The naked truth about Final Cut Pro 10.0.3, and where it stands today

| Monday, February 6th, 2012

Let’s face it — if you walked out of your house naked with much fanfare, then later, after many complaints by your neighbors, stepped out of your house wearing a really nice suit, you’d never be commended for your “marvelous fashion sense after all”. You’re always gonna be “that naked lunatic”.

This is unfortunately where Final Cut Pro X finds itself today. Here’s another great simile from cinematographer Chris Marino: “…with CS6 on the horizon and MC6 making strides, fcpx is like the ex girlfriend trying to get back together with a new haircut.”

The FCPX disconnect

It’s interesting to me, because parts of the whole FCPX saga are so un-Apple. Now, don’t get me wrong — the part where they completely revamp a program, stripping it of essential features, then roll those features back in? Very Apple.

But historically, Apple is not about specs, but rather the sense, the feel of the device/OS/app. And normally, this works out great for them — iPod, OS X, iPhone, iOS, iWork, iCloud, etc.

But with FCPX, it has completely backfired, which I think gets to the heart of the argument from professionals that Apple “doesn’t care bout them”.

The specifics about the specs

Pros do care about specs — not in the way mobile phone nerds enthusiasts care about specs, but because a small difference in specs can mean the difference in hours or days when you’re dealing with pro media, especially high-definition video.

And not just hardware specs. Software features matter. Multi-cam? XML? Going from machine to machine, app to app, being able to find what I need? I bought THIS monitor for THESE reasons (read: THESE specs); will my editing software work with it? Other companies who have constantly tried (and frequently succeeded) to out-spec Apple know and understand this and, in the wake of Apple’s bumbling of FCPX, are doing everything they can to win back formerly loyal customers.

Specs for the pro user are about two things (other than the obvious quality): flexibility and time.

At the release of FCPX, there were workarounds for many of these issues, plugins for others. Some of us were just SOL with some of the things we needed. Overall, inflexible and time consuming.

FCPX 10.0.3 or FCP7?

But a lot of that is moot now. FCPX 10.0.3 has the specs, which get at most of the core of the flexibility issues. And most workarounds have been scrapped for actual, built-in features (great concept, Apple!).

That, and a lot of third party companies are meeting the needs of professionals that were left in the wake of FCPX’s new “strengths”. The new 7toX tool lets you finally import your FCP7 projects into FCPX (get it now for $9.99 on the Mac App Store with the link below). And the Blackmagic Design kit allows broadcast monitoring. The X2Pro utility will send your edit to ProTools, bringing FCPX back into the professional post pipeline. These concerns were certainly among the biggest.

FCPX now has everything necessary in an editing application for me — not for everybody, probably, but for me.

Yet, tomorrow, when that client calls needing something edited by early next week, I’ll reach for my iMac and pull up FCP7.Why? Time. The UI and approach are so drastically different in FCPX, I just haven’t had time to get it under my fingers yet.

So much in FCP7 is second-nature to me. During long editing sessions, I often find myself tapping out Shift-Command-A, Command-S while eating lunch to make sure my food doesn’t suddenly disappear from my table. It’s muscle memory. We’re talking about literal biological neuropathways wired into my brain after regularly using an application that’s barely changed in ten years. My brain physically cannot understand the new program. It’s going to take some re-wiring. Possible, but surpassingly inconvenient at best.

The “new haircut”

FCP desperately needed a facelift — more than a facelift: an overhaul. But as I mentioned in my first thoughts on this subject:

[quote]Likewise, Final Cut Pro will likely not develop a user interface identical to that of iMovie any time soon. They no doubt plan on making it more touch-friendly, but I don’t know if the installed FCP user-base will accept a giant shift in UI between versions. General home users raised enough of a stink when it happened to iMovie. With Final Cut Pro, where a lot of people depend on the software for their livelihood, a giant redesign could be a huge PR nightmare for Apple. FCP is so customizable, you have all different kinds of power-users. Some rely on buttons. Some on keyboard shortcuts. Some are mousers. Corporate commercial guys use it one way. VFX guys use it another way. Filmmakers another. To drastically change the UI is to break one or more systems for a group of professional users that need it to work today. A complete FCP redesign has the hard task of being written in new code, updating to beyond today’s expected features, and yet still remaining compatible with the user base and, more importantly, the industries. This doesn’t mean it can’t ever change; it just means change has to be slow and inclusive.[/quote]

So I was wrong about it not being like iMovie, but dead on about the consequences of doing so.

Apple and the OS success

I think Apple’s mistake was in approaching this as an app redesign (like the new iMovie) without realizing that for professionals, FCP is as crucial to their Mac as OS X or QuickTime. If any piece is out of order, the whole system is useless, and a crisis is on our hands. Many of us have more than one machine for precicely that reason. We keep one machine with the oldest, most solid setup in case the new shiny takes a big dump on our workload.

Not that anyone’s asking me, but I think Apple would have been much wiser to have approached FCP like an operating system. There were no doubt a lot of frustrated people with every iteration of OS X as different features and specs were end-of-life’d. But it seems that in most instances, Apple left some options open for people to give them (users, developers) time to adapt — Classic and Rosetta being examples.

OS X has been (and continues to be) wildly successful — so successful, in fact, that the OS X strategy is perhaps the most vital “spec” of the iPhone and iPad, even more so than the OS X kernel itself.

I’ve suggested here and there that Apple should approach the cloud from an operating system standpoint, rather than an app standpoint. They seem to kinda be doing that, and it seems to kinda be working.

By not sticking with what they know best, Apple released an amazing editing application redesigned from the ground up — with no bridges back to the existing (not past… present) version, existing projects, existing workflows. This has alienated a lot of users — users like me that see Final Cut as the operating system for their business.

And even with the updates — calling it 10.0.3 and not 10.3 — it’s as if Apple is saying, “Yeah, these things aren’t really important to us.”

The future

I might as well cut and paste from previous articles for this part.

FCPX is the best editing application I’ve ever used, and with major updates released on a faster schedule than promised, the glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel is starting to look less and less like an oncoming locomotive.

Just over six months out from the intial release, many users have not transitioned to anything new yet. I think anyone that has waited was wise to do so, as it is my opinion that, if you have to learn something new anyway, learning FCPX is much less time-consuming (and less expensive) than completely overhauling your post machines.

The naked truth

Which brings me back to the nudity. Will FCPX ever shake the “naked lunatic,” desperate ex-girlfriend vibe? Well, many ex-girlfriends find new mates (believe me), and many naked lunatics move on to new towns (believe m– i mean, look, a deer!).

Beginning with 10.0.3, Apple will start building a whole new user base of Final Cut Pro users. If the user base even has to rebuilt from the students up, it will survive. I suspect it will continue to grow and reclaim its prominence as the industry-standard editing app. It’s just a shame FCPX set back Apple’s lead, undoing ten years of steady growth.

Guess I better break out those training videos if I want to keep up with the kiddos…

PS – Don’t forget that Apple has a 30-day free trial available at http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/trial.

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