If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan of Final Cut Pro. And while new features have been added this year (tracking changes, voice isolation) there have been no revolutionary changes to how the app works. If you learned how to use the app last year, you don’t need to re-learn it this year, and it doesn’t look like much has changed. So… does it matter that there hasn’t been a great deal of visible progress? It’s complicated, so let’s dig in.
FCP is a mature app
When an app that’s older than ten years, you can expect progress to slow somewhat. Avid Media Composer has been notoriously slow to make any changes, Adobe InDesign is still a very similar app to the one that launched about 20 years ago, and any change made to Microsoft Word is met with confusion and unhappiness. Some apps change a lot, some apps change a little, and both approaches can work.
In fact, in a recent post to Daring Fireball, the concept of a ‘Maximum Viable Product’ was mooted, where an app was designed to be great, but not to change over time. That might work for some niches, but I don’t think it’s the way forward for many apps, and certainly not in a competitive environment like NLEs. In part, that’s down to the way that Apple (doesn’t) promote Final Cut Pro.
Apple don’t promote FCP very loudly
To be clear, Apple does promote Final Cut Pro on its product page, and when a new Mac is launched, the introduction video is likely to show FCP in some way. But is that it? Surely, as the biggest company on the planet (by market capitalisation, and biggest electronics company by revenue) they could do more?
To be clear, nobody knows this one for sure, but I can make a good guess. First, Apple’s hardware sales dwarf every other metric, and it’s mostly iOS hardware. Second, there is a limit to how many messages a company can deliver to its customers before those messages become muddled. So if you look at Apple as a whole, if they want to make sure they stay on message, they’re very rarely going to advertise anything but their top selling, most important product: the iPhone.
If Apple wasn’t such a huge company, it could happily advertise Final Cut Pro, and Keynote, and Pages, and Logic Pro — but it doesn’t advertise any of these apps on TV or social media. At the scale of Apple, it seems that apps are too small to worry about. While they probably could advertise those apps to the niche audiences interested in them, if there’s any risk of distracting from their central iPhone message, I can see why they wouldn’t take the risk. There’s another possibility, that Apple has legal advice that promoting their own apps over the competition could be seen as an anti-trust issue, but nobody knows for sure.
Of course, Final Cut Pro competes against other NLEs, and the lack of direct promotion does hurt in that context. Adobe does directly promote their new features, as does Blackmagic. But it’s not just promotion: if Apple doesn’t provide a vague roadmap to inform industry about future plans, then long term planning at large companies is less likely to include FCP. And as you’ll know if you’ve ever been lucky enough to speak directly with the FCP team, Apple generally doesn’t comment on future plans. Which means…
Apple doesn’t control the narrative about FCP
Third party sites end up being the closest thing to an official source of news, but today, there’s a healthy mix of different kinds social media in most people’s news diets. Some of that is first hand, but a lot is rehashed, misheard or simply made up.
In the absence of real news, a lot of what’s left is rumours — some true, some false, some optimistic. But because rumours become facts on the second or third retelling, when a popular rumour fails to become reality, it’s worse than if the rumour had never been started. Quite recently, the company Serif, makers of Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher, put out a promotional video promising “something big”. Someone wished out loud for a motion graphics app, and that rumour spread pretty quickly. As it happened, the announcement introduced v2 of the Affinity Suite of apps, and there was disappointment.
To be fair, few large companies announce their plans ahead of time these days. It’s far easier to cancel products that didn’t work out if you didn’t raise expectations ahead of time. But total secrecy does mean that unrealised rumours have a long, long life.
In the Final Cut Pro space, the most persistent rumour for years has been a request for an iPad version, but I just don’t see it happening any time soon. A few reasons:
- The UI would need to be totally reworked
- Any macOS-specific libraries would have to be ported to iPadOS
- The screen is too small for a good editing experience
- Editing is slow without a keyboard and mouse
- Storage is limited and there’s only one port
If Apple won’t fit a touch screen to a Mac — and they’re on record as having tried it and rejected it — I can’t see them releasing FCP on an iPad without significant work, and it’ll have compromises.
While Blackmagic have brought (part of) DaVinci Resolve to the iPad, it’s a limited experience compared to editing on even the cheapest, smallest Mac. The form factor will make it great for some quick jobs in the field, but it won’t replace a traditional NLE for most.
Still, even if it’s not for me, Resolve on iPad should be celebrated, because professional iPad users can now edit videos and correct colours in a far more sophisticated way than before. The 12.9” iPad’s reference quality screen would be perfect on set, and there’s a clear use case. But instead, the power of rumour means that every story about Resolve on iPad mentions Apple’s perceived failure to put FCP on the iPad first. Maybe they tried and there’s a good reason it hasn’t happened?
But hey, let’s hypothesise that Apple have been spending time reworking FCP for the iPad, and that’s the reason why there hasn’t been much visible progress on the desktop app this year. That wouldn’t be a total win either, because the vast majority of FCP users will remain on the desktop, with the potential to be upset at the “wasted effort” of an iPad version. Whatever Apple do, it’ll disappoint someone.
