Final Cut Pro X features: catching up and superseding

In which I explore the kinds of features that might be coming to Final Cut Pro X that competitors will find very hard to compete with.

Although some people think that Final Cut Pro X was released before it was ready, the features that have been introduced in updates have made it more appealing to experienced editors.

As editors look forward to updates, the features that appear can be divided into two categories: those that help Final Cut Pro X catch up with competitors and those that clearly supersede the rest of the market. At the moment the main competitor seems to be Final Cut Pro 7, or perhaps the imaginary ‘improved and more stable plus a few more features’ update to 7.

Apple have dealt with strong competitors during technology transitions before: in the case of MacOS X, Mac users wanted to stay with OS 9. In the case of iOS, Apple were competing initially with cheap non-smartphones and Blackberries.

The fact that the iPhone and its OS (which was eventually branded iOS) wasn’t quite ready at launch followed on from MacOS X. MacOS X 10.0 and the iPhone 1 were for pure Apple fans and developers. As the years went by, features were added to both platforms that caught up with and superseded competitors.

This post compares the major releases of iOS and Final Cut Pro X, and shows that the first few versions were more about the promise of a new platform and later versions started to deliver on that promise.

This might help us sort between the catch up features (Native Red workflow support) and superseding features (such as multicam) in future Final Cut Pro X updates.

First version

‘iOS 1’ – June 2007

Final Cut Pro X 10.0.0 – June 2011

The first versions introduced the basic concept of what the iPhone and Final Cut Pro X will be. Aspects such as the magnetic timeline are shown to be part of the non-negotiable definition of what Final Cut Pro X will be from now on.

Other aspects of the launch of Final Cut Pro X were more about the wider context of Apple’s relationship with its competitors, users, software developers and hardware developers.

Why did it seem that Apple launched a new version of Final Cut before it was ready? Obviously there were enough decision makers that thought it was ‘ready enough.’

The fact that Final Cut Pro hadn’t had a update for at least two years at this point (version 7 was primarily about bug fixes and FxScript-based alpha transitions – which also could work in version 6) meant that Apple may have felt pressure from Avid and Adobe in the first half of 2011.

It is likely that the basic UI metaphor for Final Cut Pro X was decided back in November 2008 (based on Apple job adverts listed in late 2008 and 2009) and it took three years to produce the features it had at launch. iMovie was revised first because it had less features that needed to be implemented using the new editing platform. Movie ’11 was launched in October 2010, introducing the magnetic timeline.

I’m sure many on the Final Cut team didn’t want the (relative to version 7) feature-limited version of X to be released last June, but others decided that it was complete enough, and that features that weren’t ready could be added in updates within months. Similar to the way that the first release of OS X was more of a metaphor preview for power users and developers to investigate while sticking with OS 9 for everyday work.

The difference was that Apple didn’t want such a gradual transition between the old technology (FCP7/OS9 to FCPX/OSX) for other reasons.

Perhaps launching Final Cut Pro X on the App Store was a test to make sure that MacOS X Lion could be distributed digitally a few weeks later. As well as a test this was also a technology demonstration to third-party developers that gigabytes of content could be efficiently distributed by Apple.

The underlying architecture of Final Cut changed from QuickTime to the AV Foundation – as MacOS X had. Discontinuing Final Cut Pro 7 might have helped persuade hardware and software developers to support the new OS standards for video and audio: ‘QuickTime as an underlying software architecture is dead, move on (QuickTime is alive from the users point of view – it remains the name of the playback technology, the underlying software in the OS is different).’

For example broadcast monitoring hardware and software drivers needed to be updated to work with the AV Foundation. Apple telling the post production market that Final Cut Pro 7 is no longer available helps developers to apportion their resources so as to favour AV Foundation development (for those that believe that Final Cut Pro X will be a success).

Second version

iOS 2 – July 2008
App Store and third-party native applications

Final Cut Pro X 10.0.1 – September 2011
First version of X-specific XML

Although it may have been that Steve Jobs didn’t see the need for third-party software on the iPhone, plans for the SDK and the iTunes App Store must have existed before the launch of iOS 1.

