I had decided to go easy on Final Cut Pro X until I saw this quote from Apple's Richard Townhill in CNET: "We're pretty good at this stuff actually," Townhill said of the change from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X. "We have a long history of successful transitions: OS 9 to OS X, PowerPC to Intel. We know we've done something revolutionary with Final Cut Pro, and we sincerely think that our professional customers will love it. And some of that is letting them know we will make good on the promises we made, and the (Final Cut Pro X) 10.0.1 update is the first public indication that we're doing that."
The "pretty good at this stuff" raised my hackles because Apple has a long history of subscribing to the theory that if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth. I first wrote about this back in 1998 when Apple was making clearly untrue assertions like 50% of the streaming media on the web was in QuickTime format. If you were aware of streaming back then, you know that RealMedia dominated the landscape, and that outside of exceptionally high-bandwidth movie trailers, Apple had negligible penetration in media or corporate sites.
In the midst of a press tour at the time, the Apple rep had apparently told this mistruth multiple times, and I was the first to call him on it. Now Townhill appears to be pursuing the same strategy.
Let me say up front that I think that Final Cut Pro X will be a very successful program for Apple, but primarily as iMovie Pro, not the next version of Final Cut Pro. I don't argue with Apple's economic motivation for eschewing the pro market; it's the best way to maximize Apple's development resources. But I take serious issue with Townhill's assertion that the Final Cut Pro X launch has been anything close to successful, at least for professional users. If anything, it's a downloadable New Coke.
First, there's the sniff test. In our event-oriented market, if you can't handle multicam or produce DVDs with custom menus, you're pretty much irrelevant. Final Cut Pro X's DVD authoring performance is particularly underwhelming, lacking even the ability to insert a chapter point at scene changes. Unless your audio needs are very modest, the lack of a suite-mate like Soundtrack Pro (or Audition) is also pretty chilling. (Here's my hands-on first look at what FCP X 10.0.1 offers.)
Then there's the response from other professional markets. One of the most influential writers on the Creative Cow forums is Walter Biscardi, from Biscardi Media in the Atlanta, who produces for PBS and other networks and has won a boatload of Telly, Peabody, and regional Emmy Awards and nominations. Here's what Biscardi had to say about Final Cut Pro X:
"All in all, the worst product launch I've ever seen from Apple or pretty much any software manufacturer. Instead of a nice suite of applications that worked well together (FCP, Color, Motion, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro) you now have one big app that really doesn't do all that much well. It completely ignores the 11 years of existence by giving you zero options to open older projects."
In another Creative Cow article after the release of FCP 10.0.1, Biscardi continued, "I've quite honestly never seen such an immediate and unified response from our industry to a single product in so short a time. The industry was looking for a new and improved Final Cut Pro that would improve on the legacy of the product by enhancing the efficiency of the workflow with all the new digital formats in a seamless manner with as little disruption as possible. Within a matter of days the conversation turned to, "Where do I take my company so we can continue to work with legacy projects? We don't need new paradigms, we need software that will work with our established workflows (emphasis in original)."
You'd also have to consider the refunds that Apple has given on Final Cut Pro X, which is clearly against the iTunes Terms and Conditions. On the link that reported the refunds, you'll see that on June 28, 2011, the average rating for FCP X was 2.5 stars, with 562 out of 1272 ratings a one-star. Another interesting factoid is that Apple started selling Final Cut Studio again in September after pulling it off the market around the launch of Final Cut Pro X.
Probably the most telling data comes from Adobe, who on September 8 reported that "Demand for Adobe's video content creation tools has exploded, growing 22 percent year-over-year with 45 percent growth on the Mac, fueled by the large number of Apple Final Cut Pro customers switching to Adobe Premiere Pro."
So, Apple, you created a tool that was totally unsuitable for (at least) two very key professional markets, and almost completely eroded Apple's goodwill in those markets. You had to issue multiple refunds to unhappy customers and return the product's precursor to the market three months after pulling it off. Most significantly, you helped your primary competitor in the space grow by 45%. If that qualifies as "pretty good at this stuff" at Apple, I'd be shocked.
Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is chief instructor at StreamingLearningCenter.com and the author of Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5.