Why Apple is worth defending

In various forum discussions over the last two weeks, I’ve been asked how I can defend Apple. People can’t understand how someone can simultaneously admit that Final Cut Pro X is, at present, largely useless to the market segment his own company works in, but still support what Apple is doing with it. I’ve been called a “fanboy” more times that I can count, and accused of defending Apple essentially out of blind loyalty, even against my own interests.

This is not the case. I’m defending Apple because I legitimately believe in what they’re attempting here, even if I disagree with some of their specific actions. I’ve tried a bit, but I haven’t been able to articulate very well why I feel this way. Yesterday, however, a reader sent me a link to this article, which has solved that problem for me… with the words of Mike Bernardo, a former Avid employee:

Even though the FCPX rollout seemingly exposes Apple’s hubris, I’m glad they did it. They seem to be the only company capable of pushing boundaries. I have no doubt FCPX will eventually catch up to where FCP7 was in terms of features and capability.

When I was at Avid, I worked on a few internal projects trying to solve this exact problem – we saw Apple coming after us from the low end and knew it was only a matter of time before they reached Avid’s capabilities.

We worked on building “next generation” editor software. New UI, new technical foundation that would take advantage of multiple CPUs and GPUs. Unfortunately these efforts ultimately went nowhere, since the company as a whole was too timid and worried about disenfranchising the existing customer base – exactly the problem Apple is facing now.

This is it precisely. For all that they’ve done wrong with this launch (canceling FCS3 way too early, failing to effectively communicate about future plans, shipping before working out the details of volume/education sales, etc.), Apple seems to be the only company capable of pushing boundaries. Avid saw the future, saw what they had to do… and didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, even with a safer, more gradual transition plan.

And honestly, it’s hard to blame them. Ever since Ron Brinkmann’s X vs. Pro post made the rounds, people have been arguing that the reason Apple has been able to so act unilaterally with the FCP X launch is that Apple just doesn’t need its pro video customers enough. That Apple is so successful in general, it can afford to alienate users in this market. This is absolutely true.

I ran some rough numbers the other day. Avid’s quarterly revenue (almost entirely from pro audio and video products) is equivalent to about three days of iPad sales, based on the projected iPad numbers for this quarter. Avid absolutely cannot afford to alienate its existing user base, or even a small fraction of it. The company is teetering on the edge of profitability as it is. Commonly on the wrong side of it. Meanwhile, Final Cut Pro revenue is probably close to being a rounding error for Apple.

Yes, this means Avid is never going to ship a release that doesn’t have EDL or OMF exporting. It means Avid is never going to ship a release that discards backwards compatibility. It means Avid is never going to ship a release that eliminates a major feature like multicam.

But it also means the future will not be invented by Avid.

Apple is worth defending because, if any progress is to be made, this industry needs a company that is willing to do what, it seems, only Apple is willing to do.

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19 Responses to Why Apple is worth defending

  1. Derek Williams says:

    Isn’t all that just another way of saying “Apple is big enough to ignore those who depend on their product to make their living?” Sure sounds like it to me.

    We have a problem at work. We’re not a video editing company or anything like that, we’re a college that teaches kids to go work in the industry, as such we’re quite a large market and very much a shop window for Apple products. We invest in quite large amounts of the sort of kit the industry uses and we teach the kids to work in the way the industry works. Then Apple comes along, all big and powerful and decides the kit they sold us only a year ago is now out of date. So what do we do? Do we start teaching Apple’s brave new way in the hope the rest of the world will see the light, or do we move to some other established workflow like Avid (which we were moving away from in favour of FCP7) or do we continue to teach on outdated kit?

    Don’t think for one moment that Apple have ridden roughshod over just one small niche market. It’s a much, much bigger problem than that.

    • Steve says:

      Are you not also teaching your students the uncertainty that riddles the many parts of this industry? There are always ways around problems like this. FCP7 can still be used (which many seem to forget) and there are plenty of jobs freelance jobs out there for it (WAY more than Premiere could ever dream of). No matter what you teach your students, if you teach the FCP well, they’ll learn Avid from a book with few problems. If you teach them Avid and Apple does in fact become the future of post, the opposite will work out just as smoothly. If learning FCP right as something like this happens were to dishearten a graduate enough that they can’t bear to learn another program and decide instead on another profession, the problem doesn’t lie with the NLE. If the student or graduate loves what they’re doing, they will work with the tools they are given. They’re not even overly invested in software at that point.

