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If I ran Apple's Pro Apps division

I was thinking the other day about Final Cut Pro and the “Pro Apps” from Apple. Unless you are one of the chosen few beta testers or actually know someone who works in the pro apps division that is willing to talk then we as a general editing public really don’t know much about what is going on with the pro apps. Apple rarely comments on products that aren’t shipping, doesn’t release public betas of Final Cut Pro and only occasionally demos future versions. That leaves the majority of us who make a living using Final Cut Pro and the pro apps wondering what is going on as we wait between upgrades, wonder why they haven’t fix this or that and listening to speculation that Apple might sell that piece of software which we use to feed our families. It’s not always the most comforting position to be in. So as I did when Avid was shopping for a CEO, I’m throwing my hat into the ring for a job as leader of the Pro Apps at Apple. Of course I don’t think Apple is shopping for a leader of the Pro Apps but I can wish right? Here is what I would do: Rewrite Final Cut Pro. This is a no-brainer since the code base for Final Cut Pro was written a long time ago and is not optimized for the modern technology of Mac OSX and doesn’t really take advantage of all the Intel chips have to offer. I don’t really know much about writing computer code so I would certainly have to rely on Apple’s software engineers. A complete code re-write can’t be a quick and easy process but it’s an absolute necessity to keep FCP moving into the future. Apple doesn’t talk about future product releases (something I hope to change in the Pro App division, Steve Jobs be damned) but we will hold an event at a future NAB, IBC, or DV Expo and outline a road-map for this rewrite. I think a road-map is a very important thing for users of FCP. This type of re-write of the application might mean users don’t see a new version of FCP for a very long time. It wouldn’t be that we at Apple Pro Apps had abandoned the product or that we were shopping it around to potential buyers but we would be working hard on making it a better application and that takes time … especially when rewriting the code from scratch. Plus we need to just put the word out there (and get people used to the idea) that when this new version does release it won’t contain tons of new features. It’s new feature will be speed and stability. The best new feature any non-linear editing application could ask for! Just look at Avid Media Composer 3.0. It’s biggest feature in the 3.0 update was speed and stability and it’s the best version yet. Create a Final Cut Assistant application. Final Cut Assistant would basically be a small piece of software that would allow for Log and Capture from tape or Log and Transfer from file based cameras and the organization of that media with notes and markers. It’s just a dig station. It would of course be included in the Final Cut Studio box but also be available as a download. Maybe a free download if you have a FC Studio serial number. An application like this would be optimized to run on a slower machine like an iMac or Mac Mini so you could have an affordable capture station and not have to do a full install of the Studio and then disconnect the network cable so not to run into the serialization error when you run more than one FCP install on a network. Not that anybody really does that though. Unbundle Final Cut Pro and kill Final Cut Express. Final Cut Studio is an amazingly unbelievable deal, especially compared to what post-production software cost in the past. But, believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there who will never touch Motion, Color, Soundtrack Pro or DVD Studio Pro. Why force them to buy it when they won’t ever use it? By unbundling the Studio and offering Final Cut Pro at around $500 we will not only gain a few more users who won’t buy the studio but … and get this … we will make some customers HAPPY that they don’t have to shell out all that extra cash for software they will never use. With this unbundling of Studio I would also kill off Final Cut Express. There just really isn’t that big a difference in the two apps. That over-simplifies it a bit as FCP is infinitely more capable of performing in a broadcast editing environment but the basics are the same. With the reduced price and ability to buy FCP again as a stand-alone application there isn’t a real compelling reason to buy FC Express other than its simplicity. That’s why I would have the software engineers build a “simplicity” mode into a future version of FCP. Flip a preference and FCP will turn off a lot of the more complex elements that aren’t really needed for simple DV editing or a cuts only build. It will also simplify the interface for speed. When you are done with your simple edit or you have learned it inside and out and want to move on to more complex work simply flip a switch. If that idea is still too much for the new user then there’s always iMovie. Kill Color. OK, not really kill it just rethink it. I once wrote an opinion called A Case Against Color and I still believe what I said in that article. Color is so far removed from what is one of the Apple hallmarks, ease of use and well thought out design, that it feels