Thursday, January 24, 2013

Final Cut Pro X 2013, PART 2

LAST TIME we discussed the progress FCPX made in 2012.  5 updates in 12 months, Pro feature focused, and on an aggressive development schedule.

In this article, we’ll look forward and try to suss out what Apple’s Final Cut Pro X development plan may be for 2013.

I’d like to be crystal clear in my projections.  I have no insider info, and am basing everything you’ll read below on the analysis of past action and what I think is some logical supposition.  Apple can be a mercurial company, but it isn’t immune patterns if you look closely.  Looking at FCPX’s update schedule up to now does give us a general guide as to what we might expect this year, should things continue on their present course.  But as the release of FCPX itself proves, anything can happen!

Confused?  Great- lets go!

WHAT’S A 10.1?

The conversation about Final Cut this year is very likely to centre around whether FPCX will move from 10.0.X updates to to 10.1.  But what exactly does that mean for the software and the user?

In the 10 years of legacy Final Cut, development centered around major updates on a roughly bi-annual cycle.  In the years between these banner releases, updates from Apple added little in terms of new features, and instead were focused on stability, bug fixes, performance enhancements, and support for new hardware and footage formats.

With the release of Final Cut Pro X, Apple made a point of saying that releasing FCPX via the Mac appStore would allow for more frequent updates and rapid development than in the past.  The fact that we’ve seen 3 major feature updates, plus 4 minor updates in the last 2 years seems to bear this out.  And yet here we still are at 10.0.7 as of January 24th.

So how will apple define the next major release of Final Cut Pro X?  

Thankfully, we don’t have to look very far for an answer...

Apple seems to REALLY likes the letter “X”.  Perhaps the only letter used more prominently by the company marketing is the now omnipresent “i” prefix.

On the Mac, Apple has been slowly working it’s way thru point updates to OSX for over a decade.  Each major successive operating system release uses a new big-cat name and an incremental decimal place to describe it: from 10.1 “Puma” to 10.8 “Mountain Lion”.  They seem to be pretty happy with how that worked out for them, ‘cause it looks like that’s what Apple is doing with Final Cut Pro X as well.  Where we used to measure Final Cut releases with whole numbers (5 to 6 to 7), all indications are we can now expect to see the same iterative decimal update numerology for Final Cut Pro.  And if the rumors are true, Apple’s Pro audio tool Logic, and Photo editing tool Aperture will also be moving to the “X” name/number with their next major releases.  It’s sort of curious, as it seems pretty inevitable that we’re coming to the end of “OSX” this year as Apple releases OSX 10.9.

So, the next major version of Final Cut won’t be FInal Cut Pro 11, or Final Cut Pro XI.  Instead, Final Cut Pro is likely to be “X” for some time to come, with major updates to the software being identified as 10.1, 10.2, 10.3 and so on...  This would certainly seem to mesh with Apple’s PR at launch in 2011 that FCPX has a, “10 year development plan” for the software.

The other thing to consider is that because there are only 9 10.0.X places for updates, it might hint that a rapid, perhaps even annual major update cycle could be the eventual goal.  That is, unless Apple alters their update naming system to include another decimal place, making possible, OR if they allow themselves to go to numbers like 10.0.11.  Either of these is possible- 7toX from Intelligent Assistance is currently at version 1.0.17. 


Looking back at PART 1, it’s clear that the FCPX development team’s goal for the past 2 years has been the reinstatement (and improvement) of Pro Features that were either omitted or incomplete at FCPX’s launch in June of 2011.  While I think there are still several holes in functionality left to fill, the list is MUCH shorter now than it was even 6 months ago.  

Last year I found it hard to grasp that we might be ready for a 10.1 software update; today I find it hard to imagine that the FCPX dev team would be able to find another year’s worth of updates WITHOUT moving to a new major version number.  There simply aren’t that many areas of Legacy functionality left to be reintegrated.

