Happy 7th birthday Final Cut Pro X – better is not enough

Final Cut Pro X 10.0 was launched 7 years ago today. Why hasn’t it taken over the world of TV and film editing?

Final Cut is better than the rest. That isn’t enough.

Despite the efforts of the Apple’s Video Applications team, the ‘top’ 0.25% of editors don’t trust Apple as a whole: The wider Apple that makes Mac hardware that seems more and more out of date. The Apple that still can’t share its plans in a useful way.

The biggest problem: They don’t trust the Apple that doesn’t nurture a deep post ecosystem.

To switch from ‘the way we’ve always done it’ to a new way requires that the new way is over 50% better. ‘A little better’ or ‘cheaper’ isn’t worth the pain of switching. In practice ‘much cheaper’ is a bad sign in post. Charging too much less is a sign that you can’t be as professional as the status quo.

Apple would like high-end users to invest in their hardware and software, yet Apple doesn’t seem to care about others who have invested in businesses that support the high end. They still don’t trust Apple because of the way Final Cut Pro 7 was discontinued 7 years ago. Improving features in the application itself is not enough to win back trust.

Is Final Cut serious?

To take Final Cut seriously, those making TV shows and feature films require ‘Final Cut Pro X versions’ of every stage of the traditional Avid workflow. The workflow is a throwback – a digital version of the 20th-century ways – but the fact that there are businesses at each stage making money providing these services makes feel safer than a modern alternative.

A few minutes search online will turn up perfectly good Final Cut ways of making TV shows and feature films. There are high-end solutions for every stage in the process. Sadly, the high end wants more than that. They also want competition between these solutions – competitors to the Lumaforge Jellyfish for example. Another example: they want multiple competing dailies companies who fight for their Final Cut Pro X workflow business.

It is also about people. Post-production supervisors want a variety of teams and individuals to choose from. Once a team has been put together, heads of department want the reassurance of being able to replace any member of the team with others who are almost as good. Knowing Avid means that you can be relied upon until you are easily replaced. Today there aren’t enough people in cities associated with TV and film production with Final Cut Pro X experience to hire and fire.

Worth the effort?

I am not convinced that the vocal tiny minority in feature films and TV are worth supporting. The previous generation of post suppliers sees a big benefit in marketing messages like ‘buy our product – it is used by award-winning editors.’ Apple seems to think that messages like this don’t convince those who are choosing their first paid editing application.

If it was your money, would you put millions of dollars into appealing to a few thousand people to use your application in order to appeal to the millions of other people?

I expect the wider Apple appreciates the Video Applications team’s contributions to mainstream success through Clips for iOS and iMovie for iOS and macOS. The continuing profitability of Final Cut Pro X insures its survival – alongside Apple’s commitment to not trusting third parties to make applications that make the most of high-end hardware.

What can the Video Applications team do? If they want to appeal to the vocal (but probably unimportant) high end, what is the investment case they need to put before the wider Apple?

The trick: Not for me

The last gap in the Final Cut Pro X feature set is collaboration: where multiple people can work the same media and timelines at the same time. Post professionals don’t want a new take – they would be happy with a version of 90s-style Avid bin-locking. The Final Cut team don’t seem able to implement features this way. They are still building version 1 of a 21st century editing application: they are not in the business of adding shiny new code and hardware drivers to 20th century metaphors – like DaVinci Resolve and Adobe Premiere.

The answer is to implement collaboration into Final Cut Pro X that supports a much larger proportion of the market. If it can work for real people, it will also work for the vocal minority. Businesses supporting high-end post will then adapt these features to use for their market. Individuals in post will add Final Cut to the portfolio of applications they learn to use in their workflows.

It is likely that over 95% of videos made in the world are made by a single person. Apple should implement collaboration features that help those people do more. Instead of using XML and Finder-level integration with third-party tools, tools in the Final Cut interface should support individuals helping individuals.

Instead of saying ‘help me’ – I’m saying ‘help millions – including me at the high end.’

Apple should support a mid-market video consultancy ecosystem – following their FileMaker Pro model. The pitch would be: ‘If you are unhappy with what you do today, you could set yourself up as a freelance video consultant. You will be able to support yourself by proposing video production solutions to small businesses and organisations in your locality. You will be able to make money on Mac hardware, on software, developing workflows, providing support and evolving workflows over months and years. They will want to pay your monthly fee because of the services you will be able to supply.’

For consultants to be able to do this, they need to make tools to extend Final Cut. Tools that don’t require doctors, dentists, builders, teachers, lawyers, assistants or secretaries to have to understand terms like ‘XML’ and ‘transfer library.’ It is unlikely that Apple will want third-parties to touch the Final Cut UI. They are very far from Adobe-style third-party free access to windows in Final Cut itself.

Most small- and medium-sized businesses use databases to organise the relationship with their customers and suppliers. There is a huge market for freelancers and small companies to design, implement, support and improve these custom databases. A significant proportion of small businesses would benefit from being able to tell stories using video.

I would imagine that the wider Apple would be more interested in helping millions of people change their future using video than investing in the special needs of the high end.

No feature requests please, we are Apple

Apple don’t like to be told what to do. They like stories. The story of the unsatisfactory present – followed by a story from a bright future. Apple want to then choose how to get to that future.

The present: there are millions of freelancers and small businesses all over the world who shy away from telling their stories using video. They associate video production with high-costs and lack of control – using professional video production companies of all sizes.

The bright future: tens of millions of small and medium-size businesses supported by a new class of freelancer – who can provide services that empower individuals and organisations to tell stories using video.

…or Final Cut Pro 8.

1st June 2018

Apple WWDC 2018 hardware hope: A ‘NPU’ family

23rd August 2018

Apple, Final Cut Pro X and ProRes RAW at IBC 2018 in September