like something they just bought and plopped into the Studio. Oh wait … that’s exactly what they did. If I ran the Pro Apps division we would take Color and Apple-ize it. That might mean scaling it down a bit as far as its overall feature set but as head of the Pro Apps I would rather see a more-accessible-though-less-capable application used by more people than the other way around. Color correction and color grading is such an important part of the overall post process (though many people only learned that when Apple added Color to the Studio) that it is important to have a dedicated color grading application, not just the built in FCP tools. Motion’s realtime performance and simplicity is what we would bring to Color to make it fit in with the whole idea of Final Cut Studio. Move Color to Shake status. What does that mean? Since Apple decided not to further develop Shake and seeing how Shake is also a very non-Apple-like application that Apple bought and then didn’t develop further I would sit Color right along-side Shake on the applications we don’t know what to do with shelf. After looking at them on that shelf for a few months I would probably sell them, with apologies to the Shake developers at Nothing Real for buying their baby and then keeping it on life support. I think I would do this because it seems to me that tools like Shake and Color (especially Shake) are a higher end product segment than Apple doesn’t want to support. As head of the Pro Apps it’s going to be hard enough to get the upper management at Apple to let me use the most talented software engineers that super-high-end apps like Shake or Color require when down the hall or in the other building Apple is working on the latest iPod or iPhone or the as yet to be release next great Brick. I want those resources that would be working on Shake and Color to be working on the Studio as a whole. There are too many good competitors in the market for Shake so I don’t think we will try to chase that market anymore. I’m happy to cede that super-high-end effects and compositing world to Nuke or something from Imagineer Systems. It’ll take a some good resources to scale Color into this new version but once it is up and running it probably won’t take as many bodies to keep it working as the current version of Color. Since Steve Jobs seems to want all of my pro apps engineers working on consumer electronics I’ll have run as lean as possible which means better support for fewer products. I feel that as the head of Apple’s Pro Apps I might need to pick my battles so instead of having Shake and Color be seconds class software citizens I am going to get rid of them and really work on their scaled down cousins, the reborn Color and Motion. Rethink the audio applications. I have to admit I’m not sure what to do here. I’d have to look for outside advice on the whole Logic world. On the surface it would seem that we don’t need Logic Pro, Logic Express and Soundtrack Pro. There has to be a way to consolidate them a bit. Again, less but better products is the new way the Pro Apps will operate. Why not integrate Soundtrack Pro’s film and video mixing tools into Logic Pro? Pro Tools can mix both music and film so why not Logic? But there does need to be an audio application in Final Cut Studio so we can’t just kill Soundtrack Pro. Maybe consolidate Logic Express and Soundtrack Pro into one. Give it a more Logic-like interface but add the mixing to picture capabilities that Soundtrack Pro has. But I’m open to suggestions from my team on this one. Hardware-based USB dongle. Just kidding. Embrace Blu-ray. Yes, in the Steve Jobs world DVD is dead but in the real world there is still life in physical disks. Not to even mention the fact that standard definition DVDs still have a way to go before they are no more, Blu-ray players are hitting the market left and right and a lot of clients want to be able to view their content in high definition. Yes the current state of Blu-ray licensing isn’t cheap and Blu-ray hasn’t exactly stormed the market since the death of HD-DVD but what we can’t even do at this point is to, for example, create an HD Pro Res based corporate video project and then author that to a Blu-ray disk and burn 10 copies for the client without taking a big step outside of Final Cut Studio and the hardware offered by Apple. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of standard def DVDs that the non-broadcast producer has to burn every year for things like approvals, client deliverables, small distribution runs and things like that. Steve Jobs doesn’t live in the real world of smaller-format production and until they open iTunes to easy distribution for independent film companies then physical DVDs will still have life. And besides, Blu-ray HD can look so much better than iTunes HD. If I ran Apple’s Pro Apps division we would keep DVD Studio Pro’s development on the cutting edge with better features, Blu-ray support and (somehow) get Blu-ray burners into Mac Pros. Those blank Blu-ray disc costs are never going to come down until we do this. So that’s the meat of my plan as the new leader of Apple’s Pro Apps division. Now I just have to wait by the phone and the in-box for Apple to contact me. If I can only keep the cobwebs off and the crickets from chirping I just might be able to get a nap around here.