That leaves us with NEW territory.  New features and functionality that would have been new to Final Cut even if FCPX was FCP8.

Features like advanced bus-based mixing, auto-transcription of dialogue on import, person identification like in iPhoto, or advanced collaborative editing functionality (which was sold separately as Final Cut Server but was never part of the Studio itself).

As we come to the end of this first chapter of Final Cut Pro X, with many (but not all) of the software’s initial deficiencies addressed, Apple will need to to present a compelling set upgrades to drive existing users of FCPX to update to 10.1, and perhaps those legacy users still on FCP7 to finally give the software a shot.

Which brings us to...


For both of the major feature updates in 2012 [10.0.3 and 10.0.6], there was some speculation that each one would be a paid upgrade.  Personally, I never put much stock in those opinions.  Since the features that had been pre-announced were reintegrating legacy functionality,  I found it hard to believe that Apple would ask the small and beleaguered group of individuals who’d actually taken a chance on the software to pay again for features that the software should arguably have had in the first place.

But if a major 10.1 release is indeed on the way, has the situation changed?  Let’s look at the three possibilities:

OPTION 1, Apple could release 10.1 as another FREE update.  Popular opinion is still heavily against FCPX in most professional circles.  And while many legacy users downloaded FCPX, it’s likely that a majority of those download aren’t being actively used.  Offering this first major update to Final Cut Pro X for nothing could do nothing but garner good will with not only those already using it, but those who’ve already got it on their systems and have been waiting for it to develop to give it a chance, especially if the new 10.1 features are particularly compelling.  Apple could certainly use a snowball of good press to counter the current sentiment in the industry against the software.

But on the flip side, Apple is a business.  Early adopters had ample opportunity to get a refund in the Summer of 2011.  And Since 10.0.1, Apple has offered a 30 day free trial for those wishing to test-drive FCPX.  So from their perspective, those who decided to hold onto the software either decided to use it, or decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to seek a refund.  In either case, Apple may not feel motivated to give away a substantial update to 2 year old software.  I’m sure any “not free” option is going to ruffle some people’s feathers, but what can Apple do?

OPTION 2 is that Apple could release the software at another full $299.  Considering how cheap the software was to begin with, Apple may feel that $300 for professional software every 2 years is a perfectly reasonable price to pay if you’re using it to make a living.  I’d like to think that anyone being paid for editing would make the price of the software back in AT MOST a day of work, much less if you’re skilled and in demand.  When Final Cut Studio cost $1,299, the cost to upgrade was usually about $300-$400.  But at $299, the initial cost is so low that upgrade pricing seem almost pointless.  And as it turns out, impossible at the present time.  Which brings us to-

OPTION 3, an upgrade price.  The real problem with the idea of a... say, $100 upgrade fee for 10.1 is that... there’s no facility for paid upgrades in the current appStore model.  Developers must either give the updates away for free, or put them up on the store as entirely new apps, with no way to set different price points for new vs existing users.  Developers have been asking for this for years, but Apple has as of yet made no motions to make it happen.   There are many theories as to why they haven’t done this, but the bottom line is that it’s not there.

While there’s nothing to say they could not add this in the future, the most likely time for them to announce that would be at WWDC in June as part of the annual iOS/OSX developer preview.  Even then, it probably wouldn’t actually be up and running until OSX 10.9 was released sometime in the fall.  So IF Apple decides to add this option to the Mac appStore AND a 10.1 update doesn’t come until the fall, then perhaps this could be a possibility.  But for now it’s a non-starter.

Which leads us to the most enticing question...

WHAT’S NEXT?  10.0.8?  10.1? FCP8?

Final Cut Pro 8... hahahaha... No.  And if that’s really what you’re hanging on FCP7 waiting for I encourage you to seek out one of the other NLE options on the market.

Beyond that, what might 2013 hold for Final Cut Pro X?

