Apple's Final Cut will end the Flash wars

By Jonny Evans

Adobe [ADBE] wrote its suicide note way back in 1998, when it refused to help Apple [AAPL] and Steve Jobs in creating video software for Macs. Next week's Final Cut Pro 8 introduction will be the final nail in the Adobe coffin.


[ABOVE: Final Cut Pro 1 interface]

The Photoshop publisher has been a reluctant Apple partner ever since Jobs returned to Apple.

Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X, for example.

Adobe's insistence on Flash is part of a strategy once championed by some Adobe executives who wanted to use the proprietary multimedia 'standard' as part of a foundation from which to evolve the company's own software platforms, in competition with Apple and Microsoft.

It could all have been so different.


[ABOVE: Final Cut Pro 7 interface]

Caching the timeline

A little more cooperation. A little more trust. Things could have been different. Apple's then iCEO, Steve Jobs, approached Adobe senior management way back in 1998. He was asking Adobe to develop a Mac version of its video-editing software. Adobe said "No."

"We were shocked, because they had been a big supporter in the early days of the Mac," Jobs told Fortune. "But we said, 'Okay, if nobody wants to help us, we're just going to have to do this ourselves.'"

Responding, Apple launched its Applications Software Division. This grew into a 1,000-engineer-strong group, with a strong contribution from Fotopedia CEO, Jean Marie Hullot, who led that team for several years.

Get a grip

After meeting with Adobe, Apple met with Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe for its Flash technology and software catalog). Macromedia had a product it couldn't sell (because of patent problems with Microsoft), called KeyGrip.

Interestingly, KeyGrip was a professional video editing solution based on Apple's QuickTime format, developed by Randy Ubillos. He's Apple's Chief Architect for Video Applications today.

The video above shows Ubillos demonstrating iMovie 11 at the Back to the Mac event last year. Ubillos also developed the first three versions of Adobe's video product, Premiere.

(That's why Jobs takes a moment to congratulate Ubillos and his team -- it isn't just for iMovie 11.)

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With the distinguished record he has, you could argue that Ubillos IS desktop video. But that would be lazy -- there's no such thing as a one man army. Inspiration, perspiration and team work are what's required to simplify complexity in modern product design.

Apple acquired KeyGrip (now Final Cut Pro) in 1998. Less than one year later, the company introduced a range of powerful applications designed using Ubillos' ideas: Final Cut Pro (at NAB on April 25, 1999), and iMovie a few months later.

Apple's next big push

"Desktop Video is Apple's next big market push and Final Cut Pro will lead the charge at the high end," said Steve Jobs, Apple's then interim CEO. "With our FireWire-savvy computers, we plan to bring easy to use desktop video creation to millions of new customers including television producers, ad agencies, graphics firms, web site designers, teachers, students and consumers."

A few months later and Apple introduced iMovie -- arguably the software which helped consolidate the iMac-led turnaround of the firm. Apple also introduced FireWire and QuickTime 4 in the same year.

All these introductions within just a few short months of Jobs' ill-fated meeting with Adobe, the meeting at which Adobe executives failed to connect with the Apple co-founder's Internet appliance-focused vision for future computing. Adobe had grown too corporate and too comfortable for life in the Cupertino dream machine.

Jobs knew what was coming. On iMovie he said: "The new iMacs with our iMovie software usher in the era of desktop video, allowing mere mortals to easily create professional-quality movies right in their homes or classrooms. This is going to be very, very big."

Today Apple offers applications for music and movie creation, with solutions for professional, semi-professional and consumer markets. SCRI International last year said the software has almost 50 percent market share in the nonlinear editor space. It is an industry standard in film, television and broadcast industries.

In 1998, Apple purchased Macromedia's video product for an undisclosed sum. In 2005, Adobe purchased Macromedia for $3.4 billion. Apple got the better deal.

Getting mobile

We are in a mobile environment today. With movies, films and all manner of moving image content now available online, low bandwidth formats with wide support matter.

Apple's Final Cut software is already widely used across the video creation, production and post-production industries. Not updated significantly since 2009, a lot has changed in the online video industry:

  • iPhone, iPad and iPod touch have kick-started HTML 5
  • Adobe now offers Flash to HTML5 export tools
  • Many online services now eschew Flash for HTML5
  • See the theme?

How important is video? To understand the implications of Adobe's lost war, here's a few things Apple is doing or reputed to be doing with video assets, creation, capture, edit and distribution:

  • Final Cut
  • iMovie
  • Every Apple keynote webcast
  • iChat
  • Facetime
  • iTunes
  • iTunes Movie Store
  • iPad, iPhone, iPod touch
  • iMovie on iPad
  • iMovie on iPhone
  • AirPlay Video
  • The Apple TV as a streaming service delivery point
  • The evolution of TV broadcasting
  • iTunes movies in the cloud

Flash should have been mobile in 2003

Adobe grew too confident, too comfortable, and failed to help an old partner when it needed help most. If the two firms had worked together, I'm pretty certain a solution to help Flash work properly and efficiently on mobile devices would have been found when video on mobile devices really began to matter, way back in 2003.

That's when Apple's QuickTime chief, Frank Casanova told me, "If the Japanese market is any example of what will happen, it will come across Europe like a tidal wave," he revealed. He told me the Japanese market was already exploding for 3G. In 2003.

(Which kind of makes you question why the iPhone didn't offer 3G support right from the get-go, but anyway...)

Coming soon to iMovie, 3D?

Take a look around today and you won't have to look too far before you notice the move to 3D video and television. Look a little further and you'll find an Apple patent for a 3D video capture technology for your iPhone.

Speculate a little and you'll see huge 3D improvements inside of Final Cut (well, what else you gonna do with 64-bit non-linear video? Sepia-tinge your Ken Burns effects?). Speculate a little more and you'll likely see a 3D video capture iPhone eventually exporting captured video to your Mac for editing in iMovie.

It could have been so different. It could have been Adobe technology at the heart of Apple's 19-petabyte of video data over at that company's North Carolina data center. But that isn't how this story has played out.

"New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind," wrote Steve Jobs in April last year.

NAB takes place April 9-14. Apple is expected to introduce Final Cut at that time. Stay tuned.

What do you expect? Will Adobe manage its way back to success, or is it curtains for the company? Comment in comments if you wish. Otherwise, please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.    

Below -- and here's what real live film students have to say about other competing video apps:

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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