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Why Apple <i>isn't</i> leaving the pro market

FCPX was rewritten - at great expense - to give it the power pros will need for the next decade. Boneheaded mistakes aside, Apple's direction is clear - and Adobe and Avid won't like it.

All the wailing over the new Final Cut Pro X can't obscure the facts: FCPX was rewritten - at great expense - to give it the power pros will need for the next decade. If this is "abandoning" I'm going with them.

In addition to my storage work here and on StorageMojo I've been producing industrial videos using Final Cut for several years. I'm not a heads-down TV or film editor but I understand why people are steamed.

The fundamental issue is that FCPX is not a drop-in replacement for FCP. It's missing dozens of features, like multi-cam support and tape ingest, that pros expect.

And Big Mistake, Apple stopped selling FCS, with all the pro features, and the dominant NLE (non-linear editor) today. So pros feel like they're being thrown out the door rather than given a stairway to heaven.

It's the architecture, not the features But step back from missing features and look at what Apple has done. They've re-written FCPX with an architecture that only pros need!

Key features include:

  • 64-bit architecture. Addresses more than 4GB of RAM. Aunty Em doesn't need that, but pros already do, even if they don't know it.
  • Multi-processor support with GCD. Rumor has it that a new 16-core (32 virtual cores) Mac Pro is due next month. The old FCP saw almost no benefit from more than 6. Grand Central Dispatch brings multi-processing to the rest of us.
  • Background GPU & CPU rendering. Takes advantage of the incredible performance of modern GPUs and multi-core CPUs.
  • 4k media support. How many 4k consumer camcorders are there? None - and there won't be for 10 years.
  • Object storage. 99.9% of pros have no idea what this is or why they should care, but as video content and archive capacity explodes, this is the only way to fly.
  • Cheap scale-out storage. Xsan costs $999 per seat today and next month it is free! Including the Xsan cluster file system in OS X Lion and in OS X Lion Server for $50 is huge for video shops.

These aren't features that Dad needs for a soccer game video. These are a foundation for feature and capability growth for more than the next decade.

Where Apple screwed up Apple's marketing missed the boat. And maybe engineering could have used another 3 months to fix feature deficits. But real men ship.

Some key mistakes:

  • Shutting down FCP. People feel like they have no choice - and creatives love choice.
  • Over-selling. "Built from the ground up for professional editors" is true architecturally, but missing features put lie to the claim.
  • Lousy positioning. Once you stop selling the old product the new product has to be "it." So instead of calling it what it is - an architectural revamp like Snow Leopard was - Apple had to position it as the "new" FCP.
  • No FCP 7 import. I can't easily migrate, AND all my old work is marooned on a no-longer-supported platform. Good thinking, Apple.

The Storage Bits take Apple just went through this same issue with QuickTime and handled it better. The "new" QuickTime Player has major feature deficits compared to the 15 year old version. But since you can still use both, it isn't an issue.

Buying FCPX doesn't force you to stop using FCS, but not being able to get a new copy - with support - invites digital claustrophobia. For people who've built their livelihoods on FCP the fear is exponential.

But concerns that Apple is leaving the pro market just don't square with the facts. Apple spent millions to re-write their flagship creative product, packing it with features iPhone shooters will never need, to leave the market?

Looking at Thunderbolt, the architectural work in OS X and FCPX pricing it's obvious that far from leaving the pro market, Apple intends to own even more of it. From the Apple II on, Apple has always sought to foster the creative market.

To suggest that Steve Jobs, largest single shareholder in Disney, longtime CEO of Pixar, invested millions in FCPX to quit the market is silly. Yes, they've made some boneheaded mistakes with the FCPX launch.

But losing the pro market won't be one of them.

Comments welcome, of course. I'm in the middle of a project right now so I won't be upgrading to FCPX for a while. If you want to learn filmmaking, check out the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking.