Aug 13

Apple’s evolving view of “pro”

In recent years, many pros have started feeling like Apple’s jilted girlfriend. Through no fault of their own, the love just seemed to fade.

Apple might claim otherwise when confronted, but the telltale signs have been hard to ignore:

Mac Pro. Apple’s most powerful Mac has been agonizingly slow in the update department. It hasn’t changed physically in eons. (Though it’s about to.) Ironically, the one Mac targeted specifically at the pro user remains the only Mac without a high-speed Thunderbolt connection. Even the Mac mini has had Thunderbolt for over two years.

17-inch MacBook Pro. This big-screen laptop was a favorite and a necessity for designers and video editors who needed that much real estate to be their mobile best. Then, poof.

Final Cut Pro. When the long-awaited update to Apple’s high-end video editing suite finally appeared, it lacked certain features critical for pro editors: multicam editing, EDL support, backward compatibility and more. You could say the pro editing community was speechless—but it wasn’t. The cries of anguish were long and loud.

Aperture. The latest version was released in February 2010. Yes, that’s 3.5 years without a major update. Even if you consider this misleading, the perception of stagnation is a natural result when Aperture’s competitor, Adobe Lightroom, continues to evolve visibly.

Could it possibly be? Would Apple ever even think about saying goodbye to the pro market?

I hope you’re sitting down for this, but Steve Jobs did in fact once consider that very option.

This was back in the days when iMac had established itself as a global bestseller. During one of the agency’s regular meetings with Steve, he shared that he was considering killing the pro products.

His rationale was as you might expect: consumer products have an unlimited upside, while pro products are aimed at a niche market that eats up major resources.

Obviously, the pro market has value for Apple, even if its numbers are relatively small. Pros are opinion leaders, influencers and evangelists. Their love of Apple shows up in the purchase decisions of friends, family and colleagues.

So Steve ultimately renewed his commitment to the pros—but he never said that this commitment wouldn’t evolve. Clearly Apple has changed its thinking about the pro market, and how it can best serve its pro users.

Some won’t like it, but basically it’s the difference between Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X.

In FCP7, the controls are rich and deep. As a consequence, getting proficient with the app is a serious undertaking.

FCPX is very powerful, but less daunting and more seductive — streamlining and automating some of its advanced capabilities.

For a lot of pros, this represents a dumbing down of FCP. In this way of thinking, FCP is evolving into “iMovie Pro.”

But one must be careful to separate two very different issues. First, there is the feature set of the app itself. Then there’s the bigger issue of where video editing is headed. Clearly Apple would like to rethink the fundamentals and build something better.

As a result, Apple does lose some customers. (Some of whom are rather loud about it.) But it keeps a core group of pros happy by pushing the boundaries. At the same time, it invites a larger audience of high-end consumers who can suddenly understand, enjoy and benefit from the app.

The new Mac Pro, coming later this year, embodies a similar philosophy.

It’s “user-friendly” in the way it’s designed, with expandability via Thunderbolt rather than internal slots and bays. Simply attach whatever you need and you’re in business.

It sends an encouraging message to the pro market that Apple has not forgotten them. More than an update, it’s a reinvention of one of the oldest computer categories. It’s something that only Apple would do.

The new Mac Pro does bring back memories of the Power Mac G4 Cube. That computer also surprised people with its visual design — and ended up being pulled from the market in a year. But the Cube was a consumer product priced too high. The Mac Pro is a pro product that should be worth its price.

Will every pro user love the new Mac Pro?

Nope. We’ll no doubt hear grousing that with its new cylindrical shape, the Mac Pro is virtually impossible to rack-install. Or that sacrificing internal options is a non-starter.

For those people, Apple is still walking away from the pro market. In truth though, Apple is walking to a place that’s entirely new — and asking the pros to walk with them. They’re betting that people who love to create and innovate will appreciate a super-powerful computer designed in the same spirit.

