Jan 12

Apple’s predictable unpredictability

First of all, welcome to 2012. Okay, so I’m a little behind the rest of the world, but I finally made it.

The new year actually makes a perfect topic for Week 1. As you probably noticed, this week we got a mini-flood of articles about what we can expect from Apple in 2012: iPad 3, iPhone 5, Apple TV, slim MacBook Pro. To which most of us would say:


Of course that’s what’s coming. It’s hardly news. I’ll tell ya, secrecy just isn’t what it used to be.

Though Apple continues to be thought of as one of the most secretive companies on earth, the truth is, they’ve lost the ability to surprise us like they did in the good old days.

The products are still amazing. The announcement events are fun. We still get surprised by the details as they are unveiled. It’s just that we know in advance what the products will be.

It wasn’t always this way. When Steve returned to Apple in 1997, secrets were secrets. His onstage announcements were real surprises (for the most part). The look of iMac was a shock. You had no idea that Apple was going to enter the consumer electronics market with iPod. You weren’t sure which Apple technology would be the focus of each event.

Breaches of secrecy were a scandal. Several days before the introduction of the first multicolored iMacs, the official family photo of all five models escaped from a printing facility in Germany, where a version of the multipage insert was being printed. It took the steam out of Steve’s big announcement — which was a crime punishable by death. (Or something close to it.)

As Apple has grown, and more people are exposed to the deep, dark secrets at various stages of product development, that kind of secrecy doesn’t exist anymore.

People were talking about iPhone — and calling it by name — months before it appeared. The name iPad was a surprise, but the device wasn’t — it was also widely expected months before, and its features accurately predicted.

This isn’t a terrible thing. It’s just a different thing. The new “iTV” (or whatever it will be called) will get the same attention this year. There will be buzz for months ahead, because Apple shaking up a new category is a great story. Journalists will hang on every word at the announcement event, even if many of the details become known before.

The only difference between now and then is that we know it’s coming. At least in the broad strokes.

I do find myself wondering about one thing this year. What’s next for Mac Pro? While it has grown in power, no product in Apple history has gone this long without a major overhaul. Mac Pro can now be officially classified as a “workhorse.” We’ve come to expect internal improvements only, but no major conceptual rethinking.

Will Apple demonstrate a new commitment to the pro market? Or will Mac Pro get upgraded the way Final Cut Pro did? Does Apple still love the high-end pros, or is it really just focusing on different levels of consumer now?

While it may be easier to predict Apple’s hardware these days, predicting its intentions is a different matter.

Happy 2012.

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  • Tom Coady

    Do you not think the Mac Pro could be replaced by a series of mac minis connected with thunderbolt?

  • Engineer

    Shame on you for continuing to misrepresent Final Cut Pro. If the Mac pro got the FPCX treatment it WOULD be a new commitment to Pros.

    And stick in the mud Neanderthals will cry about it like they did the iMac, the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod, the original Mac, the GUI and the touch UI.

    Please don’t comment about products you’ve never used.

  • ken segall

    I promise I won’t make any comments about products I’ve never used. But I will continue to make comments about Final Cut Pro — which I have used since it was introduced in 1999.

    You might consider not making judgments about people you obviously don’t know. If you read my past articles about FCPX, you’d know that I happen to love it. For my personal use, I like it a hundred times more than the old Final Cut Pro. But I’m not a high-end pro. For many who work in broadcast studios or make feature films, FCPX is simply a nonstarter. It doesn’t take any genius to see that it is missing certain features (like multicam support) that many high-end pros cannot live without.

    That’s not to say it won’t have those features again some day. But that’s just the point. Many pros feel like Apple is changing its focus. Not too many years ago, the pros were flocking to FCP, which met all their professional requirements. Back then, you didn’t read any articles about production houses abandoning FCP to move back to Avid. Those who are leaving FCP today or thinking of leaving aren’t “stick-in-the-mud Neanderthals.” They’re professional editors who demand a 64-bit environment that delivers the full set of features they’ve come to rely on. There are a great many pros questioning Apple’s commitment to the pro market today, while Apple is clearly lavishing attention on iOS devices.

    And I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that there was a similar reaction to iMac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc. None of those products had any significant backlash. They were monster hits from the day they went on sale. FCPX remains unique in the firestorm of criticism it created.

  • Engineer

    Bullshit. The “high end pros” are adobe and a I’d shills. I have read your past posts where you make several false statements about FCPX and I called you on it then.

    I’ve edited multicam with FCPX. Anyone who can’t is incompetant.

    You don’t remember how the iPad was just a big iPod, and the iPhone was doomed to failure without a physical keyboard? People bitched like that for years after they were introduced. And the Mac and iMac were just toys while the iPod was a failure because it didn’t have a radio.

    At least according to the self styled “pros”.

    The only difference about FCPX is the belief that a bunch of Neanderthals– that is “editors” who can’t think and just have to be trained- are combining about anything more than having to be retrained.

    And that’s just the few who aren’t on the adobe or avid payroll.

    Solve blows products sometimes- mobile me is one. iCloud is a mess but not embarrassing and iTunes match is not really working for me.

    But the “backlash” against FCPX is a coordinated media campaign that has duped well meaning people like you into believing the people complaining are “high end pros”.

    Sorry, I’ve been talking to them in the forums. They’re fucking bozos.

    You’re being too generous. And as for one show as a sales win for avid– who knows whose palms wee greased, and only one show is not exactly a rejection by the marketplace. They probably rely on trained apes anyway, given the nature of reality programming.

    I know you’re not an engineer. That’s ok, the problem is you believe those no nothing’s but not me.

    It’s like how political hacks can claim government spending stimulates the economy– it’s total nonsense once you realize that the money they are spending comes out if the economy in the first place so at best the effect would be neutral. But most people aren’t economics experts do they believe idiots like krugman and don’t think about it.

    This is how anti-science propagates.cyeah, final cut is not meriting that kind of a dramatic comparison, but the mechanism is the same.

  • Engineer

    Meanwhile apples autocorrects is hilarious. Oh well.

  • ken segall

    I don’t mind if you disagree, honest. But you do sound a bit like a politician blaming a “media conspiracy” for FCPX’s woes. The backlash against FCPX was immediate and spontaneous, and hardly a coordinated attack. There is a well-documented list of features that were in the previous FCP and simply do not exist in FCPX. And there are a great many high-end editors for whom those features are an absolute necessity. Part of the initial backlash wasn’t even aimed at FCPX for lacking those features — it was aimed at Apple for simultaneously killing Final Cut Studio. That left no options at all for editing houses who relied on the missing features of FCPX and wanted to add new edit bays. (At least Apple admitted that error and made Final Cut Studio available again.)

    The backlash against FCPX was bigger than any I’ve ever witnessed for a new Apple product, and I’m afraid to tell you how long I’ve been around. As you know, it got so bad that Apple had to publicly respond to the critics (http://bit.ly/AEOGJk). Note that Apple acknowledged the lack of multicam support. There is indeed a “workaround” that allows you to switch between two video tracks (and only two), but nothing nearly as sophisticated as the multicam support that existed in the previous FCP.

    As I said, I am not a pro editor. However, a big part of my job is working with pro editors. I know many. And I have yet to meet a single one who didn’t agree with me: FCPX is a fantastic product — it just isn’t ready to replace FCP for those who depend on the missing features. John Gruber quoted my article, agreeing that Apple would have been wiser to release FCPX as the new Final Cut Express. Its feature set is perfect for high-end consumers, and it would have served as a sneak preview for a new FCPX that would have shipped as a more complete product.

    I share your frustration with those who attack Apple for silly reasons. I’ve written here often about the absurdity of the initial backlash against iPad (which disappeared as soon as the product actually shipped). If anything, I’m accused of being an Apple fanboy — which by most measures I am. But I also know that Apple isn’t looking for a free pass. They’re perfectly capable of making mistakes, and they want to hear how customers feel, however painful that may be.

  • Ken–
    This might be a great future post topic. What’s the status of professional editors using FCPX? My company, Filmateria, is still on the bubble, but I’d love to hear from others….