Thunderbolt in action with the old Final Cut Pro
By now everyone who's ever edited a frame of video and has a web connection knows that Apple recently held an small, secret, invitation-only meeting at their headquarters in Cupertino where they previewed the next version of Final Cut Pro. This was an extremely unusual move as Apple rarely ever demos any of their products before they ship. The only real word that has come across from this meeting was a blurb on TechCrunch and a blog post from Larry Jordan. I think it's safe to say that those who were in attendance probably aren't overly critical of FCP and it's current shortcomings. But it's also safe to say that this bodes well for all of us using a Macintosh in post-production.
What Larry Jordan said in his blog post is basically that he can't really say anything about this new version. Not surprising given how tight-lipped Apple is about future products. What Apple has done here in letting the cat out of the bag that this new version is in the pipe (and maybe ready for a spring release) was not really for the good of the post-production community but rather a clever marketing move designed to keep those current FCP fence-sitters holding on a little longer before they jump ship to Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere Pro.
First there's the new FCP.
Apple may be silent about future products but you can bet they keep an eye and an ear toward internet message boards and discussions like Twitter. They know the dissatisfaction that has been rumbling for quite some time as editors are presented great choices other than FCP. We've had a steady stream of updates from Avid that's making Media Composer better and introducing tools that make it more open, kind of like FCP. We've seen Adobe aggressively marketing Premiere Pro for FCP users with an application that's very fast and surprisingly FCP-like when you sit down and use it. If EVER there was another good choice for the diehard FCP user it is right now.
I can't help but be excited that this new version is on the horizon (though jealous of those that have seen it since I wasn't invited to the demo). Though I am highly critical of the problems with FCP 7 as it sits at this point in time I love the application as part of my tool kit and I want it to get better and live on into the future. A big, new release will keep FCP competitive and keep driving Avid and Adobe to make their NLEs even better.
Then comes the new high-speed I/O.
I think the biggest signal this sends is that Apple is still committed to the Macintosh platform as a whole which, FCP aside, many of us have based our whole careers around! That's kind of a scary thought as I type it. It was after the rather disappointing Back to the Mac event Apple held last year that I began to really worry about the Mac as a whole. The Back to the Mac event seemed less about Apple refocusing on the platform as a whole but rather bringing some of the best iOS features back to the Mac. The Mac probably isn't going anywhere since it's the development environment for iOS but anyone can see that Apple seems less concerned about the Macintosh and Mac OS and more dedicated to the iDevices and iOS.
While a major new FCP release signals good things for the Mac OS there's still the question of the high-end hardware of the Mac Pros. Today Apple released new MacBook Pro's with the high-speed I/O connection technology of Thunderbolt. It can carry huge amounts of data both in and out of the Mac at the same time, all over one connection, and is a jump over USB 3. While this will be great for speed and simplicity of connection it means Apple could conceivably add this to the iMac and call that a "pro" machine. This might be more than enough for many FCP users (and hardware manufacturers will undoubtably make some cool I/O with this technology) but many of us will still need the expandability of a Mac Pro tower as well as future support for expensive hardware so I hope Apple doesn't delegate the tower to also-ran status. As was mentioned in the TechCrunch article, if this new FCP release really focuses on PRO then we need those towers to go along with it as Thunderbolt won't be common place for a while. But the video product manufacturers seem to be squarely behind it as Avid, AJA and Blackmagic Design are all showing their support for Thunderbolt.
Plus it looks like Lion is getting better.
The other promising Macintosh news came in the form of more information on the upcoming 10.7 Lion release. There's a lot to like there including Versions, Resume, AirDrop and Lion Server software built in to the regular release. Overall I think the future of the Macintosh platform looks brighter today than it has in quite a while. Let's hope Avid, Adobe, Autodesk, NVIDIA and all of those that produce post-production tools other than Apple will be supporting this stuff as well. I have a feeling it's going to be a rather important NAB.
Back to this new FCP: there's the big buzzwords that were mentioned about this new version that was demoed. "Jaw-dropper" is the term Larry Jordan used. The TechCrunch article says "spectacular" and quotes "dramatic and ambitious." Again, take this with a grain of salt as Apple wasn't going to invite people who would leave the demo voicing concerns about the direction of this new version. The biggest question many editors probably have when seeing those words is exactly what will this new version do to established workflows. Make them obsolete? Better? Worse? Just different? You can be certain that since editors are involved we'll find something to complain about.
The final thing that was most interesting about this coverage of the new version of FCP was this quote from the TechCrunch piece:
Apparently Apple is still putting the finishing touches on "the biggest overhaul to Final Cut Pro since the original version was created over 10 years ago" and wanted pro user feedback. Emphasis on "pro."
I hope, hope, hope that some of those pros that Apple solicited feedback from were people who are truly critical of the current version of FCP. There's quite a number of things that Apple has never updated, changed or fixed in all these years of FCP upgrades. This overhaul will be the time to fix them and change the fundamental way FCP does certain things, namely media management. If this upgrade is as big as they say it is then there will be problems (version 1.0 always has problems and this sounds more like a 1.0 product). People will complain. Know one knows if it'll ship at NAB, before or after but whenever it happens I'll be the first in line to upgrade.