This is a for-nerds-only post and will be filled with technical jargon and computer history relating to post production in indie film. I am hereby prophesying doom for Apple, thanks to its release of Final Cut Pro X…
Within hours of the release of FCP X, all of the producers where I work were ready to go Adobe, and one was even pondering a return to Avid. My tech-prophesying mind tells me that this advent will lead Apple to its downfall.
Huh? One little program? One little market segment causing the downfall of today’s tech kingpin? Yes indeed, says I. (There’s no proof of this and nobody believes me… but LONG AGO I did actually predict things like Netflix and the iPhone itself (as a pocket-sized mobile phone, computer, and media center the entire face of which would be a touch-screen piece of glass, etc. But never mind all that.)
The summary is this. FCP X is a great program, but not a pro tool. This is a major shift and is the final nail in the coffin of Apple’s old business strategy. In the opinion of this opinion-holder, Apple is officially steering away from it’s core customers: creative professionals who have been Apple’s gold mines and ambassadors for decades, through thick and thin. But, you say, Apple’s frolicking in greener pastures making money hand over fist selling iPhones. Yes, but today’s customers don’t love Apple, they love what Apple gives them. And when a better deal comes along, and it will, they will bolt.
Quick background overview… once upon a time Apple released a piece of software called Final Cut Pro. A video editing program that quickly evolved into a professional editing tool that sent shockwaves through the industry–shaking up Avid and Adobe, and infusing pro mojo into wedding video guys, corporate video guys, and indie filmmakers. My indie sci-fi flick 95ers is edited on FCP. Many TV stations, high-end production houses, and even some movie studios incorporated FCP somewhere along their post pipeline. Why? It was good and cheap. Adobe’s Premiere just didn’t have that “pro” feel at the time, and Avid was ridiculously overpriced.
I still remember that fateful trip to NAB where Avid reps were pitifully trying to justify their dramatic price slashing–which made the $100K Avid at the studio I ran suddenly worth about $10K. Avid was scrambling to hold on to market share because of the stellar adoption of Apple’s FCP. Apple continued to add high end post tools such as Shake and Color, making its media production suite a powerful and permanent resident in most post houses.
Then came the iPod, iTunes, and finally the iPhone. The world changed. Apple changed. Which was first? Apple’s always been cooler, but now it’s bigger than even Microsoft–which ironically saved Apple by investing $150 million in it in 1997. Today, Apple makes most of its money in the new markets it helped create. How many of you are reading this on a tablet? It’s no wonder that they are focusing much more on pads, apps, and clouds than they are on high-end media software.
But here is the error in their thinking and the source of my dire prediction–the source of their inevitable downfall. They have forgotten where they came from, and who it was that ensured their survival.
Ever since the early days of QuarkXpress and the Mac-only Photoshop 1.0, one of Apple’s most vital revenue organs has been the fiercely loyal armies of graphic designers who would never dream of touching a clunky, poorly packaged “IBM compatible” computer, no matter how much faster and cheaper some nerd said it was. The brilliantly campaigned mythology of Mac superiority grabbed many other groups, including video professionals. So devoted were they (we) that they (we) were often willing to buy ludicrously overpriced RAM, monitors, and other hardware simply because it came from the Apple store. I remember the jaw-dropping moment when I discovered that there are no such things as “Apple” RAM nor “Apple” superdrives nor even “Apple” hard drives. If you don’t believe me, just open up your computer and check the labels… then compare what you paid to what the exact same thing costs at NewEgg. (The price differences aren’t actually so epically bad now… but before people caught on, Apple was charging some eight times the going price for the same RAM. Not just the same kind of RAM, the exact same RAM from the same manufacturer. That’s just one example.)
But it all felt so good coming out of the box, we didn’t care. It was blessed by that logo. The machines worked and they made us happy and they made us money. I’m not bashing Apple. They are marketing geniuses, and here I sit typing this post on my Mac, which has only had one bad crash in the four years I have owned it, and on which I have created a cool TV pilot, 8 episodes of an Emmy-nominated reality show, and my movie.
What does this all have to do with Final Cut Pro X and Apple’s downfall?
Apple’s core constituents–the designers, video guys, and several other groups–were the first to buy iPods, the first to use iTunes, and probably the first to buy iPhones. They (we) were the unwavering, zealous, word-of-mouth marketing force at the foundation of Apple’s stellar rise. I have an iPhone (as opposed to a Droid) because I own a Mac. I own a Mac because I wanted Final Cut Pro. This is true for thousands of people like me.
In nutshell, Final Cut Pro X is NOT a professional tool. The lack of OMF, EDL, and XML export are a blaring examples. If you don’t know what that means… just read the reviews, even by Apple-friendly reviewers. Again, it’s a great program, but it’s not for people who make TV, movies, etc. I can’t fit in those post pipelines. This means that me and thousands of other professionals will be finding new post production software (and hardware) very soon, even if Apple scrambles to add more pro functionality. It’s designed for folks who want to make super cool videos and post them on YouTube. Frankly, there are lot more of those people than there are people like me. And Apple can make a ton more money selling the FCP X “app” for $300 to one hundred people, then they can selling the professional Final Cut Studio for $1000 to one person. This move by Apple will cause a cascade of non-trust throughout the media universe. The best competitors to FCP run only, or run best on PC’s. Plug-in makers will be wary of releasing their awesome software for FCP X. Why would anybody buy a $500 plugin for a piece of software that costs $300? Corporations and production companies who switch to another package will definitely save their money and buy PC boxes the next time around–since they almost certainly already own the Adobe Suite and all they have to do is port over the licenses. All the innovation in the pro video industry will be heading AWAY from Apple.
But the numbers say: who cares? Who cares if Apple loses me as a customer? Who cares if Apple loses a big chunk of its original core customer base? They have zillions of new customers in fabulously lucrative markets. But there is a big difference between these new customers and the old guard. The original customer CARED ABOUT APPLE. No matter how good and cheap the PC two cubicles over was, the Apple customer would buy Apple again and again. Today’s customers don’t care about Apple, the care about the FUNCTIONALITY Apple is giving them. Right now, Apple is giving them awesome functionality, and they will continue for some time to come. But no matter how smart the creative and technical teams at Apple are, they cannot withstand the onslaught of Google, Motorola, Sony, Microsoft, Dell, HP, Amazon, Netflix, and so many others.
So here is the meat of the much-prefaced prediction: today’s consumer will not stick with Apple because it’s Apple. They will go where the functionality is, and eventually Apple will be out-innovated and undercut. And when that time comes, their core consumers–and the real foundation (up until now) of their marketing mojo–will be elsewhere. Sure, Final Cut X only affects video guys, but it is a dramatic symbol of Apple’s direction away from professionals. They are knocking away a pillar they have forgotten is there.
And the changes are already happening… Lots of pros are mad they just spent a mint on the latest from Apple, and now what they purchased is basically obsolete–because a big part of the industry they work in will probably not be on the same platform for much longer. By the end of this year, the place I work will have spent tens of thousands of dollars on Apple software and computers. Next year, there’s a good chance that number will be plummeting to zero, with former Apple ambassadors now geeking out over Adobe Premiere Pro (which was already ahead of FCP a couple years ago), Windows 8, and our Android devices.
Apple you have given me much, and I have given you much. My Mac Pro will find its way into the kids’ computer area and I will continue to enjoy my iPhone 3G for as long as it keeps working. And who knows, maybe Apple has something unexpectedly cool up their sleeves, like a sleek lens mount for the iPad so the next generation of filmmakers will be shooting and editing feature movies entirely on their tablets.