If we look at it purely from a past FCPX update perspective, using the update cycle data I’ve listed above, then we’d be due for 10.0.8 to drop somewhere around February 19th, and a 10.0.9 in April somewhere around NAB.

With only one exception, Apple have been following a FEATURE-MAINTENANCE-FEATURE-MAINTENANCE schedule.  So it should follow that 10.0.8 would be a feature release, Right?  However, we’ve already seen one change in Apple’s behavior that might hurt this assumption- no upcoming features have been pre-announced for the next update.  They did this for both 10.0.3 and 10.0.6, as well as giving a vague window for release.  Why this change?  Perhaps Apple don’t feel they need to pre-announce features anymore- that all the MAJOR holes have been filled, and that the skepticism around whether FCPX is interested in integrating pro features is past.  Another possibility is that we’re getting 2 maintenance releases in a row [like 10.0.4 and 10.0.5] and in that case maybe we’ll see a preview of new features when 10.0.8 is released, pointing to a substantial 10.0.9 release.  Finally, it might be because the features in the next release go beyond legacy functionality- and so Apple isn’t going to reveal them.

The only other solid data point we can look at is the history of legacy Final Cut Pro.  While I don’t think we can take anything that happened with legacy Final Cut as proof positive of what will happen going forward, until they break with a pattern conclusively, it holds some relevance.

Final Cut Pro 1 • NAB 1999
Final Cut Pro 2 • MAR 2001
Final Cut Pro 3 • DEC 2001
Final Cut Pro 4 • NAB 2003
Final Cut Pro 4.5 • NAB 2004
Final Cut Pro 5 • NAB 2005
Final Cut Pro 6 • NAB 2007
Final Cut Pro 7 • JUL 2009
Final Cut Pro X • NAB 2011

*source Wikipedia

Out of the 8 releases of legacy FCP between 1999 and 2009, 5 of those were previewed at NAB in their respective years.  The ones that weren’t were FCP2, FCP3, and FCP7.  While Final Cut Studio 3 was considered by many to be a fairly minor update to the suite; FCP 2 and 3 were big improvements in the early days of the software, so I’m not sure why they gave NAB a pass.  But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the time, Apple has demoed new versions of Final Cut Pro at NAB, including Final Cut Pro X in 2011.

The other pattern here is that Final Cut Pro has typically seen major updates on a roughly 2 year cycle.  Final Cut Pro 2 & 3 were released in the same year, and Final Cut Pro 4.5 [or Final Cut Pro HD] was a iterate step up in the software before all of Apple’s video production tools were wrapped together into FInal Cut Studio.

And that’s really all the data we have to work with- anything else is pure speculation.  Which brings us finally to...


I’m personally beginning to feel we’ve reached a pivot point in the development of Final Cut Pro X.

While there are some great lists like Richard Taylor’s “Top 90 Requests for Final Cut Pro X” that describe areas for improvement in workflow and finessing UI, the BIG requests from 10.0 are mostly gone, unless you count tracks and a non-magnetic timeline [in which case I think you’re out of luck].

Apple could easily spend a year implementing most of the requests on a list like that, and while I think almost everything on that list is worth doing, I don’t see the FCPX dev team sitting back and and just massaging the existing feature-set.

Apple needs to keep pushing forward- they still have to convince people that the rethinking of editing that’s at the core of FCPX is was worthwhile, and even more, that the time that has to go into learning FCPX is a worthwhile investment for companies still clinging to their copies of Final Cut Pro 7.

Like last year, I think we’ll see at least two major revisions to the Final Cut Pro X this year.  

In the immediate term, I see another substantial feature upgrade with either 10.0.8 or [more likely] 10.0.9, between now and April.  

Whether it’s a 10.0.X or 10.1 preview, I really hope we see Randy Ubillos back at NAB this year.  While I think the harsh view of FCPX has softened to some extent, I think the FCPX dev team needs to show they’re not deterred by the negativity of the past 2 years, and come out swinging again.  Everything added back to FCPX since 10.0 has been a substantive improvement over it’s legacy predecessor.  They just need to keep going.