Ah, but there does still remain the matter of the vanishing 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Unless you believe that in the future pros will suddenly prefer working on smaller screens, it’s hard to see this as a positive development.

Of course all will be forgiven if that little baby were to come back, all nice and Retina-ized…

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  • jameskatt

    For a professional laptop, cost is not the problem for Apple. For example, with the previous 17″ MacBook Pro Laptop, all you have to do is to max out the specs and it will cost you $5000. And that is without a retina display, USB 3, and Thunderbolt 2.

    As a professional product, cost is not the limiting factor. The limiting factor is whether or not there are the parts to build it.

  • Taylor

    Learn a way around your need to view multiple sequences at once and you will be blown away by the amount of time you’ll save editing in FCPX. I screamed and yelled using X coming from 7, then I realized I just had to let go of 7…now I feel like I’m in the Stone Age when I open 7.

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  • Acer8104

    I wish AVID started to make Media Composer for Linux. Now using both MC on Win and FC on OsX. But for me Apple is pretty much an EOL company. Won’t waste my time anymore with them with new buys.

  • Really, only ‘one or two’ cables? So what is the point of all those ports on the back? I’d like the new MP, but I’d need 16TB of storage attached, keyboard, screen, SD card reader and BluRay burner…all attached. Thats a lot more cables. No USB on the front? Everytime I want to pop on a portable drive, I’ll stand up, grope around the back of the machine to locate a port. Pathetic. No, this new MP is designed for a subset of a subset and that subset is the commercial user who just does one or two things on the machine. It’s not a general purpose computer. All form over function for the majority of current MP users.

  • Jono

    Are you forgetting Apple xServe and Apple xServe RAID – rack mountable etc.. then goodbye… Then they pulled out of attending major Creatives expos, like NAB in Vegas, Indeed Apple has already pulled out of the pro market direction. I can’t blame them when they make billions in the consumer world (iPhone etc) but it is a crying shame for the fans that supported them through the hard times.

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  • Evan

    Oh, okay.. One app is proof they haven’t ‘abandoned the pro market’… Great logic ;)

  • nuthinking
  • oddmyth

    Hey Rob,

    I think what we all need to take into consideration is that the new MP allows you to customize it in whichever manner you want, *hopefully* without overpaying for things you don’t need.

    The MP as a workstation requires HDMI, a USB port, a network connection and a single hard drive. We’ve bought hundreds of these over the years and paid for all these extra connectivity ports, hard drive ports, dual ethernet, CDRW etc. etc. It’s wasteful to use an IT budget to buy that stuff when you will never use it.

    Now Apple has given us the ability to minimize this, and added in GPGPU which is something that’s really applicable to a large number of MP users, but will they give us the proper pricing? That remains to be seen.

    If they can give us the pricing I think you will find the modularity of being able to use your storage, card readers, BDRW etc. on any computer a lot more inviting than always having them stuck to your MP, and even moreso once you realize that you just need a single cable from a thunderbolt hub to attach it all to a computer you will find that all those extraneous cables can be bundled quite neatly away.

    Lastly, to plug in a USB stick, well I can’t remember the last time I reached under my desk to do that. Nowadays I usually plug them into my monitor (which also conveniently has an SD card reader), or my keyboard.

    It sounds like you are looking at ways you are used to doing something and not realizing the potential of being able to do those same things in a myriad of other ways.

  • nuthinking

    Have you tried a retina 15″ at 1920×1200? Because the retina display the text seems as readable as on a 17″. So there might no need for a 17″ after all. Just talking based on a few minutes experience on the 15″ retina.

  • oddmyth

    As a guitar player I might agree, however as a consumer who doesn’t care about playing guitar, I don’t want to pay an extra $1.50 for that option

  • oddmyth

    Hey Ken,

    As someone who does just this I can tell you right now that the number of cables will be two: power and ethernet, just like every other server and workstation in our server room.

