Video Essentials

How Apple Took the ‘Pro’ Out of Final Cut Pro

Steve Jobs was the greatest product innovator in the last couple of centuries, and his passing saddened me significantly. My appreciation goes back to his storied commencement address at Stanford University, which revealed him to be a deep and thoughtful man. I stand in awe of his incredible string of product successes, including the original Mac, iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and Apple App Store—not to mention Pixar—as well as his ability to produce maniacal, passionate fans. But that doesn’t mean that I personally like every product created under his watch or agree with every product-related decision.

This is particularly so after finishing Walter Isaacson’s outstanding biography, titled simply Steve Jobs, where I learned of two of Jobs’ passions: one for simplicity and the other for controlling the experience. In particular, I can’t reconcile Jobs’ passion for simplicity with Final Cut Pro X.

I recently reviewed the new features in Final Cut Pro 10.0.3 and found them impressive ( Overall, though, I abhor the program. When I run FCPX, my reaction is visceral; I feel the walls pressing in and my blood pressure rising. I adore the clean slate of Adobe Premiere Pro and its doppelganger Final Cut Pro 7. FCPX has so much structure, so many completely foreign concepts, that it feels like my 31″ monitor has shrunk to 17″. With such a supposed focus on simplicity, how could a company run by Jobs produce such a program?

Well, if you think about it, while Apple’s hardware is simple, its software is complex, a velvet chain tying you to Apple’s vision of the “way things should be done.” If you’re on a Windows machine, you can’t drag a book onto your iPod in Windows Explorer; you have to load it into iTunes and synch. That’s not simple. You can’t drag a photo from your iPhone to your desktop with a file manager; you have to load it into iPhoto and save it from there.

Of course, I understand how iTunes is ideal for inexperienced users, and that’s precisely the point. With iTunes and iPhoto, and the iPad and iPhone, Apple wasn’t selling to experienced users. It was opening new markets. In contrast, with Final Cut Pro X, Apple was trying to change the workflows of professionals who knew more about video production than any of the engineers who created the product.

You can only impose structure when a market is new or when the benefits of that structure are incremental. And the more structure you build into a product, the less it’s likely to appeal to experienced users of the product it replaces. That’s why most professional video producers jumped ship when FCPX was launched and why most won’t use it.

Similarly, Apple’s focus on controlling the experience works great with iPhones, iPads, and notebooks, but it also loses value when applied to professional users. Apple’s all-in-one computer can’t be serviced in the field, so it must be returned to the factory to change any part that may have failed. I just returned from Las Vegas, where HP launched the Z1, the first field-serviceable, all-in-one computer. It is elegant and exceptionally well-engineered, with easy access to all system components.

Professional users don’t want to return a computer just to change the graphics card or swap an optical disc. For this reason, I think the Z1 will really resonate in schools, design shops, and many professional environments that liked the Apple all-in-one form factor but really want a field-serviceable unit.

Clearly, Jobs’s Apple was without peer when serving consumer markets, particularly those it invented. However, applying those same principles to professional customers is simply a mistake. FCPX and Apple’s all-in-one computers will be wonderfully successful products for consumers, but most experienced professional users prefer a completely different value proposition.

This article was originally published in the April/May 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title “Nothing Pro About Final Cut Pro.”


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  1. What data have you got to back up the comment

    “That’s why most professional video producers jumped ship when FCPX was launched “

    Posted by Peter Wiggins | April 11, 2012, 6:25 am
    • Will post some data in a week or so.

      Posted by Jan Ozer | April 11, 2012, 8:09 am
    • Here’s what Adobe is saying:

      In 2010 (the 5.0 ‘Mercury’ release year) our overall business grew 22% and our Macintosh business grew 45%.

      In 2011 (our 5.5 ‘point update year’) our overall business grew at 21% and our Macintosh business grew 44%.

      They also said that the NLE market was growing at around 13% during this time.

      Avid’s revenue grew in 2010 and was flat in 2011, so the growth has to come at Apple’s expense. In my consulting and other travels, I’ve also spoken to one film school and a major broadcaster that are abandoning FCP, plus many smaller producers, and that seems to be the prevailing trend.

