Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Hubris of Apple

I woke up last week to a brand new world.  The business I had grown and nurtured for more than a decade was changed overnight.  Steve Jobs decided that I no longer mattered.

I've been editing for most of my life.  I started out on a CMX 3600, cutting videos on BetaSP and D2 tape.  Actually, strike that... I really started out splicing Super8 film in my bedroom, then moved on to VHS tape to tape assemble editing, then 16mm Steenbecks, then came the CMX 3600.  From there I jumped into the futuristic world of "non-linear" computer-based editing.  First on Avid, then to a Media 100 and finally to Apple's Final Cut Pro.

I've been cutting primarily on Final Cut for the last decade, which makes it my longest running platform so far.  Since I started off editing with film, the concepts of film editing always made the most sense to me - things like having clips in bins and sequences running from left to right, and multiple tracks stacked on each other.  These were things first introduced by Avid, and then carried on by every editing program thereafter.  My jumps from Avid to Media100 to Final Cut were never really huge ones as all had common elements that they borrowed from each other and that ultimately led back to the days of film editing.

But now, Steve Jobs has decreed that all this shall end.  He is determined to drag editors kicking and screaming into the future that he has decided is best for all of us.  With the advent of Final Cut Pro X, he has obliterated many of the useful ways that we go about our business of editing.  And he could care less how we feel about it.

This actually goes against the very reason that Final Cut was so good to begin with. After I had made the switch to Apple's editing tool around 2000, I kept encouraging others to follow - whether they were familiar with Avid, or Media100 made no difference.  The strength of Final Cut to me, was the fact that you could use the tool in many different ways.  In other words, if you liked traditional 3-point editing performed in source and record windows like an Avid, Final Cut could do that.  Or, if you preferred making edit decisions in the timeline, like a Media100, Final Cut could do that too.  If you were a keyboard guy and liked to control the software through keyboard commands - no problem.  Prefer to mouse-around and drag things - no problem there either.  In fact, for most functions, there were usually two or three ways to do the same thing.  Whenever I watched another editor use the software I always learned something new because the toolset was so rich, it seemed almost like an entirely different animal, depending on who was operating it.

Apple's approach was obvious - learn from other successful programs what works well, and instead of dictating one way to do things, offer as many as possible, ultimately allowing the editor to determine how they should work.

But Apple is a very different company today than it was back in 2000.  Back then, they were still known as Apple Computer - and they actually cared about their higher-end customer base.  The decision for Apple to enter the video editing market themselves made perfect sense.  Most editing platforms ran not only on Macs, but on suped-up high-end Mac systems with two monitors, fast drives and lots of RAM.  They needed the fastest processors and the biggest chassis to handle additional PCI cards to run everything.  This high-end market was always on the bleeding edge of technology, constantly upgrading, always searching for faster, bigger better.  Not only that, but it was a very prestigious, and sexy market - one that could drive customers to see Apple as a player in all things media-related.

So, it made perfect sense for Apple to want to play in this market not just on the hardware side, but on the software side, and use Final Cut to continue to drive hardware revenue.  They did very well in this market - expanding into DVD production, sound editing, motion graphics, color correction and bundling it all into a new product called Final Cut Studio.  They were kicking Avid's ass and climbing up the ladder of credibility - eventually edging into the ultimate territory of Avid's domain - motion picture editing.  It seemed they were about to own the whole market... and then a funny thing happened.

They no longer wanted it.  Just when it seemed Avid was dead, Apple took their foot off the pedal.  They let up.  They stopped upgrading their software.   They started doing random things like buying up Shake (a market leading software compositing tool used by folks like ILM), releasing one version and then abandoning it completely.  They stopped attending NAB (the National Association of Broadcasters convention) and then even stranger, stopped attending MacWorld.  They changed their name to just Apple.  No Computer.  A change was coming.