17 Comments

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  • http://www.digitalrebellion.com Jon Chappell

    Nice post Scott. I fully agree with the complete FCP rewrite. I’d be perfectly happy if FCP 7 took a leaf out of Snow Leopard’s book and offered speed and optimization boosts instead of new features. Those are the things that will drive word of mouth recommendations.

    Regarding Blu-ray, Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) made several predictions about iPods earlier this year that turned out to be true. At the same time he predicted that OS X 10.5.6 would have Blu-ray support within the OS. If that turns out to be true, it would imply that we should not have to wait long for Blu-ray burners to surface.

  • http://www.scottsimmons.tv Scott Simmons

    I sure hope that’s true about the Blu-ray Jon. I firmly believe that if Macs got good Blu-ray support that the costs for drives and media would begin to greatly drop. Until then it’ll take time. And with those 100 gig Blu-ray discs around the corner than that is like back-up heaven!

  • http://dylanreeve.com Dylan Reeve

    I believe Avid did a complete rewrite or close to it with the DNA-age software (Media Composer Adrenaline, Xpress Pro) which was generally a good thing, but in the eyes of some it has taken until now (more than five years later by my count) for it to really get right again… There are people who are only now laying down their Meridian-based Film Composer and Media Composers and taking up with the new generation Media Composer. With that in mind, what would a complete FCP rewrite actually deliver to us?

    My number one improvement for FCP would be a moderate rethink of the media handling. Something slightly more managed. I really feel that I need to be able to do things like relink with timecode and reel in FCP, and ‘decompose’ a sequence.

    As for other things – unbundling would be another bit hit against Avid – already FCP is cleaper, if you could buy additional seats at even lower cost, that would be even more attractive.

    The idea of an assist station is great – frankly I’d make a similar request of Avid really.

    Dropping Color I am conflicted about – I don’t want to see it die, but I’d probably rather see someone else make it. It’s a good app, but it is barely integrated with FCP as it is, why not drop that pretense and make it a powerful grading app with reliable workflows for Avid and FCP? I think ‘apple-ising’ the interface is just going to handicap the product, better to keep it an ‘ugly duckling’ and let it have it’s own life.

    Killing FC Express makes sense to me, especially if FCP were available stand-alone and cheaper. I think Avid’s killing Xpress Pro was one of their best moves in ages, clarifying the options and removing artificial functionality barriers – the same would benefit Final Cut users.

    As for the USB Dongle – that’s actually one of my favourite things about Avid – we can have Avid installed on as many capable computers as we want and simply move the dongle around as need be. Also, last time I reinstalled FCP I had a good few minutes of panic where I thought I’d lost my serial number. I’ve yet to loose a dongle, and don’t know anyone else who has.

  • ardaz

    Lol Scott, I see where you are going with this… free hardware as a perk :D
    Yeh, the Colo(u)r thing – it has me scratching my thinning pate – it has weird usability issues at all levels.
    It’s about time for Apple to do their usual low brow ‘By the way, there’s a new enhanced version of FCP but it will cost you just a few $$’
    They never make promises or future software announcements but they always deliver something; just not necessarily exactly what we want…

  • http://alex4d.wordpress.com Alex Gollner

    Of the various parts of Final Cut Studio, the user interface for Soundtrack Pro was the most recently designed. That’s the direction user interfaces of Color, DVD Studio Pro, Shake and Final Cut Pro will probably go.

    For example Copy and Paste Attributes will become more like the Lift and Stamp tools in Soundtrack Pro. When you Stamp properties (paste attributes), you have the choice to replace or add the properties you are stamping. See page 179 of the Soundtrack Pro manual.

  • Adam Farver

    If I remember right, Avid did have a logging tool back many, many moons ago. Back when all macs had a floppy drive. You couldn’t digitize with it. It was just logging software and you could save the file to a zip or floppy and move it to your edit suite. Wow, that was a long time ago.

  • http://www.scottsimmons.tv Scott Simmons

    You know Adam I think you are right! That sounds familiar and a long time ago!

  • max

    Very well Scott. I arrange in everything. ( You excuse my bad English ). Final cut, where are you going? Apple thinks too much about iphone and he has forgotten the professionals. Thank Scott for this ” If I ran Apple’s Pro Apps division “.
    From Italy, mario.

  • james

    I agree with Max.

    If I were head of proApps I would try to secure a management buy out so that that the business could be run without the shackles of the uber-private, uber-closed, uber-sensitive Apple organisation.

    Imagine the business they would do with a decent support structure for partners and customers alike?

  • Josiah Thiesen

    Scott, I do agree with many of the things you said. A rewrite of Final Cut? That would be wonderful if it would stabilize things.

    And Jon, yeah your comment about Snow Leopard is right on. I think for the most part, people are happy with the feature set of Final Cut, and would rather see it rock solid.

    As far as Color is concerned, I may be one of the few people who wants to see that stick around and be around for years to come. I have done a decent amount of color corrections prior to its release (via 3-way Color corrector and After Effects) and I believe, the COLOR->FCP workflow is a great way to go. Don’t get me wrong, it has made me curse more than just about any other app, but Apple had just recently aquired it when they put it in the Studio (at no extra cost). That is apparent in the interface and controls, lacking their Apple glossyness. So, I do hope they work out the bugs and stick with it. The ease of it (between crashes) causes me to treat every frame of a project.