  2. Chris Kenny says:

    I think I pretty much said Apple is big enough to ignore those who depend on FCP to make their living. I’m simply pointing out the upside of a company that’s not so beholden to its installed base that it can’t afford to take risks. Progress requires risk-taking.

    On the subject of education, our experience with interns from various film/media programs in NYC is that by far the most valuable people are those who understand basic editing and digital image manipulation concepts well, and who are reasonably computer-literate, not those who come in the door knowing every keyboard shortcut in a particular app. These generalized skills can be taught with any software. Most of the knowledge I apply grading features in Resolve, I learned years ago making photos look better in Photoshop.

    If you can, teach FCP X and a more traditional multitrack editor. It’s actively beneficial to teach applications that take different approaches to the same problem, because it helps people understand the concepts distinct from the implementation.

    The kind of disruption caused by FCP X is not a one-off occurrence. The tools our industry uses have changed radically in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Curriculums — and business models — need to be designed around this reality.

  3. Cris Daniels says:

    What “innovation” is Apple bringing to the table? When did XML die? When did multitrack audio die? When did compositing video tracks become “so 2010″.

    I don’t see innovation, I see dumbing down of the process. Whats next? Apple says timecode is obsolete? If AVID is smart enough to say “uh… no timecode is very important” would this mean AVID is “stuck” thinking “in the past”.

    If the future of FCP X is “learn to work like a consumer, and with a consumer toolset”, then FCP X is NOT groundbreaking, OR a professional application. Its simply Apple telling professionals the earth is flat. Apple can tell me all they want that EDL’s and tape are dead, obviously none of those people actually works in the industry…

    Then again, this is from the company that when your phone drops calls they blame you for holding the phone incorrectly.

  4. Chris Kenny says:

    There is nothing dumbed-down about organizing sequences around clip relationships rather than generic tracks, organizing footage using metadata rather than a (30 year old) folder metaphor, or categorizing audio using metadata (the approach Apple is working on) rather than by placing it on rigidly delineated tracks.

    In fact, all of these approaches are, objectively, more flexible than traditional approaches to these problems. This whole notion that the FCP X interface is “dumbed down” is rather obviously a consequence of people seeing superficial similarities to iMovie, and not bothering to look deeper.

  5. Jeff Handy says:

    I’m personally still taking the wait and see approach. My shop doesn’t need to make changes anytime soon other than to upgrade to Snow Leopard. (no we still haven’t upgraded) However, because of the impending death of Final Cut Server (along with other enterprise-level hardware and software), I do have to think about the future. Does that mean binning everything? no pun intended. Surely we can salvage a good portion of our heavy investment in edit systems, a SAN and DAM by using another editing system like Premiere. If Final Cut Server is done, we have to think about possible infrastructure changes. But there aren’t many companies that work in the workgroup editing paradigm. Avid is the big game, but that really does mean starting from scratch. Adobe is a possibility, but will it play well with our existing infrastructure? We’ll have to test to find out.

    I was encouraged to see that at least Apple is working to make the new NLE work with XSAN. At least that part gives me hope that we have a chance to hang on to our existing investments less Final Cut Server. I do hope they have some elegant way of sharing projects via XSAN though, and not short change those of us who have spent hundreds of thousands on Mac hardware.

  6. Dylan Reeve says:

    Apple is trying to change paradigms and they will succeed. But, they are not interested in what we (TV and film editors) need, and it isn’t our workflows they want to reinvent.

    They want to make it possible for anyone and everyone to edit without having to try and understand these ‘old’ concepts. They are not concepts that people need to worry about when making personal projects, or small-scale projects destined only for the web.

    Apple’s implementation of these ideas (I’m not sure any are unique to FCP X) will force a re-evaluation of some things by those companies that are dedicated to our market – and they will find their way in – but I don’t think Apple is trying to make an application for us.

    Some things, like metadata-based organisation, will probably be implemented by Avid, Adobe, Autodesk and others, but they will do so in a what that is not destructive to existing workflows (or backward compatibility).

    At $300 a seat I simply can’t see any real motivation for Apple to make the effort required to make FCP X fit the specific and demanding needs of film and TV editors. Some things, like Multicam, will be added, and third-parties will work around other issues, but I doubt FCP X will ever be the app that most film and TV editors require.