    I’ve already done some base calculations and if air flow and heat dissipation in these machines is as good as I hope it will be, then we are looking at being able to populate 400% more MPs per rack!

    When you can potentially reduce 4 or 5 racks into 1, in the IT world you can save a lot of money.

  • Ben

    You lost all credibility with “Same thing with maps– far superior to googles product, and people got Tim Cook to apologize.”

    In no way, shape, or form was Apple Maps superior to Google’s product. The quality of the maps application was so low that it developed into a PR nightmare for Apple, which forced Tim Cook to apologize.

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  • Stuart McDow

    No mention of the recently released Logic Pro X, which by all counts is a very good update to the venerable Logic Pro 9. At least the pro audio division of Apple is still keeping the pros in mind.

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  • IncognitoMpls

    Thank you for pointing this out! Everyone needs to remember that even the 15″ rMBP uses the built-in Intel graphics and switches to the “real” graphics card when needed for certain applications on the fly – it does /not/ use the “real” graphics card all the time.
    The built-in Intel graphics can /barely/ support the 13″ rMBP – how on earth would it support a 17″ one?
    I used to own a 17″ MBP and loved it – I am definitely in the fan group who wants a 17″ rMBP – but I cannot imagine the battery life on it would be very good…?

  • lin2log

    Bravo. Thank you for being the PERFECT demonstration of the “pro” who is just plain IGNORANT, but oddly still has the gall to rattle on and act as if he knows what he’s talking about, whilst painfully wearing said ignorance on his sleeve. With some meaningless but obligatory “I’ll prove I’m totally pro by admitting I use an app that has been DEAD for OVER TWO YEARS and isn’t the least bit suited for a modern day production environment”-prelude, as if that actually somehow made anything better. Not realizing that it’s a dead give-away for the nonsense to come.
    We applaud you.

  • lin2log

    This discussion is still as painfully moronic as on the first day. Parroting the same nonsense over and over.
    Flog away… *yawn*

  • owlgarden

    Apple is staying out of the server room folks, their stuff belongs in sight – I will say – though i had liked Apple towers esp when stuffed with max ram and drives -the New Pros will be very nice-and your old ones can be turned into Linux NAS or something for the new cylinder’s storage.
    I think software is waiting for Mavericks, Logic Pro X is very nice but a lot of vendors need to catch up to 64 bit. I suspect this the holding pattern bubble on other pro apps – they’ll come – but there will be a learning curve (or a curveball) Obviously, IOS is part of the whole family – and the remote app for Logic Pro X is wicked pissah !
    Steve said a lot of things that were -IMHO- obfuscation or a personal opinion – which was shaped by unexpected success. No one thought the iPhone would become what it is today.

  • Surcouf

    Amongst other things, pro means hardware maintenance (easily replacing bits that go wrong) and upgrading (replacing bits that are no longer up to the job) as well as long term software compatibility (the file created ten years ago is still readable).

    Apple cares for none of this. I have 15 years of Claris document archives which I have had to convert one by one to Word format with a third-party app. Final Cut 7 will remain an essential tool to recover past film projects. There’s no way I would use Apple software for anything of lasting value, personal or professional. It’s fun for throw-aways and new functions, but not for building anything long term.

    As for hardware, Apple’s real problem is that the hackintosh community now offers the means to create individually tailored, professional machines which are easily maintained and upgraded at a fraction of Apple prices. The new Apple Pro interestingly admits that, abandoning the “PC mainframe” equivalent for the design oriented, integrated machine which has proved so successful in Apple’s other ranges.

    It will certainly have a market – the specs are impressive, thunderbolt connectivity seems a good practical solution, and the Apple kudos should easily justify the extra cost in a professional environment compared to an equivalent DIY hackintosh. But what will happen when it needs maintenance or upgrading ? If I was a technical director, I would buy a couple, enough to tout company prestige to customers, but wait to see what really happens.

