Apple does the iteration thing with FCP X

Apple has released Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3, with multicam, what looks like better chroma keying than FCP 7 ever had, better XML support (including moving primary color grades to third-party apps like Resolve) media relinking, layered PSD support, and beta support for broadcast monitoring via Thunderbolt and PCIe devices. This actually appears to put Apple ahead of schedule, as last year they promised multicam would come “in the next major release”, presumably (with FCP X apparently adopting OS X style versioning) 10.1.

The web is going to be full of comments today about how this new release represents Apple backtracking in the face of industry rejection, but I don’t buy it. The signs that Apple always intended FCP X to be a real “pro app” have been there from the beginning. They were simply doing precisely what I described last summer: shipping as soon as they had something that was useful to some people, with the full intention of iterating until they had something great. The 10.0.3 release is a big step in that direction. I don’t think they’re done yet, but we’re already starting to see the new engine pay significant dividends. For instance, from Gary Adcock’s overview in Macworld:

Apple did not stop there. Because FCP X contains the most powerful metadata engine of any NLE, users now have unprecedented control over multicam events, with the ability to access and sync tracks not only via time code, but with keywords, in or out points, or audio tracks.

Multicam functionality is intelligent enough via the underlying metadata structure to be able to dynamically identify multiple takes from the same camera and drop them sequentially onto a multicam track—something that is utterly amazing. Apple augmented FCP X’s audio syncing capacity by allowing the app to exploit audio metadata to sync multiple cameras with similar audio content when there is no matching timecode on the files.

It does not end there. The biggest surprise is that unlike any other NLE, FCP X allows multicam projects to handle cameras with different codecs, image rasters, and frame rates, without conversion. Think about handling a multicam project that includes footage from DSLRs and DV, HDV, and professional cameras, without having to pre-process the content first. You can change, add, or delete camera angles at any time and work with different codecs, frame sizes, and frame rates without conversion.

The technical foundations of FCP X (its heavily optimized high bit depth rendering engine, its extensive metadata support) were always extreme overkill for the market some people claimed it was targeting. Now we’re starting to see what can really be built on those foundations.

Apple plays a long game. I suppose it’s too much to hope for that people will remember this and not freak out the next time Apple ships an initial release of a new product with missing features?

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3 Responses to Apple does the iteration thing with FCP X

  1. Apple does not usually play the long game on pro software. They update a few times and then kill it, like they did with Shake, and now Final Cut Pro 7. Yes it is great that they are adding some of their promised features to FCP X, even if some are only in beta, but I think it is too little too late for much of the professional market.

    And yes I am glad that you can import FCP 7 projects, but it is through a third party application and via XML, well I can already do that into Premiere Pro without a 3rd party application.

  2. Chris Kenny says:

    Claiming that Apple updated FCP 7 “a few times” and then killed it is basically trolling. Apple maintained the product for 12 years and then replaced it when the underlying technical realities (the need to move to Cocoa + 64-bit and add better GPU and multicore optimization) required it to be rewritten.

    Shake was an outside acquisition. I agree that Apple’s track record with maintaining those long-term is spotty. You’ve got Logic on one side, Color and Shake on the other. If there’s an app you really like and Apple buys it, you should probably worry. But this isn’t strictly relevant to FCP X.

    And not to put too fine a point on it, but the “too little too late” is precisely the sort of short-term nonsense Apple should (and does) ignore. The idea that a significant number of people making an NLE decision in five years (or even 18 months) will care about FCP X’s rocky introduction isn’t very plausible. Most people aren’t paying attention to the Internet drama; they’ll buy based on what product offers what they deem to be the best price/features/interface when they’re ready to buy, and once video monitoring comes out of beta and various third parties support FCP X’s XML a little better, there are few users for whom FCP X won’t be right there in the mix.

    As for Apple leaving FCP 7 importing to third parties… 7toX is a great effort, and seems to be a really useful tool, but look at the limitations. A lot of these are an unavoidable consequence of conceptual differences between how FCP 7 and FCP X work. It’s fairly clear, given these limitations, why Apple might not be comfortable including this as an official feature.

  3. Marcus Samuel-Gaskin says:

    Apple’s doing its “Roll”-ing thing that Daring fireball talked about. Just as I and any reasonable person in the Postproduction world would have expected..Nice update.