Today Apple Insider got the echo chamber of the Internet buzzing, with their post Apple scaling Final Cut Studio apps to fit prosumers by Prince McLean. It’s a great headline and I can’t blame Prince McLean and Apple Insider for running with it: it’s bound to get them a whole bunch of links.
However, they couldn’t be more wrong. Factually they have the entire history of Pro Apps at Apple just plain wrong. That’s probably because Prince McLean isn’t exactly well known in the professional video communities and because that history is only known by those who where paying attention at the time. (And also, Apple have definitely encouraged the inaccurate version of the Pro Apps history mistakenly quoted at Apple Insider.)
More on that in a minute. Aside from the factual errors in the history, I think they have had some data from an insider that they’ve totally misinterpreted and the true interpretation is incredibly positive for Final Cut Pro.
Now for the standard disclaimer. I’m not a rumor monger. I gather data from a lot of different places; have watched the professional video software industry closely on a day-to-day basis; and am very good at interpreting and interpolating meaning from the data points. However, I do have a way-above-average history of accuracy in my predictions, something that cannot be said for Apple Insider (G5 Powebook anyone? Where’s my Final Cut Extreme Apple Insider?)
In the late 1990′s Macromedia were going head-on against Adobe: whatever Adobe could, they could do better. There was Freehand against Illustrator; Fireworks to ImageReady; Dreamweaver vs GoLive; and there was to be KeyGrip against Premiere. In fact Macromedia snagged the three core members of the development team for Premiere 1-4.2 and they started work on KeyGrip. KeyGrip had evolved to become Final Cut by NAB 98, where it was being shown in a small demo room in the basement. That was my first exposure and I still have the T shirt (which fits a much younger man).
Macromedia suddenly decided to stop fighting Adobe and jump on this new thing called the Internet. Good call. So Macromedia had no need for Final Cut and where in fact shopping it around before NAB 98. Media100, who were going to use KeyGrip on PCs with their Vincent Card but became frustrated with how far behind schedule it was they went on to develop Finish, passed on buying Final Cut, probably because of the history. 1998 was the year that Media100 launched a Windows app. Premiere had gone cross platform at 4.2 and Premiere 6 was developed for both platforms.
This was the year that it wasn’t looking all that good for Apple. NAB was PC all the way. Even Avid had endured the “we’re going only to PC” debacle/rumor/whatever.
Apple eventually purchased Final Cut about three weeks after NAB in reality to ensure that there would continue to be a Non Linear Editing application on the Mac. I also believe that someone figured that Apple’s FireWire (they developed it) port combined with the iLink on Sony’s DV cameras just released (in reality, also FireWire) combined with the new software could sell some Macs. That was a smart move. When I saw Final Cut in March 98, it was working with some Targa dual stream cards, which was not as robust as when Final Cut Pro was release at NAB 99. But Final Cut Pro had native FireWire/DV support: perfect with those new Blue and White G3 towers with native FireWire!
But Apple bought Final Cut Pro as a defensive (and marketing) move. I seriously doubt that there was a cohesive Professional Applications Strategy in 1999. Or 2000. But by NAB 2002 there had been some serious planning going on. By then (or shortly before) there was definitely a Pro Apps strategy in place. (If I recall correctly, largely attributable to Richard Kerris.)
I do know that the Final Cut Pro team were a whole lot more open then than they are now. It was a different time at Apple. I’m very confident, from conversations at that time, and when Apple went on the Pro Apps buying spree, that the strategy of a Pro Apps group came well after the Final Cut Pro purchase. When Apple saw how successful Final Cut Pro had become, and how valuable its nascent involvement in the professional film and television world was for selling iMacs with iMovie in the heartland, a Pro Apps strategy evolved.
And Apple went on a buying spree:
- eMagic (Logic, Logic Pro, Garageband and Soundtrack Pro have evolved from that purchase)
- Prismo Graphics for “LiveType” (a Cocoa version of India Pro)
- Nothing Real (Shake) and Silicon Grail
- Astarte (DVD Studio Pro 1-1.5)
- Spruce (DVD Studio Pro 2 onward)
- The Motion team who had previously created combustion and it’s ancestors (well, they had just been let go from discreet and Apple employed the whole team so technically Motion was developed by Apple employees)
and so on.
Apple have poured a lot of money into the Pro Apps and in turn it’s made them a lot of profit on the software division. “Highly Profitable” according to one very reliable source.
So, to the substance of the Apple Insider rumor: is Apple turning Final Cut Pro into Final Cut Prosumer? Let’s consider some data points.