The back half of the year is much foggier.  As I stated earlier, while I could definitely see a 10.1 upgrade this year, there are issues around the MacAppStore that have me wondering if it’s really in the cards.  There’s the aforementioned potential issue with upgrade pricing.  There’s also the fact that at some point FCPX is going to need to be sandboxed like all other appsStore apps.  In it’s current incarnation it’s immune to those rules, but my understanding is that any new version will have to abide by those sandboxing policies.  It could be problematic for the Project/Event structure, OR for potential round-tripping with other apps like Motion or Logic.  So if 10.1 does happen this year, I think it would have to be in the fall to make any sense.  But that does leave me confounded as to what Apple will do with the update naming structure after 10.0.9, which would presumably drop by the Summer.  That still leaves half a year of development with no where to go numerically unless Apple goes to 10.0.10 and beyond.

As for what zones of development we’ll see this year- the two large ones that I see at the forefront are AUDIO and COLLABORATIVE WORKFLOWS.  If you held a gun to my head, I’d say that AUDIO will get attention first.

In terms of audio, ROLES is a half-implemented solution at this point- and finishing the job will have positive implications for audio mixing, project timeline layout, and AAF/OMF export.  FCPX’s trackless timeline is still seen as a deficiency that this stage- and making that concept acceptable to people is the biggest hurdle they need to overcome right now.  

COLLABORATIVE WORKFLOWS is a very specialized problem.  Apple had years of Final Cut Server experience to get a read on what people really wanted out of that product- so I have high hopes that when that functionality returns it will be both more powerful and accessible.

Other areas I’d like to see tackled are PROJECT VERSIONING that goes beyond project duplication, a more substantive and bullet-proof BACKUP VAULT.  KEYFRAMING also needs to be overhauled, and of course better ROUND-TRIPPING WITH MOTION [which will hopefully also see a substantive update this year as well].

The final area that needs attention this year is FCPXs image.  And while continuous feature improvements will help the software’s reputation- the bigger issue I see is a purely PR one.  Some people have gone cold on Apple.  There are numerous reasons for this, some valid, some silly.  But they’re there, make no mistake.

FCPX might have been the most mismanaged launch in Apple’s history.  Positioned and presented properly- FCPX could have been an enticing future platform that Final Cut editors could be excited about and engaged with.  As it was, a terrible example is alienating your user base.

But what’s done is done and it’s time to move forward.  And to do that Apple need to make presenting to people and demoing the software a priority, anywhere they can, as often as they can.  There are so many misconceptions about what FCPX can and can’t do at this stage, and unless Apple gets out in front of this problem, these perceptions are going to linger LONG after they’ve solved them in the software itself.  Apple needs to engage those who are using it- they’re ambassadors for your product.  And finally Apple needs to address the MacPro issue- high end users need to know where Apple stands in this space.  Thanks to Tim Cook, we already know something is coming in 2013.  Don’t blow it!

NEXT:  We’ll take an in-depth look at how I hope to see Roles evolve in 2013.


Alex4D said...

Given a pretty bad render bug in 10.0.6 and 10.0.7 that affects quite a few third-party plug-ins, I think 10.0.8 will be another maintenance release.

Great post though, it matches pretty much what I think.

Although software development is in a silo, the mystery is how new hardware will influence 10.1. By definition, Final Cut Pro should be great demo software for hardware that Tim Cook described as "something really great for later next year" last Summer.


Hoverboy said...

Yeah, I think a 10.0.8 maintenance release is most likely at this stage. There are definitely enough recurring bugs to make it worthwhile, and would probably put us in line for a nice beefy update for NAB in April- though my thinking is now that it won't be 10.1.

I'll be addressing the "MacPro dilemma" in another part of this series.