In the case of Final Cut Pro X 10.0.1, it is likely that the features included were the next ones that the development team could get working without too many stability problems. As in the case of iOS 2, the features showed that Apple wants Final Cut Pro to work in the context of post workflows: XML to share some elements of Final Cut Pro X projects and events with other apps and roles which hint how a trackless timeline can work with ‘old-fashioned’ track-based apps in future.

Having X XML for third-party developers allowed them to produce 7 to X, X to 7 and SendTo (to send clips to Motion and After Effects).

Third version

iOS 3 – June 2009
Copy and paste
Video recording in Camera app

Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3 – February 2012
Broadcast monitoring

Two years after the iPhone was launched, iOS 3 introduced the most basic missing feature for any operating system: copy and paste. This was an example of Apple only introducing a feature when they found a user interface they were happy with. Copy and paste as a concept can work at an implementation level, but if the UI isn’t right, then even though the feature can appear in a product checklist, it doesn’t have the value it could do for users.

The Final Cut Pro 10.0.3 update appeared seven months after X was launched. The multicam and broadcast monitoring features would have had a longer gestation period than that. They would have been on the expected feature list for at least three years. They were included in X when they were ready.

Multicam and broadcast monitoring demonstrated that Final Cut Pro X would have features that most consumer editors aren’t interested in. Breaking from Final Cut Pro tradition, these features were announced in advance to placate experienced post production users.

Fourth version

iOS 4 – June 2010
Facetime calling
Home screen folders
Unified mailboxes

Final Cut Pro X – Summer 2012?
Dual viewers
Multichannel audio editing tools

As with OS X, the fourth version of iOS was the version that caught up with previous and alternate operating systems – the version that you could recommend to new users. OS X 10.3 Panther (versions started with OS X 10.0 Cheetah) was a version that more OS9 users felt was a safe enough version to commit to. In the case of iOS, the equivalent OSs people were switching from were non-smartphone OSs, RIM and Android.

OS fans appreciated the multitasking and home screen folders, consumers appreciated the unified mailbox and liked the idea of Facetime calling (though few used the feature).

Apple have pre-announced that a future version of Final Cut Pro X will have dual viewers and multichannel audio editing tools.

For many people this will bring Final Cut Pro X features up to parity with the previous major alternatives – Final Cut Pro 7 and others. For some experienced editors, X will then have enough features to switch over from 7.

There’s a good chance that a good proportion of the requests from the 80+ feature list from Richard Taylor will also be answered in the next few updates of Final Cut Pro X. Final Cut will then have feature parity with the competition (including Final Cut Pro 7).

There are two aspects to implementing these features – making them work with the internal architecture of the app, and making the user interface that makes the feature effective. Other editing software may have more advanced features than Final Cut Pro X, but some of these feature UIs are crowbarred into application metaphors from the 20th century, and are difficult to learn, remember and use.

I assume that the editors who work at Apple with the Final Cut Pro team supplied a very similar list to Richard’s back in 2008. It is a matter of priorities. Many experienced users have different priorities from Apple. It’s a matter of whether Final Cut Pro X is worth investigating while it gets up to speed.

Given that Apple are likely to have a 10-year plan for Final Cut Pro X and the hardware it runs on, what features might we expect that will supersede the competition?

Fifth version

iOS 5 – October 2011
Twitter integration
Notification Center

Final Cut Pro X – Late 2012?
Final Cut Pro App Store

As the fourth version of the platform stabilises the primary user interface, the fifth version is about integration with other platforms and the introduction of the kernel of an alternative user interface.

iOS Twitter integration shows Apple considering how some aspects of an alternative platform might be integrated into an OS experience. The Notification Centre laid the groundwork for iCloud syncing between different kinds of iOS devices and MacOS X. Siri prefigures future screenless iOS devices.

In the case of Final Cut Pro X, an internal store for effects, clip content, tutorials and online communities will set the stage for a future version of Final Cut that can use UIs for specialised uses and industries developed by third parties.