      While some smaller producers are giving the program a shot, I think the bulk of the Hollywood TV and Indy film business is going elsewhere. Remember that these were the producers that embraced FCP first, giving it lots of street cred. Ditto for film schools.

      I have to say that Adobe’s CS6 release, with SpeedGrade, and significant updates to PhotoShop, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Encore, Audition and other programs delivers better on the promise of Final Cut Pro 7 than FCPX. In 2009, when 7 was released, DVD Studio Pro, Color, SoundTrack Pro were all essential tools for video pros. In 2011, the customized and application specific toolset for each became useless, suddenly obsoleted by a single program that magically replaces all the essentials? That’s an argument that few who don’t totally drink the Apple Kool-Aid can buy into.

      FCPX is a nice tool for folks who have outgrown iMovie and will do fine for some video professionals. But most pros want a more comprehensive platform from a company that’s committed to meeting their long term needs.


      Posted by Jan Ozer | April 12, 2012, 11:29 pm
      • Well that doesn’t back up that comment at all does it? You said ‘most’ which means more than 50% of users abandoned FCP.

        Yes I do run an FCP based site which means I’m even more sensitive to getting facts right, not making linkbait that can’t be backed up with data.

        Posted by Peter Wiggins | April 27, 2012, 3:57 am
    • Great article.

      Even though there are some islands of use of FCPX in the “newbe user market”.

      You are 100% correct… that there are very few credible professionals using FCPX today… All of us with long time professional clients are all still using FCP-7. Anyone who says otherwise I would seriously doubt their motivation and credibility in supporting FCPX.

      I have both versions and also Adobe Premiere and have tried to force myself into using X. but, find these attempts have been frustrating and slow and end wondering… Why was it so damn important to for Apple to change and remove simple basic commands? Commands like: “Open and, Save” to name a few”. It appears Apple was thinking more about style and than supporting their devoted high-end professional user base.

      We as “Professional Users” expect upgrades in the performance of the products that we buy from Apple. We have paid high-end prices to get high-end results. We expect to get products that help us get these results in our work. FCPX is more of a cruel joke that affected that process negatively.

      There are a few things good about FCPX: (1) 64-bit and (2) a few time-line grouping designs. We as “Professional Users” expected those upgrades . But for Apple take a product that we use to make money and take it upon yourself to totally reengineer that interface eliminating and changing the basic foundation of control and operation. That act directly affected your current professional client base and their ability to perform their services. Apple must realize that It is because of that FCPX was a “TOTAL DISASTER and FAILURE!!!! ”

      Apple needs to take steps to correct this Failure in Design of their product, ” NOT make believe everything is fine!” Because it isn’t! = FCPX is still a disaster and will always be a mistake!

      Apple needs to acknowledge that and move forward and do the right thing.!

      Apple needs to take the user interface from FCP-7 and add the 64Bit Engine and associated Apps..From FCPX. and merge them… Then Apple might get the “Professional Users” back onboard supporting Apple products again.

      Until that happens… As a Professional FCP User I am done with FCPX !


      Posted by Gerard | April 18, 2012, 12:48 pm
  2. The clean slate of Premiere? Post a screen shot of the head of the Premiere timeline. Post a screen shot of the FCP timeline. Now that’s a clean slate. Open FCP for the first time and I don’t think you could find a more simplified interface, certainly far more simplified than any other editing application ever designed.

    Posted by Tom Wolsky | April 11, 2012, 7:55 am
  3. Peter, it should be noted, runs a FCP website. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but he may be bias. I can say, working in the post industry, that the author is exactly right FCPX is a joke and I don’t personally know anyone working in it professionally or with any plans to do anything but move from FCP7 to Avid or Adobe. There are great features in FCPX, don’t get me wrong. But overall, I am with the author who just hates the editing experience, the project structure, and the new metaphors. None of that, is likely to be addressed with their incremental updates.

    Posted by Dave Johnson | April 11, 2012, 4:05 pm
  4. “…with Final Cut Pro X, Apple was trying to change the workflows of professionals who knew more about video production than any of the engineers who created the product.”

