Last night I was invited to be part of a panel discussion held by WIFV at the Discovery Networks HQ in Silver Spring, and for me it really underscored just how badly Apple has dropped the ball in regards to the launch of FCP X in the eyes of the pro community. The discussion was two hours long and quite heated at times, but the bottom line was clear: Apple burned bridges with people from all walks of professional production life.
Was this their plan all along? I seriously doubt it. After jettisoning people from the Pro Apps division last year, it’s possible that no one who was left felt they could stand up and point out the obvious: the release of X had trouble written all over it.
FCP X in its current form is really just beta software. If you poke around in its package contents you’ll see signs of features that are planned but not yet finished so they are disabled (thanks to Richard Harrington for pointing this out last night). About a week after release, Apple responded to the firestorm of criticism about missing features with this FAQ, a very rare attempt (by Apple standards) to soothe the masses.
Assuming for a moment that FCP X had to ship as is, how could things have turned out differently? Let’s flip our Apple history books back to March, 2001, when Apple released Mac OS X 10.0 to the masses. OK, maybe not the masses, because I went to buy it on launch day at CompUSA (Apple Stores were still months away from opening) and they hadn’t even bothered to put copies of OS X on the shelves yet. In any event, OS X was radical. It was groundbreaking. And it didn’t really work that well. Third party support was scarce. Features were simply not there (what do you mean I can’t burn a CD?) and for all its potential you really couldn’t use it for real work. But unlike the FCP debacle, Apple didn’t make OS 9 instantly unavailable- they rolled it into OS X as the Classic Environment. Now, if you wanted to lead the charge into the 21st century, you could run X and still open old apps in their own window right on top. It was kinda ugly and I have a hard time believing Apple would do something like that today, but back then it was crucial to get people to adopt OS X. It took years before Classic support was eventually killed, and by then we had all moved on and shrugged our shoulders.
I’m not for a minute saying that there should be an “FCP 7 Classic” layer on top of X, but there should have been a clear roadmap and some tools to at least get rudimentary project information from 7 to X. During the NAB sneak peek in April they compared the same timeline for a complex edit first in FCP 7 (oooh, messy) and then in X (oooh, shiny). If that didn’t give editors the impression that their work could make the jump to the new version then I don’t know what would.
I have no doubt that change is tough, especially for people who earn their living using tools that Apple killed in one fell swoop. Apple may feel that they needed to rip the band-aid off, make a clean break, and tell us to get over it. But where would they be as a company if they followed this path in 2001?