Attack Of The Two Headed Editor

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Since the day of it’s release and the first minute it launched, much has been written and opined about Apple’s long awaited update to their renown video editing software.

Reviews on the Mac App Store:

I feel like I’ve been had.

To professionals saying:

I’m shocked. That’s the best word for it. I’m just shocked. It’s incredibly bad…

This is Apple’s worst release in history.

This is the worst release of anything by anyone.

As of this writing, the one star ratings lead the five star ratings 679 to 508 in the Mac App Store. Wow, this must be some bad stuff. Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound good. Of course I’m talking about the new version of Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X ($299 on Mac App Store). Even if you’re not into the latest in non-linear editing you may have seen Final Cut making the rounds on the late night talk show circuit. Good or bad, this app has stirred a lot of emotions in just a couple of weeks. One thing is for certain, I’ve not seen this kind of vitriol and hatred toward a software app since, well ever. The negativity came so fast and furious it led one blogger to speculate that it could have been organized by competitors.Certainly, Final Cut has received some positive reviews too, but if Final Cut Pro X were a movie, it would ended up on the Rotten end of the Tomatometer. Instead of giving you my two cents and my thoughts on the app itself I will direct you to some great reviews (both positive and negative) by the pros in that space if you haven’t already read them. It’s been a couple of weeks since the release and now that the dust has had a chance to settle I wanted cover its release and the response. If Final Cut Pro X really is a bust like a majority of the reviews state, then how did we get here? How does a $70 billion company like Apple Inc., a company that strives on building the best computer hardware and software in the world, release Final Cut Pro X? Was Final Cut Pro X created in the lab as a hybrid love child of iMovie and Final Cut Express? Did it escape one night and and put itself on the Mac App Store for $299 wooing unsuspecting professional editors. It sounds like a “B Movie”, but that would explain the “B”eta software, the backlash and the subsequent refunds. Maybe there’s another reason though.

There’s research out there that says the part of the human brain that ascertains the outcome or consequence for a given action before it happens doesn’t develop until later in life. For most people, this pre-cognitive ability doesn’t show up until their twenties. That would explain why parents of teenagers are always yelling things like “What did you think would happen?” So, if this is true then we’re left to assume one of two things. The first, is that it’s possible the Final Cut Pro X project managers are children and therefore didn’t see this response coming. While that’s possible the actual reason may be more complicated than that.

Since Steve Jobs has resumed control of Apple I’ve observed at least four different characteristics of Apple that has for the most part made every product they’ve released in the last decade and half a success. In other words, these characteristics are Apple’s M.O., or for the hip, it’s how they roll.

Apple builds new products using the following four methods:

  1. Using very small focused teams working long hours
  2. In a top secret type atmosphere
  3. Doing little or no market research or customer surveying
  4. Throwing out legacy systems, replacing it with something new (or sometimes not)

Small Focused Teams

While I have no inside knowledge of how big the Final Cut Pro X team was I don’t believe anyone thinks that Final Cut Pro X was a top priority with half the company working on it. In fact, there was much speculation and rumor that many on the team had been reassigned to other projects or otherwise removed from the project. Apple typically does this rather than hire more staff, they’ll shift existing developers onto other “higher” priority projects. Apple is notorious for asking the impossible, create great software (or hardware) under tight deadlines with small teams. Whether it’s Andy Herzfeld creating the original Macintosh working 90 hours a week, and loving it, or Buzz Andersen working in bed with Mono on Final Cut Studio (Soundtrack Pro), Apple develops the “next great thing” using small groups of people working overtime.

Area 51

This one is probably the most famous and the most obvious. The fact that we didn’t know that Final Cut Pro X was really real until last April and only knew the month, but not the actual date of release tells you all you need to know about Apple’s secrecy. The rumor mill as of late has been better at predicting Apple’s announcements, but I think some of that has been do to Apple releasing some of the info through channels to make sure expectations are in line with reality. With Final Cut Pro X, people speculated and guessed what it was, but no one knew for sure until the day of release.

Survey the Land

When asked about what marketing and research they’ve done before coming out with their hit products Steve Jobs reportedly said that they’ve done no market research or customer surveys outside of a consulting firm they hired to find out where Gateway went wrong with their retail chain.

He’s also been quoted as saying:

It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.

In other words, it’s Steve’s job.

Something Old, Something New

Apple historically has always thrown out legacy hardware for new hardware. They cut the floppy and serial ports in 1998 with the iMac. Next, they cut the phone modem out of their laptops. There’s a long list of legacy hardware that that’s now gone from the Mac and when something goes you usually don’t have to go to deep into a Mac forum to find somebody complaining “hey I was using that.” However, it’s usually for the better and it’s part of what goes along with trying to lead rather than follow.

Doing Business With Business

I believe the four traits I listed above are a huge part of Apple’s DNA and I believe for the most part it’s why they’re products have been successful. The verdict may yet be out on Final Cut Pro X, but the initial launch was anything but a success. Final Cut Pro X may be the one case where not surveying your customers, throwing out the old in favor of the new, being overly secretive and having too few people working on a project didn’t work.