    I think you’re looking at it backwards and missing the point. It’s not to do with forcing professionals to adopt new workflows because FCPX simply won’t be the right tool for a portion of that existing FCP7 user base.

    What FCPX is really about is wiping the slate clean and providing a modern platform that isn’t constrained in the traditional tape-based paradigms for the next generation of content creators. It isn’t and doesn’t have to be, for everyone.

    Things change. If it’s time for you to move on to another platform, then just do it!

    Posted by Martin Baker | April 11, 2012, 5:45 pm
    • It may be easy for you to say get over it and move on, but what about the multitude of projects and materials already in the can. And what about the all the hardware investments many shops have in place. Why do some people believe that we need to re-invent the wheel and call that progress

      Posted by ron | April 12, 2012, 7:20 am
  5. I’m totally hip with that, and I’ve said all along that FCPX will likely be a huge money maker for Apple, much more so than just another upgrade to FCP7. However, Apple’s positioning is totally counter to this; they called it Final Cut Pro, after all, and it should have been iMovie Pro, or iMovie next, or maybe the New iMovie, just to confuse everyone. They also removed FCP7 from the market. So clearly the intent was that X would serve the pro market, and as you say, it’s not the right tool.

    I just disagree that Premiere or even FCP7 are “constrained in the traditional tape-based paradigms.” In my event-based practice, FCPX simply doesn’t do anything better than Premiere or FCP7, and can’t produce custom DVDs. For the articles that I write, I do a lot of video analysis, and FCPX’s pathetic file compatibility precludes it from working there.

    Turning it around, FCPX took the worst from FCP7, the inability to work with most native formats, and partnered it with a bunch of highly-structured interface paradigms and different but not better controls. Sure, lots of folks will like it; but very few of them make their living in and around editing software.

    Posted by Jan Ozer | April 11, 2012, 6:17 pm
  6. hmmmm…

    The old-school contingent said Apple was dead when they stopped using floppies, they said Apple was dead when they killed OS 9, some are now saying that Apple will be dead because they are killing the CD & DVD….

    Apple has an amazing track record for seeing what is needed in the future and being a champion of that change.

    Apple didn’t take the pro out of Final Cut Pro. They took a risk to change the definition of what Pros will need in the future. They are looking forward, maybe a bit too far, at what Pro’s will require as the world moves on with new technologies.

    Really, what they are doing is looking a generation ahead, both in terms of emerging technologies, and at those youngsters who will become pro-sumers who will become pro’s.

    Did Apple screw up in the way they rolled out FCPX… a resounding YES.

    Is FCPX still hobbled by literally dozens of dramatic issues?… a painful YES. (But Apple is aggressively working toward fixing those issues)

    Did Apple screw up by looking ahead and changing an ancient paradigm in preparation for a new age in digital editing? A Resounding NO.

    For all of the people who complain that FCPX is a beefed up iMovie.. you are right. BUT you are discounting what Apple created with iMovie rather than realizing iMovie represents the seed of innovation.

    As much as FCPX annoys me at times, I appreciate that Apple is taking the difficult step of moving the editing world forward.

    Posted by Matthew | April 14, 2012, 11:08 am
    • Thanks for your thoughtful and balanced comments. My only response is that Apple really left current FCP7 pros out to dry; not improving their existing program to make it commercially competitive, and presenting a solution they couldn’t move to. Adding insult to injury, they withdrew FCP7 from the market.

      It’s OK to be forward thinking. It’s not OK to leave tens of thousands of producers hanging.

      Prediction? In two years, Apple stops making workstations, and stops pretending that FCPX is for pros. Why bother for such small revenue? Plenty of happy iPhone users out there (including me).

      Posted by Jan Ozer | April 14, 2012, 11:23 am
  7. I just downloaded the 30 day trial of Final Cut 10+. To see if what Apple was promising they were going to improve about the initial rollout product in 2011 has been significantly changed. Not significantly.

    I was amazed that Final Cut “Pro” cannot handle the Panasonic P2 card MXF files! That is really a step backwards from Final Cut Pro 7, which I have installed, the whole suite.

