The “FCP X is not a pro app” narrative

So, the emerging narrative among a certain subset of the Internet post production community is that Final Cut Pro X isn’t a ‘pro’ app. But I’ve seen a lot of Internet firestorms around Apple product announcements over the years. I’ve watched Apple closely for the entire Jobs (and now pseudo post-Jobs) era. And I don’t buy it.

To me, this looks like another one of those situations where there are multiple narratives that fit the same underlying set of facts, and a bunch of people decide, for whatever reason, to embrace one that makes Apple look terrible.

In this respect, it’s much like the iPhone 4 antenna issue. It eventually came out that Apple knew about the underlying technical issue there before ever shipping the device. But they also knew that in the real world the iPhone 4 actually held onto calls better in a lot of instances. Their comprehensive testing had shown they’d made reasonable design tradeoffs. They clearly never expected the issue to be framed the way it was in the tech media. They were, as a consequence, no doubt surprised by the resulting backlash.

With FCP X, Apple has introduced something that has quite a few pro features, was introduced at an event for pros, is positioned as the successor to a pro product, and has ‘Pro’ in the name. I think they anticipated people understanding it as a pro product that’s still missing some features (because it was just rewritten from scratch), and are probably surprised by the number of people who are determined to see it as a non-pro product, and are seizing on every possible justification to support that conclusion.

The truth is, you can play that game with anything. I could make a very compelling argument that FCP X is a pro app and it’s Final Cut Pro 7 that’s not. I mean, a bunch of effects in FCP 7 render in 8-bit! How amateur is that? FCP 7 won’t even warn you when exporting a sequence with offline media! I can’t work with important projects like that! And how am I ever supposed to organize long-form projects if I can’t even tag things? And don’t forget the QuickTime gamma bugs.

I’m familiar enough with FCP 7 to go on for a long time like this, but you get the idea.

There are, when you get right down to it, a grand total of about four big things missing from FCP X that matter to high-end users:

  1. A way to export sequence data.
  2. More audio exporting features.
  3. Support for third-party I/O hardware.
  4. Multicam.

And not all of these matter to all high-end users. For instance, we mostly work on features, and couldn’t care less about multicam in that context.

Combine these missing features with some iMovie user interface similarities, and a bunch of people who’ve already been skeptical about Apple’s commitment to the pro market for the last couple of years (ironically, skeptical because Apple hadn’t yet rewritten FCP as a 64-bit Cocoa app, which is precisely what FCP X is), and you get the current PR mess.

But the actual material facts in no way conclusively support the narrative of Apple abandoning pros. Many of the features FCP X does have, as well as some of what we’re hearing out of Apple via Philip Hodgetts and David Pogue, point in the other direction: that FCP X is a pro app. It’s just a pro app that happens to be missing some features in its first release. And Apple is not unaware of this, and is working to resolve it.

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4 Responses to The “FCP X is not a pro app” narrative

  1. See I don’t agree.

    Without set-able, numbered tracks,you can’t have a pro app, because you can’t organize a project so it can be easily passed onto someone else, be it another editor or a sound mixer. I think that is a fundamental design flaw in FCP X that makes it forever at best a prosumer app with some Pro features.

    I work in commercials where I can have 18 layers of video and 12 layers of audio, and they all are specifically organized so I can easily make textless versions and always know where certain things are.

  2. Chris Kenny says:

    That approach is, conceptually, using tracks as ‘folders’ — as containers that you’re sorting things into to help identify what those things are. But when you think about it, that’s kind of a crude approach. There’s no way to label tracks or to enforce what goes where. And, of course, this approach has side effects, because tracks are also used for layering video and audio, and you’re using them for something different here.

    The alternative approach is to use tracks strictly for layering, and identify the roles of different clips using metadata. I don’t know that FCP X has all of the features necessary to make this an entirely workable approach today, but it’s clearly headed in that direction. For example, from the clip inspector you can choose a clip’s ‘audio role’. So instead of your dialogue being on one set of tracks, your music being on another set, etc. you just label clips as dialogue/music/effects.

    Once there’s an an API to get sequence data out of FCP X, apps can access this metadata and use it however they like — including to organize clips on different tracks, if they don’t support a similar metadata-based approach themselves.

  3. Douglas says:

    Chris,

    I appreciate your perspective here, and the info you’ve provided on the possibilities of XML/Python in FCP X. It’s starting to appear Apple does have a ‘pro’ plan for FCP X and there’s a [good?] chance it will be a viable and usable commercial editing tool in the future.

    This launch is looking more and more like a huge marketing blunder for Apple. Imagine if they had instead launched FCP X and told the pro community ‘this is an amazing new way to edit, but if you need EDL/XML/OMF export/multi-cam (and so on) those features aren’t here yet…but we have an amazing plan for you in the form of a extendable system that will let third-party developers build the tools you need. We’re launching FCP X now because the basics are ready to go and we think this will be an amazing tool for people who don’t need the advanced, pro-level features. Until those features are ready you’ll still be able to buy FCP 7 if you need to add seats…’

    An approach like that would have people talking today about a new openness from Apple for pro customers rather than how they are abandoning the pro video market.

    Was this just a missed opportunity? Is it a sign that Apple is out of touch with it’s professional customers? Or is Apple really more interested in creating an upgrade path for iMovie users ( http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/imovie-to-finalcutpro/ ) than a new tool for professionals? Time will tell, I guess.

    Thanks,

    Douglas

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