With or without an iPad version in the mix, software development is a complex beast, and from the outside we can’t know why there haven’t been many updates this year. Maybe there’s been a lot of work behind the scenes to fix low-level bugs, or maybe there’s a release being held back to launch alongside a new Mac in 2023. As ever, those who know can’t say, but anyone can make stuff up to fill the void.
Influencers and educators burn out
With a limited amount of real news, influencers and educators are in now a tricky spot. If there aren’t any significant updates to the software, there’s nothing new to talk about or teach, and the audience for online tutorials and in-person conferences suffers. After all, if you’ve taught people the best way to do something already, it’s hard to find the enthusiasm to teach it again. Looking at YouTube videos as a whole, the most active FCP tutorial creators are those for whom the app is still fresh. The older guard have said everything they wanted to say already, while the algorithm rewards newer videos. (Here’s one on vlog storytelling with FCP.)
While there is room for news on the larger ecosystem, of plug-ins, templates and so on, that world inevitably slows down as an application becomes mature. Therefore, the problem compounds, leaving even fewer new topics for the current generation of educators and influencers to talk about.
Mind you, the relationship between how much people talk about something and how much it is actually being used for professional work is, I suspect, pretty fluffy. For example, there’s not a lot of chat about Avid Media Composer, but it’s as dominant in the professional space today as it has ever been. DaVinci Resolve news has been prominent because it’s seen plenty of recent updates — including the iPad version — and because there’s a free version.
For many people — unfairly or not — no news is bad news. To fill the void, it’s worth shouting about all the cool work being done with FCP, or people will think it doesn’t exist. And that work is definitely out there.
Cool work is being done — quietly — with FCP
Editors are happy to talk about how they edit, but many people who do other things besides just editing (including Casey Neistat, Xyla Foxlin, MKBHD and many others) don’t often mention the software that they’ve used to get a job done. And though FCP is the choice of a lot of part-time editors and creators, it’s also being used for bigger jobs:
- Knut Hake and Sam Pluemacher are using FCP for Blood and Gold, as they did for Blood Red Sky two years ago.
- Autobiography, which was in competition at Venice Film Festival earlier this year.
- The Last Queen, a feature directed by Damien Ounouri and Adila Bendimerad.
- The Best is Yet to Come, a feature directed by Wang Jing.
- Ripples of Life, a feature directed by Wei Shujun .
- The Bridge is a worldwide reality competition show, and the Danish version of The Bridge was created with FCP by Metronome Productions. While most large-scale reality shows are cut with Avid, it’s definitely doable with FCP too.
- Long-time FCP editor and one-time motionVFX employee Jason McNamara has jumped ship to work for the guitar amp company Laney. But as he now gets to interview Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins, he still gets to use FCP.
- One of the biggest UK bands of the 1990s, Steps, recently remastered all their original music videos with FCP.
- Apple have posted a new workflow story about the band Our Last Night.
I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten — please post links in the comments to others.
So yes, there’s work being done in FCP, even if the majority of high-end work is Avid, and many independent studios seem to be using Premiere. But hang on. One of the most important things to remember is that there really aren’t that many people editing video, at least not when you compare it to other creative fields like graphic design and photography. If you believe Zippia’s data for professional video editors in the US, there are only about 33,000 in total, fewer than the number of architects or doctors.
While that seems a small number, especially with the influence that video has on our daily lives these days, remember that outside the world of production there are more people who do some editing as part of their jobs. There are also many, many hobbyists making videos for themselves, for friends and families, for non-profit enterprises, and the amount of non-professional content being produced utterly dwarfs professional content. Of course, I’m not saying that professionals don’t matter — of course they do — but you can see why a company might prioritise the non-professional market.
While you might need to use a different NLE to work for a larger company, you can absolutely make a living editing without ever becoming part of the industry. If you’re working independently and handing over finished jobs to a client, you can use whatever you like. But using FCP professionally, and making sure other post professionals understand that it’s not “iMovie Pro”, is still worthwhile.
FCP has a place in higher-end productions because that helps everyone. We want more developers to create more tools to make our lives easier. We want to grow the pool of pro editors using FCP to make it easier for professional productions to have a pool of editors using FCP. We also want raw numbers to encourage Apple to invest in the app and the ecosystem itself — all this matters. But I think we can safely say that Final Cut Pro isn’t going away.
Let’s end on a positive note.
At the recent Final Cut Pro World Tour dates in the US, members of Apple’s FCP team were present (yay) and they did talk about what they’ve been doing to help the FCP community (yay again). So far, they’re engaging with professional editors about FCP in broadcast, and they’ve re-introduced Apple Certified Exams and training courses (full disclosure: I’m involved). These initiatives will take time to have an impact, but it means that the Open Letter to Apple has not been ignored.
As is ever true for large companies, progress is slow sometimes. But let’s see what next year brings, and keep fingers crossed for a big update soon. Happy New Year everyone!