    A third party company charges a few hundred dollars just to “enable” Final Cut (not) Pro 10 to work with MXF files. And the decision to eliminate this import capability for a highly used and excellent solid-state format was a deliberate decision to SCALE BACK the capability of what Apple deliberately CHOSE to tout at the ONLY successor to Final Cut 7.

    Evidently so many people don’t get the main point of Final Cut Pro 7 suite users:

    We waited YEARS for the promised UPGRADE of the professional capabilities contained in FCP 7, such as upgrading it to use the full core capability of 64 bit processing. FCP 7 editors felt betrayed because Apple actively misled, deliberately misled the professional users during that time.

    Apple was communicating at trade conventions and through their support community and in blogs and through “trusted” 3rd party Apple happy “spokespersons” that FCP 10 would be ALL that we used and loved or at least relied on and MUCH MORE.

    Yet, while they LIED to us they had already made the development decisions to just REMOVE core features that we depended on in a daily trade.

    But, come on! Are you now seriously releasing a product that you call THE UPGRADE to Final Cut Pro AND invalidating the very FCP project files that hundreds of thousands of existing projects were WRITTEN with?

    Are you SERIOUSLY insisting Steve Job’s way of editing trumps simply giving us Final Cut Pro 10 with 64-bit processing and, OF COURSE, the absolutely necessary capability to open up all of our FCP7 projects?

    In Steve Job’s world you evidently make a pretty video and you are done.

    In the professional realm many projects are ONGOING or have to be touched again and again. Gotta have a Project file that can be opened between one version and the next.

    And, really, I mean, REALLY, Adobe can open an Apple Final Cut Pro 7 project file and Apple’s own IMPROVEMENT cannot??

    I just made a video with FCP 10 but I have tons of MXF files on my hard drives that only Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere can open.

    Nothing PRO about Final Cut 10.

    Fun. Sure, can be. Fairly simple. Yep. Makes pretty videos.

    But I can’t make a video to send out of house for a colorist or a sound editor to enhance.

    Posted by David H | April 14, 2012, 1:15 pm
    • I’ve been running FCPX for 2 months now. It handles P2 files just fine for me. I’m not an apologist for it. Still trying to learn it and decide what I do and don’t like, but P2 is our primary format and I use it with FCPX daily.

      Posted by Jeff M. | April 26, 2012, 11:00 am
  8. Jan, I also agree with your surmise that Apple stops making professional workstations. Not enough profit. Their approach to workstations is behind-the-times already!

    As you state, better workstations are already being built that can be serviced much better and more cheaply than Apple. The strength Apple had was also in its OS X. But that advantage is being eroded because all the mobile devices that Apple is focusing on do not need the big hog rollouts of OS X Wooly Mammoth and Sabre Tooth Tiger.

    I don’t see Apple software developers focusing as strongly in the near future on 12 core chip and 14 and 16 core chip utilization for successive OS X versions when Apple is in love with mobile devices that do not consume so much power and do not need such heavy multiple core processing as massive workstations.

    Apple has chosen a consumer direction that will result in discontinuing the MacPro line.

    Which is why I am not jumping in to trading in my 3 year old Mac Pro.

    Posted by David H | April 14, 2012, 1:40 pm
    • David:

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

      So – which way are you leaning, CS6 or Avid? Care to share?


      Posted by Jan Ozer | April 14, 2012, 1:49 pm
  9. I don’t think Apple is going to abandon the Mac Pro workstation market. Most big companies operate in multiple markets. I do think they are going re-design the workstation to appeal to a broader market by scaling down the size while increasing the power and reducing the number of internal slots, but with an external breakout box (at additional expense). I wouldn’t be surprised if it can be used as a 1U or 2U rack mount machine either. My guess is that the entire machine is being redeveloped from scratch (like the current ones were so many years ago).

    As for FCPX, I think they know they got a black eye – I think they will fix it. It’s a question of if it’s too late. With any luck the pro software teams will be spun off into another company (ala Filemaker) that can doesn’t worry about the consumer market eating their lunch so they can concentrate on making great pro-level software for the video market.

    Posted by Scott | April 17, 2012, 9:59 am
    • I would love to see a split-off like that. FCP as a pro tool has no place in the new Apple; it would be great if it could get a new home where it could continue as a tool for the pro market.