    Oh, and the lack of Bluray at this point is annoying. Apparently Steve Jobs is thinking that everyone is just distributing online or through the iTunes store, but come on, what about the corporate of short films that need that lovely little round thing for people to view it on. And, the “HD” quality of online or Itunes store is far below Bluray.

    Thanks again for your post and I really hope Apple is listening to their users.

  • Steve Speed

    I agree with much of what Scott says.

    For the future of FCS look at the features in Snow Leopard, Open CL (GPGPU rendering), Grand Central (efficient multi-core usage) and Quicktime X (on face value a more efficient QT).

    Snow Leopard looks like a sound foundation to build the next gen FCS. Keeping FCP as the hub which projects are farmed out to STP and an all new RT nodal compositing, grading and finishing application. A Flame level product but affordable would really set FCP apart from Adobe’s Production bundle. Adobe’s bundle just get better and better with greater integration between applications and if Apple are serious about Pro Apps they should strive to be the benchmark.

    A Flame or DS level application in the FCS suite would be the “killer app” for a lot of us. What better way to extol the virtues of the latest 16 core uber GPGPUed monster Mac Pro and new version of OS X? The technology is inside Apple (Shake, Motion & Color) but is there the desire? I continue to hope so.

    We still haven’t seen the Color version with the RED room have we?. Let me tell you Apple, if that appears at NAB09 with precious little else then I will have the opinion iPhones are your real interest now and I’ll look elsewhere to Adobe and Colour Finesse.

    The biggest new feature Apple could bring to the FCS suite is openness, a bit more dialogue with your pro users. I am over the secrecy thing really I am…

  • Olivier

    “If I ran Apple’s Pro Apps division” i bought Quantel and i have the best sytem for pro apps

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  • Michael Hancock

    Very interesting ideas. I agree thatApple needs to let their ProApps division out from under their cloud of secrecy. It would only help their product line. It’s one thing to keep a consumer waiting in anticipation to see what new toy is coming out, but when you’re using the product to make money you definitely need an open line of communication.

    Regarding the FC Assistant–very, very similar idea to Avid’s Media Log, as someone mentioned (btw, it’s still included with every Media Composer purchase), but the issue with FC Assistant would be FCP’s media format–Quicktime.

    There are a lot of programs that work with Quicktime (import into Avid, AE, FC Express, etc…), so it’s too open of a standard to allow digitizing, I think. Having a dedicated program for logging, though, would be very helpful.

  • strypes

    I don’t agree with killing Color at all or disbundling the apps, although the assistant app is a very good idea (as long as they don’t run into ridiculous bugs with FCP).

    1. I think Color is a very neat application, but it has to be better integrated with Final Cut- skip the conform for Color procedures (or have an auto procedure which will detect these) as well as integrating it so that it can work natively in all the FCP supported QT formats. Making it less powerful is just bad- sounds like a degeneration. I would in fact prefer it if Color could integrate Motion’s 2 point and corner pin motion tracking. Or just combine that with Motion for a good finishing tool- Color grade, scrolling titles, etc…

    2. The Assistant app idea is great- log and capture (or even transcoding with Compressor WITH an option to retain clip timecode). It allows guys to maximise their resources, buy more macs, rather than just that one power machine for editing.

    3. Blu-Ray. Definitely. When you shoot HD, you would expect to present consumer friendly HD format (rather than a downloadable QT playable web video) for the client especially at the end of the project.

    4. Disbundle the ProApps? Nooo! One reason why i LOVE Final Cut, is because it comes with all these gadgets that make it so much more versatile as an NLE- an excellent NLE with some finishingn and all-round capabilities. On the projects that can’t afford separate audio post production, I’m still able to rough out a semblence of a produced sound with Strkpro (try doing it with a barebones Avid setup). Same goes for Compressor/DVDSP which I use more often than the rest of the apps (aside from FCP).

  • strypes

    And also specific to FCP… Make FXplugs preview superwhite regions, so superwhites don’t come pinging back everytime you unknowingly tweak the 3-way CC ahead of the fxplug in the filter stack. Fine, it previews in RGB, why not set that preview RGB white point to 235 instead of 255?

  • Stacie Schwarz

    Hey Scott,

    I vote you ProApps president. FCP definitely needs a rewrite, but not just for speed and stability (though it would be nice to know that you could work a whole day without crashing). Their biggest problem is that they never understood media management when this software was written. As they’ve learned, they’ve tried to fix the problem with spit and glue rather than addressing the code that is the base of the problem. I will never trust FCP to make an accurate cut list or edl, or even just display accurate timecode until they fix these problems. Everything else is secondary to me. So, when do you start?