Apple’s demographic largely consists of individual retail customers. They do have enterprise customers as well and Final Cut Pro is an example of this. Enterprise professional users have different demands. A lot of these demands have to do with being able to send and receive their work with others. Whether that’s sending an audio track off to another department to work on or importing footage from another. In addition, enterprise customers generally have a bigger need for legacy support than the individual. For example I alone may have a few hundred artifacts and projects to deal with. It maybe a pain to convert some of that over to Final Cut Pro X, but doable. A studio, even a small one could have hundreds of thousands of objects that they’ll never really be able to convert. I personally can use Final Cut Pro 7 for awhile, then do newer projects in Final Cut Pro X without too much of a hassle. Not so with a bigger outfit.

Larry Jordan:

When I was talking with Apple prior to the launch, they told me that they extensively researched the market to determine what needed to be in the new program. In retrospect, I wonder what people they were talking with.

Oddly enough I may have been one of those people. I was personally contacted by Apple as part of a survey for Final Cut Studio in 2007. I can’t remember what questions were asked or what my answers were, but I do think I would have said that being able to import old projects into the new app would be a priority.

Regardless, the culture of secrecy and the lack of real attention in surveying their professional customers has served to hurt the launch of this app. The second they determined it would be impossible to import old Final Cut Pro 7 projects into X, is the time when someone should have said, “then we must keep on supporting Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Studio, and market Final Cut Pro X as separate 1.0 product. We can’t sell this as an update or replacement to Final Cut Pro 7.”

And Cut

Since the release of Final Cut Pro X much of what the blogosphere has written about Apple’s intention can be summed up in Daniel Jalkut’s tweet, “Apple will happily **** off 5,000 professionals to please 5,000,000 amateurs.” It’s also possible Serenity Caldwell has it right. That Final Cut was never meant to be Pro. Caldwell states that in its initial release it was an editor for upstarts and small indies. Somewhere in the past decade it lost its way and changed direction to become a professional editor. Once Walter Murch used it to edit Cold Mountain Final Cut Pro became THE NLE. Caldwell believes that with FCP X Apple is trying to get the editor back to it its roots. Maybe, Mike is right and Final Cut Pro X may yet be another instance of Apple charging us to be beta testers. Hard to argue, with obvious functionality missing and glaring bugs.

All of these arguments assume one thing at the heart of their premise. The premise is that Apple knows what its doing. I know what you’re thinking. This is Apple. It’s a well oiled machine all the time. The left hand always knows what the right is doing. It’s not conceivable for Apple to make a bad decision. That’s right, and I won’t tell you that Apple’s brilliant CEO is out on leave dealing with more important things.

I do believe Apple honestly thought it had a real winner with Final Cut Pro X and was completely blindsided by the excoriation. Final Cut Pro may not get the same attention at Apple as the iPhone, but I do believe they take the software and the industry seriously. Certainly Final Cut Pro X demos well. One could easily see higher level decision makers being seduced by all the sexy new features and giving it the green light for the gold master. Except, it’s all the non-sexy old features that pro users care about. Boring stuff like XML, EDL, and mutli-cam.

Steve Jobs:

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.

Of course only Apple employees know what happened for sure, but as an anecdote something similar may have happened in the development of Aperture. Former Apple employee, Ron Brinkman, relays a story on how he was brought onto the Aperture project late in its development. The team thought the app was near complete and in its final stages of development. When he reviewed it, he found all sorts of issues, and missing functionality in handling RAW files, color correction etc. Functionality that to him was necessary and basic. He helped rework Aperture to accommodate this. That was a professional photography management tool. Something Apple had really never done before. Final Cut Pro is a professional non linear editor tool. An area of applications that Apple has led the way with for the past decade. They don’t need help developing a new application in that space.

That’s A Wrap

In a nutshell, I don’t think it gets any more complex than Apple messed up. It put together Final Cut Pro X using the small focused teams, in total secret, without a lot of input from their users and complete threw out something aging, but still worked well with something not ready for prime time. In this case, it is the customer’s job to know what they want.

Whether it be hardware or software, every gen one product Apple has released has been glaringly lacking in one way or another. Except usually the the first generation product is something new, not a replacement for an existing software suite used by high end professionals. Imagine how different the response would have been if iMovie ’08 had never been released. Apple kept on supporting iMovie HD and Final Cut Studio and then in June of 2011 it releases Final Cut Pro X to the world as new stand alone editor. Eventually they replace iMovie in the next round of iLife updates. Marketing Final Cut Pro X as the eventual replacement for Final Cut Pro 7, but they will support 7 until X gets everything it needs. It doesn’t take hind sight or a genius mind to know what the reaction would have been.

Let me be clear too, that I think in some cases the reaction was over the top and a little juvenile. By the reaction it has received you\’d be led to believe that it’s complete junk. I don’t agree it’s a pumped up version of iMovie just because it shares a similar interface. That’s like saying Mac OS X is just OS 9 (classic Mac OS) because the Finder shares a similar look. It may not meet the needs of many pros and have a few bugs, but truth be told it really is quite good in its own right. With Motion (and Compressor too) by its side its even better. Really at $299, add on the other two apps for $100 more you have an excellent suite of post production effects and editing for less that $500 that in my opinion will ultimately become a sleeper hit. Except, you may have to wait for the sequel.

End Credits

If you’d like to check out reviews, below are some links to articles covering the technical side of Final Cut Pro X (both the good and bad) and more opinion on why Apple released the app the way it did.

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