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There's Nothing Pro about Final Cut Pro X

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Steve Jobs was the greatest product innovator in the last couple of centuries, and his passing saddened me significantly. My appreciation goes back to his storied commencement address at Stanford University, which revealed him to be a deep and thoughtful man. I stand in awe of his incredible string of product successes, including the original Mac, iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and Apple App Store—not to mention Pixar—as well as his ability to produce maniacal, passionate fans. But that doesn’t mean that I personally like every product created under his watch or agree with every product-related decision.

This is particularly so after finishing Walter Isaacson’s outstanding biography, titled simply Steve Jobs, where I learned of two of Jobs’s passions: one for simplicity and the other for controlling the experience. In particular, I can’t reconcile Jobs’s passion for simplicity with Final Cut Pro X.

I recently reviewed the new features in Final Cut Pro 10.0.3 and found them impressive. Overall, though, I abhor the program. When I run FCPX, my reaction is visceral; I feel the walls pressing in and my blood pressure rising. I adore the clean slate of Adobe Premiere Pro and its doppelganger Final Cut Pro 7. FCPX has so much structure, so many completely foreign concepts, that it feels like my 31" monitor has shrunk to 17". With such a supposed focus on simplicity, how could a company run by Jobs produce such a program?

Well, if you think about it, while Apple’s hardware is simple, its software is complex, a velvet chain tying you to Apple’s vision of the “way things should be done.” If you’re on a Windows machine, you can’t drag a book onto your iPod in Windows Explorer; you have to load it into iTunes and synch. That’s not simple. You can’t drag a photo from your iPhone to your desktop with a file manager; you have to load it into iPhoto and save it from there.

Of course, I understand how iTunes is ideal for inexperienced users, and that’s precisely the point. With iTunes and iPhoto, and the iPad and iPhone, Apple wasn’t selling to experienced users. It was opening new markets. In contrast, with Final Cut Pro X, Apple was trying to change the workflows of professionals who knew more about video production than any of the engineers who created the product.

You can only impose structure when a market is new or when the benefits of that structure are incremental. And the more structure you build into a product, the less it’s likely to appeal to experienced users of the product it replaces. That’s why most professional video producers jumped ship when FCPX was launched and why most won’t use it.

Similarly, Apple’s focus on controlling the experience works great with iPhones, iPads, and notebooks, but it also loses value when applied to professional users. Apple’s all-in-one computer can’t be serviced in the field, so it must be returned to the factory to change any part that may have failed. I just returned from Las Vegas, where HP launched the Z1, the first field-serviceable, all-in-one computer. It is elegant and exceptionally well-engineered, with easy access to all system components.

Professional users don’t want to return a computer just to change the graphics card or swap an optical disc. For this reason, I think the Z1 will really resonate in schools, design shops, and many professional environments that liked the Apple all-in-one form factor but really want a field-serviceable unit.

Clearly, Jobs’s Apple was without peer when serving consumer markets, particularly those it invented. However, applying those same principles to professional customers is simply a mistake. FCPX and Apple’s all-in-one computers will be wonderfully successful products for consumers, but most experienced professional users prefer a completely different value proposition.

This article was originally published in the April/May 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine.

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