What next for Final Cut Pro X?
Monday, 07 July 2014
I was the guest on today's episode of the FCPX Grill podcast, part of my conversation with Chris Fenwick was about what the 10.1.2 update tells us about the future of Final Cut Pro X.
It seems ungrateful to immediately start thinking about future versions of Final Cut. Even grateful users can't help but think about features and bugs they hoped Apple had paid attention to in the most recent update. It is worth considering now because Apple very rarely hints as to the future of their hardware and software - one of the few times they communicate anything is in the features of the products and services they do release.
As the 10.1.2 update seemed to concentrate on improving the lot of those new to editing and those working on high-end productions, I think the next major update will look at serving the middle of Final Cut's markets.
The following graphs show how Apple's Final Cut updates have served its markets. They show which markets the major new features of each version were aimed at. The left-hand end of the horizontal axis are features that support people who use Final Cut on personal projects, free videos or videos to support their professional lives in other fields (such as photographers, architects and doctors - people who wouldn't describe themselves as film makers first). The right-hand end of the horizontal axis is for features relevant to high-end big budget feature films, TV shows and complex news gathering organisations. The middle of the horizontal axis is 'the rest of us' people who are visual storytellers ranging from videographers to indie film and documentary production companies.
In 2002 Final Cut Pro 3 reached critical mass when pioneering TV shows and feature films took a chance on what most people saw was a prosumer editor at best.
In 2003 Final Cut Pro added LiveType to give more casual users easy access to motion graphics effects without having to invest in learning After Effects. The pros got Soundtrack - an application for sound designers and sound editors and for picture editors who had to their jobs. 'The rest of us' got RT Extreme, which made editing on PowerBooks possible - you could digitise all your DV tapes at a lower resolution and then recapture at full resolution as your online.
In the next two versions there wasn't much for the low end - new editors had the option of Final Cut Express, whose main feature was easier access - a lower price. The middle was built up with features best suited to individual pros. Instead of adding more and more features for the high end, Apple bundled high end applications and improved links between them and Final Cut with round-tripping.
The end of the Final Cut Pro classic range came with Final Cut Pro 7 - which was sold as part of Final Cut Studio 3. The high end was taken care of by popularisation of colour correction with Color 1.5 and 4K RED workflows, and there were a few improvements at the low end with easier online sharing and iChat Theatre for collaboration.
As Apple gave themselves the task to start from scratch (probably in 2007), they had to choose where to focus their efforts - it wouldn't be possible to get to the range of features available in Final Cut Studio 3 in four years. They started with the low end and moved up from there.
Like OS X, Final Cut Pro X was developed in public - many would say the fourth major version of both was the first that could be safely recommended to a wide range of traditional users.
The 10.1.2 update has now got Final Cut Pro X pretty close to where Final Cut Pro 7 was features-wise, although the features in almost every case are implemented in a much more effective way than before. It is much more powerful at the low end, and at the high end Apple is currently leaving high-end colour and sound to other companies.
This is a roundabout way of saying that I think Apple will next fill in the middle of the graph, features for videographers, freelance editors and smaller production companies. They are also likely to use new Final Cut features to demonstrate features of OS X Yosemite - iOS 8 continuity features.
The good news is that although Final Cut Pro X is now being used for a wider range of projects by a much larger constituency of people, there is a great deal of headroom in Final Cut's future.