      Posted by Jan Ozer | April 20, 2012, 2:27 pm
  10. I could not agree more – As a professional editor in advertising, we attempted to cut a simple 60 webisode (3 layers of video), vo only. It was frustrating to cut it on FCPX. We cut it in 2 hours in FCP7 once we saw the massive limits in X (like trying to get three layers of video all to end at :60 – virtually impossible!)

    On a side note, last week, I threw out my first Apple, a Performa 575. Before I took it to a recycling drop off, I popped open the back of the computer to remove the hard drive. Upon opening it, I was thrown back to another era, when users were encouraged to crack open their computer and actually do their own tweaking. The drive snapped out as did the mother board. No hex screws or weird locks. It was all there. Apple has captured huge new fans but I have a wandering eye on CS6.

    Posted by mcass777 | April 20, 2012, 2:10 pm
    • Kind of the point of the whole article. In hardware and in software, Apple has become the consummate consumer supplier of integrated solutions. They’ve been fantastically successful, but the techniques that work for consumers don’t for professional users.

      Posted by Jan Ozer | April 20, 2012, 2:29 pm
  11. I have both Avid and FCP X in my editing curriculum. At first, I felt the way you did. Then I noticed how much faster my students could turn out polished looking projects. The Apple interface is quite elegant, especially when compared to Avid on a MAC where a project sometimes opens as though a shot gun loaded with bins was fired indiscriminately at the screen. On the MAC Avid students and newer users consistently click on spaces between windows activating either Finder or an underlying app like Firefox.

    The professional editing community went through this before with Apple. Have you tried syncing a studio multi-camera shoot on the audio track yet? Pretty cool with good sound tracks.

    I was upset with FCP X at first, but seeing how easy it is for students to pick up, I can see the cycle repeating itself where a bunch of curmudgeons dismiss a new product only to be displaced by people willing to take advantage of new features and workflows which give them an edge.

    Posted by Paul Sulsky | April 22, 2012, 11:47 am
  12. Paul:

    Thanks for your note; information about your students is valuable. A couple of points:

    First, the term curmudgeon connotes someone who doesn’t like something simply because it’s new and different. In my case, FCPX simply doesn’t allow me to produce the projects I do to make the mortgage payment each month. For example, I perform lots of video analysis work that requires that I input video in lots of formats, from MP4 to VP6 to MPG, to WMV. FCPX, like its predecessor, is very limited here. By contrast, Premiere Pro offers exceptionally diverse media input support – all these and more.

    I also produce lots of projects that end up on customized DVDs or Blu-ray discs; FCPX is a total non-starter here. Again, Premiere Pro with Encore bundled is ideal for both formats, as was FCP7. In my event-based video production practice, FCPX has multiple critical deficits and offers no advantages that I can see. So why should I use it? Am I a curmudgeon if I don’t?

    If you read the comments above from real producers actually making money with their editing, most of their objections relates to FCPX lacking critical features that prevented them from doing their jobs. They simply could not use the new product and deliver projects their clients would pay them for. Are they curmudgeons? Apple has addressed some of these issues, but not all.

    As I’ve stated, I just don’t agree that the Apple interface is quite elegant, in particular regarding content management. For years, I’ve used customized bins to keep track of my content; all of a sudden, creation date is the best way to collect content? That’s total nonsense in the truest sense of the word.

    Final Cut Pro X was an extreme example of a bunch of total non-practitioners designing a program to their view of how things should be. It’s overly structured (hence the column), under-featured to replace the FCP suite and prioritizes implementing things differently than making them better. I mean, after 20 years, color wheels for color correction suddenly because unintuitive because some engineer in Cupertino decided so? The functions delivered in programs like Color, DVD Studio Pro and SoundTrack Pro, so critical to the suite as late as 2011, are now totally irrelevant? Whatever.

    FCPX may be great for students, but Adobe’s 45% increase in sales on the Mac indicates that professionals are voting with their wallets.

    Jan the Curmudgeon

    Posted by Jan Ozer | April 22, 2012, 12:40 pm
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