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One Year Later, redux: Apple, FCPX and The Perfect Roll-out

COW Forums : Apple FCPX or Not: The Debate

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Tim WilsonOne Year Later, redux: Apple, FCPX and The Perfect Roll-out
by on Apr 22, 2012 at 6:03:31 am

David Roth Weiss asked me to explain my frequently stated belief that Apple's roll-out of FCPX was perfect, and the immediate EOL of FCP 7 was essential. Good question. Simply stated:

  • There is nothing Apple could have done to create more demand for FCPX than they did.
  • The EOL of FCP 7 was part of the point, which we see from Apple killing it before FCPX could replace all its features.

Shall we begin?

***

Roll-out = the progress of a product from behind a company’s closed doors into a customer’s hands.

Step 1. Build interest. What was the big story going into NAB 2011? Apple/Supermeet/Weds. What was the big story that Monday? Apple/Supermeet/Weds.

Tuesday? Apple/Supermeet/Weds. We know what the big story was Wednesday. What about Thursday? Apple/Supermeet/Weds. Friday? Lather rinse repeat until June.


Step 2. Set the agenda. Well, there you go. Everybody else, outta the pool. No matter what else you were planning to talk about for the next couple of months, this is what you DID talk about.

Hey, and credit where credit is due. Had Apple ever showed anything this far in advance before? Maybe a little at WWDC, but certainly not to civilians. And for all that Apple is a consumer company (I think that that’s reductive, but whatevs), it’s not like they’re trying to woo the crowd at CES.

That’s why it never bothered me that Apple got out of the booth business. Why bother? They had new product every two years, and folks like you carrying the flag every day. Apple’s last big investment in advertising FCP was…what? 2003? Do you think that Apple gave up on FCP back in 2003? Of course not. So let’s let the whole “no booth=no love” discussion die an overdue death.

That said, what do you want from an Apple roll-out? For Apple to pack up their Fuller Brush suitcase and give you the full patter in person. They did. Reading the COW’s Final Cut Pro X forum that very night as posts were going up in real time, it’s clear that easily a third of you were horrified on the spot….but Apple was still rolling out their plan to perfection.


Step 3. Stoke demand. How long did you wait to download FCPX? C’mon, what could Apple possibly have done to make you more anxious/angry/excited/nervous/giddy, just plain READY to download FCPX a single second sooner? Not a dang thing.

***

Multiple choice question. Apple earned back their entire development cost for FCPX in
a) The next three years.
b) The first three months.
c) The first three days.
d) The first three hours.
e) Probably not the first three seconds….but really, wouldn’t you love to know?

Roll-out perfection achieved.

***

As for the EOL of FCP 7 and the Final Cut Suite, I don’t have to try reading Apple’s mind when they’re telling me exactly where I should look: very simply, maybe over-simply, look at who lived and who died.

First, let’s be honest. Final Cut Pro pre-X is among the least Apple-like products ever shipped. (Color may be a close second. Shake? Let’s pretend that never happened. Apple has.)

It’s almost like Steve bought all those products from companies who built not very Apple-looking stuff (if also powerful, productive, etc.), and said to those teams, “You’re allowed to use those three colored dots in the upper left of a window. You can have the Genie effect, rounded corners, and system fonts. And I don’t care what you were doing with it before we bought you, but all your Command-H are belong to us. THAT’S IT. NO MORE MAC SOUP FOR YOU.”

So FCPX stands as a home-grown professional product built around the one thing that the Final Cut Studio absolutely lacked from its first day to its last:

Focus. FCPX's goals (achieved or not as you see fit to declare) represent Apple at their best: laser-like focus on simplicity, intuition, elegance, and Apple’s longest of many long suits: DESIGN. FCPX LOOKS and ACTS like it was made by Apple.


***

Here’s what Steve said about Mac in 1985: The past was "too limiting. [W]e needed a technology that would make the thing radically easier to use and more powerful at the same time, so we had to make a break. We just had to do it." (I wrote about that here.)

