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.
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