  7. Walker Murch says:

    As to the ‘fanboy/shill’ nametag you are wearing i’m afraid its appropriate. The real world way to deal with this would be to say – its broke fix it and we will embrace it. You and Phil Hodgetts et all say – its fine, its fast, its its a new paradigm, so sit back relax, remain calm, all will be fine. But…all you pundits make your money TALKING about these products while thousands and thousands of us make our living USING these products. You really don’t get it – to us FCP X is the largest product failure in Apples history.

    If its at least partially true that Apple only does software to sell hardware – the FCP X disaster just killed our desire and plans to upgrade our Mac towers to make the ‘new’ FCP fly.

    In other words, the 300 bucks for a number of seats that Apple didnt get from us is a drop in the bucket in that they also didnt get the 9 new seats when we scratched our plans to buy a new load of Apple hardware.

  8. Chris Kenny says:

    Dylan, I agree that Apple’s primary focus is not on film and TV editors, but it never was. This didn’t stop FCP from becoming a very compelling tool for our market, and I don’t think it will stop FCP X from becoming one. It’s not actually unusual for technology products that target a more mainstream market to end up being superior in niche markets as well, simply because more mainstream products often see new innovations first, can justify more resources being invested in their development, and can host stronger ecosystems with their larger user bases. It’s the same phenomenon that caused “personal computers” to beat out SGI workstations in our industry.

    Walker, you need to go look at the “We who are” box in this site’s sidebar. I’m not a ‘pundit’. I make no money from this blog or from commenting on the industry generally. FCP X is a brand new product that some people have decided to write off without understanding Apple’s intentions for it, or even really understanding the product itself. This happened with Mac OS X. It happened with the iPhone. Hell, it happened with the original Mac. Apple commonly releases products that don’t make sense according to ‘conventional wisdom’, as well as products missing significant features in their initial releases. FCP X is just following the same pattern. Most of these products go on to be wildly successful. It’s far too early to write off FCP X.

    • Nivardo says:

      @Chris

      “… I agree that Apple’s primary focus is not on film and TV editors, but it never was. This didn’t stop FCP from becoming a very compelling tool for our market, and I don’t think it will stop FCP X from becoming one.”

      Are you saying that this was all a coincidence?

      http://www.youtube.com/crazyproapple

  9. “If you can, teach FCP X and a more traditional multitrack editor. It’s actively beneficial to teach applications that take different approaches to the same problem, because it helps people understand the concepts distinct from the implementation.” Possibly the most insightful thinking I’ve heard since this FCPX debate erupted.

  10. John A. Calhoun says:

    I see this as the usual panic and carping about shortcomings of an Apple product. The same happened for iPod, OSX, iPhone and iPad.

    One of the things that Apple does do well is respond to their consumers. Remember when people complained about the iPhone being “closed to 3rd party apps”? They needed to figure out a way to provide apps, and yet prevent malware from getting on the phones. They figured it out and created an awesome product.

    I see the same situation here. They will add the necessary bits of code to a pretty impressive piece of software. This time next year, the complaints will have faded after a few dot releases.

    A couple final thoughts; I don’t agree that Apple intends this to be a ‘consumer’ app. If this were the case, why would audio be set to 5-point surround by default??? No consumer does surround and probably less than one tenth of 1% of prosumers do a surround mix. Second, Apple has included Light Peak technology on it’s machines. This is another piece of kit that is only of use to those who might need to push 1080p – 4K through wire. Again, not necessary for most consumer and prosumers.

    I do fault Apple for removing FCP7 too early in the process and not allowing for professionals to feel comfortable about doing the crossgrade when they feel ready. In the end, FCP7 will be fine tool for a number of years. (I’ve done freelance work on a system that has FCP 4 on it!)

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Apple will get its ducks in a row over the next year and all will be well. They’ve proved that with their other products.

  11. I have seen compelling stories shot on little Canon HV20′s and edited in iMovie. I have also seen absolute garbage filmed on Red One’s and posted in multi-million dollar post facilities. Yes, gear matters, but the heart of being an editor isn’t the brand of gear you use or how much it cost – being a great editor is all about being a good storyteller.

    I have made my living telling stories through video for nearly twenty years. Sometimes it’s a TV commercial, and sometimes it’s corporate. At the end of the day, your client doesn’t care what camera you used or what brand of software you cut the piece on. As long as the quality of the Image meets or exceeds their expectations, all they really care about in the end is how well you told their story.