  • Chris Muir

    Apple did a great job with Logic X, IMO. They didn’t dumb it down, but they succeeded in making it easier to use. The power user is still happy, while the person who wants to migrate from Garage Band isn’t intimidated.

  • Uncle Eddie

    Steve would never had killed off the most profitable of hardware. The workstation used resources but also made the most money per unit (think wide margin).
    And one is foolish to depend on the 2.5″ 5400 RPM HDD, slow bus, shared memory for graphics and reckless portability of certain “pro” models.
    The latest MacPro (although dated to 2010 with minor CPU and GPU updates), is the last perfection: great architecture, reliable, and quiet.. and yes, it needs USB 3.0 and Tbolt 2.0 to once again, do creative things faster..for 6 years on my desk.

    Did Apple really forget its roots in that the creative “pro” is what sustained the incomes for Apple during the Sculley-Spindler-Amelio years?
    I am looking forward to the new MacPro…I hope differently!

  • boodycelt

    Of course the problem is, in the enterprise and pro market, you invest resources into a workflow, and it costs money to change that workflow. You have to compare Apple with Adobe or Avid, there’s a reason things never really change with their software, its because in this market change is bad, CEOs don’t want risk, and when time is money, learning something new costs money. Granted, its all going away into either services or prosumer because satisfying the needs of professionals is too expensive. Especially since folks would rather Photoshop had remained at 5.5 .

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  • adrianoconnor

    > I can’t connect my frickin’ guitar to it like I used too… Why the hell?

    That is something a pro would not do. They’d hook it up through Firewire or USB using an outboard interface that had proper pre-amps etc, and they’d probably mic their amp rather than connect directly. Your example does not support your argument :)

    You should get a Line 6 UX1 if you want to mess about with a guitar on your Mac. The Line 6 PodFarm effects and amp models are really amazing for the money.

  • adrianoconnor

    Maybe it wasn’t financially viable. You don’t know the thinking behind their decision. I’m guessing it’s got something to do with retina 17″ screens being impractical, either from a performance/power perspective, or because of price. After all, there’s no way they could have carried on with none-retina on the ‘flag ship’ model when the 15 went retina.

    Anyway, as an owner of one of the old 17″ laptops from 2008, I actually agree with what Apple did. I’m not sorry to see it go — it was just too big and bulky. The 15″ is more practical and just a better size all round. And you get the same number of pixels, if you want them, just slightly more cramped.

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  • Hugh Massengill

    I am a pro. No, I don’t make first run movies, I only post to YouTube. But years ago the pro moniker applied to people who made video for other people to see. The market has changed astoundingly, and now hundreds of millions of us make and post video.

    Some have audiences into the millions. That makes them pros, and that makes us the most important clients for Apple’s pro lineup. When Apple came out with the new Final Cut Pro X, I argued that the title should be changed to get rid of the Pro part, as it no longer applied or mattered. Many years ago literacy was for the few in the upper classes, then printing presses came out to bring wordsmithing to the masses. It is the same with the entire “pro” line of everything that Apple makes.
    Want to make movies, and have millions of dollars at your disposal? You are a tiny market. Want to make video to post to youtube, and are willing to spend $300 for the high quality fcpx? You number in the hundreds of millions.
    Microsoft Word isn’t for pros, it is for the masses. As is everything that Apple makes.

  • Jeremy

    The writer says (of FCPX) that Apple “keeps a core group of pros happy by pushing the boundaries.” Utter nonsense. Surveys show that 1% of pros use FCPX. That is not a “core group”; it’s an insignificant number. Virtually every post facility in L.A. has banned the use of FCPX in their workflows. And every professional film editor I know still uses FCP7, or has switched to Avid. No matter how much you try to spin FCPX as an “advancement” or “rethinking,” the numbers speak for themselves.

  • Jeremy

    Then how do you explain the fact that FCP7 is the most-used editing app, as of 2013, by pros in Hollywood?

