Apple responds to Final Cut Pro X outcry

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] introduced Final Cut Pro X last week to a huge response -- the majority of which exceedingly negative. Video pros were furious at key features missing from the software, dubbing the release 'iMovie Pro'. Now Apple has published a statement promising those missing features aren't missing at all, but on the way -- eventually.

[ABOVE: A Final Cut Pro X parody ad.]

Final Cut Pro X -- better or beta?

The company declared the release of the pro video application to be 'jaw-dropping'. This may be true: a series of viral videos criticizing the software quickly appeared, confirming that for many users the release had dropped jaws, but not in a good way.

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Some launched a petition to ask Apple to bring back the old version -- though to be fair, Apple continues to support that version and will do so in OS X Lion when that operating system ships.

Sticking to its guns in its fresh statement, the company responds: "Final Cut Pro X is a breakthrough in nonlinear video editing. The application has impressed many pro editors, and it has also generated a lot of discussion in the pro video community. We know people have questions about the new features in Final Cut Pro X and how it compares with previous versions of Final Cut Pro."

But the software's missing features constitute glaring omissions in its utility. These features make the app as useful to some as any other piece of beta software -- nice to try, but not yet ready for professional work.

[ABOVE: Conan O'Brien parody of Final Cut Pro X.]

Missing features such as: lack of OMF for Protools, lack of support for tape and the disappearance of the powerful and popular Soundtrack Pro package as deal-breakers for many in the industry. And if those lacks weren't sufficient, users howled at the disappearance of multi-clip support.

Also missing (from a longer list):

  • Chapter Markers
  • Export Settings
  • No Export for hi-res JPEGS, EDL, XML import
  • No Red support
  • Can't open projects created in previous versions

Pro-user forums have already became enclaves for a mass outbreak of criticism, as Final Cut editors seemingly conclude that Final Cut Pro X isn't ready for release, those missing features are essential.

Available solely via the Mac App Store, the release is considerably cheaper than before, but user reviews on the store (which can only be submitted by people who actually purchase the software) are overwhelmingly negative.

"So many essential functions missing for production, it is staggering," writes one App Store customer. "This is iMovie Pro and nothing else...confuses me why this is released yet as it will annpy many people who feel duped."

This level of criticism is not good. Apple has reportedly even started offering refunds to some users. The debacle is so great it has even generated its own swearing-laden Hitler finds out about Final Cut Pro video.

Jam tomorrow

I've asked Apple to talk to me about the release, but the company has chosen not to respond. Instead it has published its page promising updates, ugrades and new features -- though given that some key features won't be available until "the next major upgrade", most users will be sticking with Final Cut Pro 7 for now -- or moving to Avid and/or Premiere. This cannot have been the game plan, can it?

"Apple appears to have forsaken a high-profile market which they've previously be only to happy to showcase for marketing purposes," wrote one of my readers, commenting on my previous post on the topic.

The inescapable conclusion is that this release Final Cut Pro X is unlikely to become tool of choice for Mac-using video editors. However, it could be considered an essential purchase for video professionals who want to get to grips with the software for future use -- but many will consider moving to a new platform.

In its latest statement on the software, Apple appears to pass the buck: third party developers will need to fix their plug-ins to work with the new 64-bit architecture, the company says. Some camera manufacturers will need to update their import plug-ins to work with the new 64-bit architecture of Final Cut Pro, "and we are working with them to provide these updates as quickly as possible."

If you want Multicam support you'll be waiting, "Multicam editing is an important and popular feature, and we will provide great multicam support in the next major release," the company states. The comment of a major release suggests a .5 or full version upgrade -- so you won't get Multicam for a while, people.

"Until then, Final Cut Pro X offers some basic support with automatic clip synchronization, which allows you to sync multiple video and audio clips using audio waveforms, creating a Compound Clip that can be used for simple multicam workflows."

Even Apple knows its missing

Asked on the process of importing projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into the new app, Apple says:

"Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. In addition, Final Cut Pro X features new and redesigned audio effects, video effects, and color grading tools. Because of these changes, there is no way to "translate" or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you're already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so after installing Final Cut Pro X, and Final Cut Pro 7 will work with Mac OS X Lion. You can also import your media files from previous versions into Final Cut Pro X."

XML is also on the product roadmap: "We know how important XML export is to our developers and our users, and we expect to add this functionality to Final Cut Pro X. We will release a set of APIs in the next few weeks so that third-party developers can access the next-generation XML in Final Cut Pro X."

The Apple statement listing and answering questions concerning missing features goes on and on, though it isn't clear if this will be sufficient for Apple's aggrieved pro users.

Apple's lost congregation

In my report last week, I described Final Cut Pro X as a kick against Adobe Premiere. As readers, pro editors, and Apple itself pointed out, this was not the case. Final Cut Pro X is a starting point, but Apple has mis-positioned the release.

It would have been a far better move to introduce the software as a free or small-fee-based beta in order to educate the market as to its new features and correctly identify those which are missing. As it is, Apple's hard-won market of pro users are now considering alternative solutions and Apple has stretched their loyalty to the maximum.

Video editor and expert user, Larry Jordan, puts it thus: "Apple has alienated the very people who can make a very visible statement as to the inadequacy of the program."

The story also raises questions on Apple's future in the professional markets. Given corporate strategy now sees the PC as a 'truck' with focus moving to post-PC devices such as the iPad, how now does the company rate its commitment to professional solutions? That's a question which isn't answered within Apple's mea culpa.

Your thoughts? Has Apple lost the market forever, or is it possible to work around the negativity? Let us know. Otherwise, please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.   

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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