To put it simply, Apple is no longer a computer company.  They are a mobile device company.  They are a media-absorption company. They sell iPads, and iPhones and Apps, and Clouds and IOs.  They barely continue to upgrade their desktop Macs (the workhorse of video-editing).  The strategy of pandering to the technological vanguard of content creators no longer fits with their business model.  They don't want to sell high-end $1000 software to drive hardware sales, they want to sell a million downloads of a $2.99 app.

I get all this - I really do.  It makes perfect sense.  They no longer need me.

But did Steve really have to completely thumb his nose at the business I've built over the last ten years, using his software and his computers?

How am I supposed to tell my clients that, "I'm sorry, I can't open up that project we did last year - Final Cut Pro X can't read it."  Or, "No, I can't send an OMF file to the audio post house to work on your sound mix, Final Cut Pro X can't do that."  Or, "Gee, I'd love to be able to read in that list you generated from your rough-cut edit you did on your Avid, but Final Cut Pro X can no longer import an EDL."

Now look - I understand that it's really just version 1 of a brand new piece of software.  And I know that they'll work out some of the bugs, and add back some of the functionality.  And I know that 3rd party developers are already scrambling to full in the holes where Apple no longer cares.

But let's really call it what it is - iMovie X.  A glitzy, cool new piece of software to edit fun videos for web and social media.  It is in no way a professional tool that I can use with my existing clients, and not something I can use to edit feature films, or broadcast documentaries.

So, like a scorned lover, I must wait.  Wait and see if Steve ever decides to play with me again - to bless me with the pure light of his affections.

I'll give it a year.  I'll continue to run Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 on my existing system.  Continue to bill my clients on an edit suite that fulfills their needs and mine.  I'll check out and download Adobe and Avid's latest products and figure out which will better suite my needs.  Maybe, just maybe, Steve will come to his senses and like the New Coke fiasco, or the Apple Cube, this will all just be a blip in product development stupidity history, and some day soon, shiny new Final Cut Pro 8 will be made available.

If not, I'll soldier along just fine.  In the end, the toolset is never what matters most.  It's always been and will always be about telling a story in an effective and compelling way.

But damn Steve - did you really need to be such a dick about it?


  1. I've always been a PC girl. For years I edited on Sony Vegas Pro, which has better and worse qualities than Final Cut Pro, but overall is just as good a choice for editing.

    Literally weeks ago I ended up making the switch. My ancient Dell was dying. Most of the indie gigs I was getting shots at were using FCP and I needed my own computer. I knew Final Cut Pro X was coming, but (perhaps naively) assumed it would be to FCP7 what FCP7 was to FCP6.

    Part of the reason I fought Macs so hard was its attitude towards its customers. Mac and Jobs and Apple treat people like cretins being privileged to be graced with Apple's presence, not customers. In fact, my customer service experience with Apple was absolutely horrible (that is a blog post in the making, too).

    And now I am totally screwed.

    Too bad I didn't hold on to my principles just a LEEEETLE longer. Now I'm going to use my old FCP for a few more years, but I'm swearing this Mac will be my last.

  2. I'm sad to say they did the same thing with Logic also on the audio side of things, it's stagnated and full of bugs. Bugs which as a software developer I'm pretty confident could be ironed out relatively inexpensively if anyone cared... and by anyone I mean the people doing the budgets. You know the developers themselves must feel like shit to not have the chance to finish products properly.

    As the next version of Logic with be v10 I'm afraid Logic X will be a partner in crime to FCP X.

  3. Abandon Apple. They've screwed up too many times.

  4. I totally agree and what has happened is every company appears to be following suit. I went to the staples and radio shack and couldn't find an internal wireless card. Everything is going the stupid USB route for mobile devices. There is this huge drive towards mobile when mobile totally sucks. I don't want to work on a mobile device with a tiny screen and keyboard, I don't want to play games on a mobile device with a shitty graphics card. I don't want a mobile device interrupting my life when I should be away from the computer.

    The desktop has not died even though they want it to.

  5. Ive found this blog twice thru google searches for video production related interests of mine in the last few days. Good stuff Todd

  6. Informative article, just what I was looking for. Thank you so much for taking the time for you personally to share such a nice info.
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