  • Jeremy

    Exactly. The vast majority of pro feature film editors in Hollywood use either FCP7 or Avid. 1% use FCPX. No matter how these trolls try to spin it, pros do NOT use FCPX. Those who make that claim are the ones who are showing their ignorance. Like the goofus below who says that FCP7 has been “dead for over two years.” That made me crack up. Guy has clearly never set foot in a post house in L.A. in his life. Probably some consumer in Alabama cutting YouTube videos.

  • lin2log

    LOL! Sure.
    How do you explain that Apple has sold more FCP X licenses than they EVER did of any version before that?
    Yeah. Dream on. No self-respecting “pro” (without way too much stock in old, trashy, bullshit, useless TAPE workflows) still uses 7.

  • lin2log

    Wow. To have to whittle your “argument” down to such nonsense as “lack of multiple timelines” is just painfully stupid. Not to mention not even TRUE!! LOL! Ouch.

  • lin2log

    :-)))))… hilarious!!
    Sorry, but I have a studio in L.A. … OOPS!!

    Aside from that, who gives a flying rats ASS what a mere TWO PERCENT (I’m being generous) of the total market is using?? Arrogant much??

    And wow… the old bullshit AVID argument “that’s what real PROS use!” LOL! Hoo-fucking-ray. I guess that explains why they haven’t shown a profit SINCE 2006 and are practically DEAD as well. Ouch. Yeah, that “pro” bonus is really working GREAT for them, eh? ROTF. You’re banking on a real WINNER with Avid! :-))))

    You just keep your nose in the air. X user’s will be over here (more than there ever were of 7!) laughing their ass’s off and working with a SUSTAINABLE NLE.

  • lin2log

    Oh yeah… and people like Radical Media and DEAN DEVLIN are total NOOBS, right?? LOL!

  • Trinity A. Greer

    I prefer hard to use software/hard that way my taste is not in question because the client can do it them selves…… That what most people are concerned about when they complain about the democratizing of the market. The other concern is the codification of the talent pool. I have worked in some makrket where Pros are competing for free work becuase the producers know they go to someone else. Both situations are true in todays market.

  • Rich_DeLauder

    Many newer or smaller production companies would not see the benefit of FCP7 or tape workflows, so apple provides them an option that lets them get to market with less investment of time and energy.

    Trying to spin the situation to say ‘this workflow is old and useless, adopt new stuff’ is a bit far-fetched. If it was true, there would be a nice market in converting these ‘old and useless’ workflows to newer ones for large studios.

    There is no free lunch here, it is difficult to really replace a workflow designed to produce large budget movies. The only easy part is claiming to be able to do so.

  • taylodl

    Actually she’s right. She’s referring of course to the Google Maps that was installed on the iPhone prior to the release of Apple Maps. Do you remember that one? Had no turn-by-turn directions? No voice? No nothing? Google wanted to charge Apple a bazillion dollars to license the Google Maps they were distributing on their Androids. So Apple developed their own – which was far better than what Google had been providing. Then Google came through with the fully-featured Google Maps app for the iPhone and distributed for *free*. Apple Maps was a brilliant move on Apple’s part.

  • Agreed with taylodi here.

    Google’s Maps data used bitmaps Apple’s used vector which meant load once read at any level. Google has only now caught up.

    Google’s maps still have discrepancies in terms of data here in NZ but Apple’s Maps has pretty up to date stuff. Also when it is wrong they are quick to make updates. I notified them of a change and the new information was on the maps within 1 week. Pretty amazing.

    Google tried their version of Flyover and found the same issue as Apple. Apple has fixed theirs for the most part Google is still very far behind.

    The only thing that keeps Apple’s Maps being a stunner product for me is the use of Yelp which doesn’t work in NZ.

  • lin2log

    “wouldn’t see the BENEFIT in TAPE workflows”??!
    LOL!! What are you smoking exactly?? :-D
    Your credibility just sunk to ZERO my friend… aside from also making ZERO sense.