spam shield. Also like the cookies and auto-login at sites I frequent.

      • Philip Hodgetts March 16, 2011 at 8:03 PM #

        Never had a problem with WordPress + Akismet to catch the spam. Rarely get a spam message get through.

      • JonathanEricTyrrell March 16, 2011 at 9:10 PM #

        One aspect of the “no trade show” discussion that’s being overlooked is that despite all of the naysaying, FCP continues to remain prominent at trade shows — it’s just featured on third-party stands. The strength of the ecosystem that’s built up around FCP is a genuine phenomenon and part of the transformed landscape you describe in your post. I don’t think Avid, Premiere or any of the other solutions you’ve mentioned have anything to compare.

  7. Tom Daigon March 16, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

    I think the time factor in rewriting FCP (and whatever other apps are needed to support it) in Cocoa (in its secondary priority to iphone) is the answer to the question “why hasnt a new dramatic release of FCP been seen, while Avid and Adobe recently have made such releases”. Granted, if what we see in the near future is underwhelming, your postulation will carry more weight with me.

  8. Martin Baker March 18, 2011 at 11:05 PM #

    “The point I’m making here isn’t if Apple sees FCP as a money maker – but that’s Apple 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.”

    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!

  9. Russ Lord March 19, 2011 at 12:08 AM #

    Patrick,

    Very well written, I feel the same way.

    R.Lord

  10. Stace Carter March 20, 2011 at 3:05 PM #

    Great perspective, Patrick.

  11. Michael Sacci March 20, 2011 at 10:14 PM #

    Overall great stuff, especially about the idea of not to worry, we will make even if…

    But a couple of other things I would point out. iLife is not an app, it is a group of apps, for the last few releases Apple has gone to using the year of the release to name the group and the version number to name the individual apps. This is what it did with Studio, in the store it was listed as FCS 2009 (not saying that it was not confusing) and I will bet that the next will be FCS 2011 w. FCP 8, Motion 5 and so on. Apple will not break up the suite offering. They may eventually drop DVDSP or leave it like it has been for the last 5 years.

    As far as not being on the front page, I would bet that it WILL be when it is released, the front page is for the new stuff, even the iPhone has taken a back sit to the iPad 2.

    Then Apple has a fairly predictable upgrade time frame on all their stuff. They do a major iPod/iTunes thing every year. Hardware is less visible until there is a major change to form and function. FCS is right on schedule, every other NAB, since they are not tied to NAB we may or may not see the release announced before NAB, but I we think we will.

    I think we over analyze things. For me the biggest things to look out for is, are manufactures making there newest stuff to work with FCP?

    • Patrick Inhofer March 21, 2011 at 3:22 AM #

      Apple dropping the numbering scheme from FCS I think speaks to your point. It’s an umbrella and the underlying apps will see varying degrees of attention, with FCP being the centerpiece.

      RE: Apple’s home page – FCS 3 was barely featured at all in 2009. I remember having to reload the page a few times before it cycled in. If this version is indeed a showcase update… then yes, I’d expect it to have a more prominent placement.

      RE: Product updates – I’m a bit jaded as a long time Color user (which is primarily how I make my living). That app has really only seen bug fixes in the past 4 years. No significant new features since the initial roll-out in 2007. In fact, it’s biggest feature update is one we need to get from a third party vendor (RED integration). If I sound a bit pessimistic… it’s because Color is starting to look more like DVDSP. But I’m not ready to make that call (yet). I’m very much looking forward to this next release.

      Thanks for leaving a comment!

      • Martin Baker March 21, 2011 at 9:35 AM #

        If you were planning a rewritten FCP, there would be a very strong case for building Color functionality right in. There’s a ton of duplicated functionality between the apps yet the processes are implemented in different ways, both on the surface in the UI and under the hood. It’s only like this because of the product histories, but it causes major workflow issues which ultimately stops users from being able to take advantage of the powerful tools.

        • Patrick Inhofer March 23, 2011 at 3:09 AM #

          Martin – On this we both agree. I’d love to see a re-imagining where the timeline is the centerpiece and the UI morphs completely depending on the task at hand. Because you’re right – where “The Studio” breaks down is the sharing of timeline data.

      • Martin Baker March 21, 2011 at 9:35 AM #

        If you were planning a rewritten FCP, there would be a very strong case for building Color functionality right in. There’s a ton of duplicated functionality between the apps yet the processes are implemented in different ways, both on the surface in the UI and under the hood. It’s only like this because of the product histories, but it causes major workflow issues which ultimately stops users from being able to take advantage of the powerful tools.

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  1. Jonathan Eric Tyrrell @ postpost.tv - May 19, 2011

    […] climate in which FCP is often discussed in terms that cast the software as out-of-date and Apple as out-of-touch. Quite simply a lot of folks will have you believe that FCP 7 has been struggling, but my […]

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