With Final Cut Studio, Apple had become the Borg, with other people’s technology grafted on and hanging off at odd angles. Capable, adaptable, relentless, yes – but conceived with a single central vision? Please. With FCPX, Apple got its single, central vision AND a clean break.

It was obviously more important for Apple to de-Borg itself of FCP 7 and the Final Cut Studio than it was to wait for X to replace every Borg-y feature – because bullet-pointed features are NOT THE POINT of X. If features were solely, or even primarily the point, Apple could have waited. WOULD have waited.

The point is that FCPX represents Apple's idea of a professional video application free of the Borg that Apple had become.

Why not release X and keep FCP 7 around a little longer? Keeping FCP 7 alive for a single second longer than it took to launch X wouldn’t have been partial freedom for Apple. It would have been NO freedom at all. Apple would still have been the Borg for that much longer, with one more piece of grafted-on tech to juggle and eventually jettison. Waiting made no sense. It was the opposite of everything Apple was trying to become: itself again.

I can’t imagine that it took longer than two Keynote slides in the boardroom to dispense with the idea that prolonging lack of focus was a good idea. Probably only one Keynote slide to make the case. Maybe not even a slide. Maybe just a picture of Jean-Luc Picard as Locutus. Apple had become no longer willing to be the Borg. FCPX was the clean break Steve had been wanting since 1985.

I think that the common roots of iMovie and FCPX hammer this home. That is, I don’t think that FCPX exactly evolved from iMovie as much as they both evolved from the same ideal: to simplify a complex task, unencumbered by expectations, compatibility or a Borged-up pile of whatever.


***

I used to work for Boris, the actual guy behind Boris FX. He told me, “I didn’t get into this business to make software for HUNDREDs of people.” He was gently chiding me for thinking too small. I was a power user before joining the company, certainly squarely in the middle of his mainstream market. But as a product manager, I was only thinking about features that me and my friends wanted, maybe a little more broadly to the pro market as I understood it, and Boris was right: that made me think too small.

I don’t think Steve Jobs ever intended to sell just two or three million of ANYTHING. The Borg known as Final Cut Studio had fallen well short of the goal to sell MANY millions, and was never going to reach it. What did Steve say he wanted in 1985? Radically easier to use. More powerful. A clean break.

We can argue all year (hey! And we have!) over whether the first two points were accomplished. But here’s what WAS accomplished. A clean break. Freedom from the Borg that Apple had turned itself into.

***

Last bit of honesty: FCP had been zombieware for a while. The last major change was in 2005 (yay multicam!), with the dandy ProRes feature added in 2007 -- but otherwise, nothing much to say anytime since then. That's a long stretch where FCP was still moving enough that it kinda looked alive, but dang! What’s that smell?

And enough with the eating brains already! That’s not how you build editing software that will sell MANY millions of copies. We’re APPLE dammit. No zombies, no more Borg. Let’s do what we do better than anyone: FOCUS. Refine. Design something that nobody expected, because we’re thinking bigger than they are.

***

I have no idea if anybody at Apple exactly anticipated the outcomes of this that would so dramatically boost the fortunes of Adobe, Avid, Autodesk, HP, and hey, maybe even Blackmagic’s new NLE (KIDDING), but I doubt that the principle took long to articulate. Something along the lines of, let the other guys duke it out to prove who’s best suited for doing things the old way. We’re playing a different game now.

Which I think they established no later than the second paragraph in the roll-out at NAB 2011. Hence, perfect.

***

This is probably the last time anybody needs to hear from me on this, so I’ll give everybody else the last word. (Haha! Last word!)

Note that I'm not recommending or not recommending FCPX for anyone. After 20+ years as a hardcore Mac guy, I'm all Windows all the time now and loving it, and can't imagine booting a Mac, much less running FCPX. I think Smoke puts Autodesk in the game in ways that nobody expected, and I love the offerings from Adobe and Avid -- but FCPX as an exercise in business, sociology, and Star Trek metaphors? I'm all in.

Usual disclosure: I'm speaking for myself, not the COW or anyone else. Everyone I know is likely a little appalled by this for one reason or another, assuming they’ve read this far.

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine
Twitter: timdoubleyou



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