- Apple does not like to be second best in anything. Consider DVD Studio Pro. DVDirector, the product they purchased Astarte for, was released by Apple as DVD Studio Pro 1 – effectively DVDirector 2.0. There was a 1.5 release but DVD Studio Pro was not getting the professional respect that Apple hoped for. (Was that polite enough?) So they purchased Spruce. Although it was PC only and immediately killed, Apple bought the best available knowledgeable engineering team and abstract layer code. This became DVD Studio Pro 2 with the Pro Apps kit interface. (The first app with that Interface Framework.) They genuinely want Final Cut Pro – or its successor – to be a truly great application for their target market, which may not be senior editors on studio pictures!
- Apple derives a lot of benefit from the Pro Apps.
- The division is highly profitable. (500,000 users upgrade a version of the Studio and it’s $150 million). Not iPod territory but respectably profitable. (And they do help sell some of those expensive MacPros.)
- The technology is now interwoven throughout their iApps.
- There is a huge marketing advantage from the Pro Apps, such that it’d be worth keeping them if they were only just profitable. Every time a documentary is nominated for an Academy Award edited on Final Cut Pro, Apple sell 10,000 copies of Final Cut Express and an iMac or MacBook Pro in the heartland – it’s aspirational but affordable.
- Apple are pushing all their applications to 64bit and to Cocoa. Final Cut Pro has a harder-than-most development path because of the history (cross platform app to OS 9 to OS X to Intel and now to Cocoa and 64bit).
- Apple need to come out with a very strong version at the next release. Avid have been very strong with their recent Media Composer releases, particularly with workflow features that editors appreciate (a better open timeline than Final Cut Pro, for example). Adobe have just released a version of Premiere Pro that leverages Apple’s hardware for performance far better than Final Cut Pro does. Apple know this.
- Apple has the financial resources to wait until something is right, rather than release a half-finished version.
- Apple does not leak. OK, I think I’ve substantiated that Randy Ubillos is back in a senior designer position (or more) but really, Apple employees don’t leak. They’re my worst source of information that isn’t necessarily public knowledge. Randy, for those who don’t know, was one of those original three that went from Adobe to Macromedia: he was the original designer of Premiere 1-4.2. He is also the lead designer for Aperture and iMovie 09 was almost a personal project before Apple picked it up.
- So Apple Insider have not had a review copy of any development version of Final Cut Pro (next); it’s almost certain they don’t have any substantial information at all, just a snippet. Perhaps a quick view of an interface or mockup? There isn’t anything substantial in the article.
Ok, given all that, here’s why I think Apple Insider are about as wrong as anyone could be. They got something: a tip or a sneak peak or something. The most likely thing they saw that could lead to this type of misinterpretation is they saw, or more likely someone visiting Apple saw, a screen supposedly from the next version of Final Cut Pro and it looked, superficially like iMovie. Combine that with Randy Ubillos’ move back to Final Cut Pro and the leap is obvious, but wrong.
Apple appear to be revising the Pro Apps kit from it’s original incarnation in 2002-03. We’ve seen hints of more HUD (the white-on-black interface for Motion’s floating palettes) like interface design in places, and that look is very similar to iMovie 09. They’re looking for designers now. It’s likely that whatever the current interface design is, it’s not there yet or they wouldn’t be hiring designers now!
Let me go out on a limb and say that it much more likely means that Final Cut Pro is getting a very thorough rewrite. Not just a 64 bit/Cocoa rewrite (and hopefully take advantage of modern OS X features) but a complete rethink.
When iMovie 09 was demonstrated at LAFCPUG, there were a lot of people who wanted iMovie features incorporated into Final Cut Pro. Not dumb Final Cut Pro down to iMovie but take the best features of iMovie and incorporate them. While you’re at it, if nothing’s sacred in the current design, let’s take the best from Avid (metadata management – the groundwork has been happening since FCP 5.1.2 and the evidence is in the XML); the importance of performance from Adobe (strap in Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL and make a showcase for Apple’s technologies); the best of iMovie.
This actually makes me much more hopeful and positive for the next version of Final Cut Pro. It suggests that Apple are serious about rewriting and not just changing out the minimum possible. And if it looks a little like iMovie 09, that wouldn’t be all bad. (But could you borrow customizable interfaces from Adobe, please?)
That’s why I believe Apple Insider misinterpreted the snippet of information and that the opposite is true: Apple are serious about making the next release the killer release everyone is hoping for.
Above all else, I reserve the right to be wrong. It’s a guess: an intelligent guess, yes.