    I know editors who retired from the business when non-linear editing first began to overtake tape to tape editing. It was too democratizing, threatened to make editing “too easy”, they didn’t want to have to learn anything new. That’s what they said, but what I heard was fear on their part and opportunity on mine. I built my whole career on being the underdog who can get tech to do more than it really should.

    I for one will be trying FCP X. I would kill to have auditions, compound clips and a gapless but synchronized magnetic timeline in FCP7, but I can’t, so I am going to give FCP X a chance, and if it is the storytelling tool I think it will be, I will be making money doing what I love while the old guard whines about what the new stuff can’t do.

    • Shane Ross says:

      Robert, story telling is one thing, but working with all the tools in the shop is another. Yes, I can tell the same stories with iMovie as I do with FCP, but broadcast and film standards demand that I mix audio with a professional using certain tools, and that I color correct nicely and properly so that I not only meet broadcast specs, but so that I can highlight certain areas, and push the colors as far as I can. iMovie doesn’t allow that, so I need a tool that does. FCP X doesn’t do that, so I stick to the tools that do.

  12. One thing I know about the film industry is that they are not a patient bunch. They want everything f#@$ing yesterday. So if you really think film companies are going to wait and be patient for FCP to “evolve”, you’ve got another thing coming. They have no time for “shortcomeings.” And if I were Avid and Premiere right now I would be licking my chops and saying “OK boys, here’s our opportunity. Let’s make FCP 8 and put our name on it. Maybe FCP will meet expectations in the future, but I wouldm’t be surprised if Hollywood will have moved on.

  13. Shane Ross says:

    “Dylan, I agree that Apple’s primary focus is not on film and TV editors, but it never was.”

    Bullpucky. Then why did Apple have a PRO PAGE on the website featuring FCP? Showcasing Bunim/Murray as a large installation with over 100 seats…working on broadcast shows? And showcasing David Fincher and ZODIAK…Walter Murch and Cold Mountain…the Coen Brothers? It TOTALLY targetted the pro market. And showed off the fact that it HAD the pro market. “Hey, look, if these hot shots can use FCP for TV and feature film, just imagine what you can do with it!” If it didn’t want the pro market, it wouldn’t have fixed OMF export to include levels and pans, it would have left people to use Automatic Duck. It wouldn’t have included EDL export/import. It wouldn’t have bought Color and implimented it into the Studio package. It wouldn’t ONLY work with professional broadcast frame rates, like 23.98, 29.97, 59.94…25 and 50. It would allow people to work at 10fps, 15fps.

    No, Apple totally aimed at the professional market…but then realized that that isn’t where the money is, so they went after the larger market…web video producers, DVD makers…people editing family video. They could care less about professionals. Not the buying and killing of SHAKE…COLOR…DVD Studio Pro.

    Sorry, you are wrong here. Apple made FCP X for the amateur filmmakers and very low end professionals. While Avid and Adobe do make changes…and faster now that they see that people demand change faster…yet don’t leave behind features that professionals rely on.

    But, Apple doesn’t care that they lost the professional market. We are the smallest blip on their radar. BUT, what they did do is move a lot of us back to Avid, or over to Adobe, and that will help those companies survive, and thrive. Because they are ONLY focused on the professionals, and not on selling iPads.

  14. Chris Kenny says:

    People keep conflating “Apple aimed at market X” with “Market X was Apple’s primary focus”. Yes, Apple added quite a few features to ‘classic’ FCP over the years to support film/TV editors. But these features were added only after more mainstream workflows. Early versions of FCP heavily focused on MiniDV workflow, at the time the emerging consumer/prosumer/event video standard, essentially unheard of in film/TV circles.

    Apple is following the same pattern with FCP X: shipping a release with features in place for a more mainstream market first, and then proceeding to add features for film/TV editors. Except this time, based on what they’ve said, they seem to be planning to add those features more quickly than they did last time around.

  15. AmyBG says:

    Well said Chris, I have been following the reaction to FCP X for my work as an editor and it is really refreshing to see this perspective voiced so eloquently.

    I haven’t used FCP X yet, so I can’t say for sure exactly what I think, but after looking at how each new features works I think it is revolutionary and that’s part of what also makes it frustrating for people. You get used to doing something one way, so when someone comes out with a different way of doing it there is bound to be adjusting (or criticism).

    I can’t see it being widely used in the industry for years, but I bet we will start to see other software adapting or building on elements of FCP X.

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