Sixth version

iOS 6 – October 2012?
Facebook integration
New maps – including third-party app integration

Final Cut Pro X – Early 2013?
Multi-user access to projects, events (inc. user-specific in and out points per clip) and storylines within timelines.
Third-party app access to project databases (e.g. Adobe Audition)?

The next version of iOS will start to address the problem of third-party app discovery. With hundreds of thousands of apps available, developers have had problems getting their solutions in front of iOS users. With iOS 6, two new Apple apps give developer access to users at the moment when they want to carry out a specific task. In the case of the new Maps app, if a user wants non-driving or walking directions, the app will pass the start and finish locations to a variety of third-party applications (ranging from public transport bus and train directions to the ability to instantly pass on locations to a taxi or delivery company).

The Passbook app collects identity information from multiple third-party apps in one place. This will collect event and transport tickets in one place alongside hotel, home and business keys.

In the case of Final Cut Pro X, the major new set of features that might be introduced next year concern multi-user workflow.

Up until now, multi-user workflow has used XML and media sharing. 20th century concepts.

Final Cut Pro X uses Core Data – a MacOS X technology for maintaining a model for the information stored by applications. This means that future Final Cut Pro X events, projects, and storylines could be shared between multiple editors, designers, writers and production people at the same time.

This means that sound and motion graphics designers could be working on a timeline while it is being edited. Secondary storylines could be modified by assistant editors while they are repositioned in the primary storyline.

I wrote about this aspect of Final Cut Pro last year.

Given that Final Cut Pro has always been a method for promoting Apple hardware, there’s no reason why access to Final Cut Pro X projects and events should be limited to Apple software. As long as apps that access the database are running on Macs or iOS devices, Apple should be happy. That would provide opportunities for future versions of applications from Adobe, Blackmagic and Autodesk to directly modify Final Cut Pro X content.


Final Cut Pro X was a radical departure that was great news for the Adobe and Avid sales organisations. Months of uncertainty have been a opportunity that have seen many people give the competition a chance. There’s a chance that other Adobe and Avid people were less happy: Apple were taking a big chance with their technology that they would find very hard to match. Adobe, Avid and Autodesk aren’t in a position where they can completely change their core editing technology and metaphor.

Given that the non-consumer part of Apple’s business is such a small part of the whole, I don’t think Apple can justify spending much more than their competitors. That means each update will only appear when its ready. Given that they’re spending no time maintaining the 20th century code core of Final Cut Pro 7, X is being updated more quickly and more reliably than Apple Pro apps have been for years.

It’s just a question if Apple’s new metaphor and software architecture is the way to go. Given the high FCPX update frequency we’ll know relatively soon. Watch this space!


An alternative scenario is that the database structure of Final Cut Pro events and projects was a choice to support the iMovie way of doing things, and there are no collaborative features planned for Final Cut Pro X. If Final Cut is used to sell OS technologies to developers and sell hardware, the future of X is tied up with the Apple’s specific vision of the post PC world, and where the Mac fits into it. That’s where Tim Cook’s computer for professionals comes in ‘later next year’…

  1. Nima said:

    I agree with your assessment. I deal with so many people these days that simply hate FCP X and are talking about switching from 7 to other apps. The reality is that none of them have spent the time to really learn this new app. Even when I look at smoke, the interface looks outdated to me. I for one am happy to be on the x wagon.

  2. rd said:

    Apple built version control into Lion filesystem and now
    extending to the Cloud. That is what will bring multi user workflow.
    CoreData is just Object orientated DataBase Schema,
    the data is actually stored in sqlite. sqlite is not designed
    to work across multi users, neither is CoreData while older EOF was designed with relational database in mind like Oracle. real issue with CoreData is
    that schema migration is really hard especially when you have
    to design for future features into the database and go back
    and forth with different schema support in perpetuity.

    I think you are too optimistic about future update every year.
    Once Apple catches up it might be two years like Aperture.

  3. Dexter said:

    I wish Motion could receive a significant update, like 3d generated shapes and text. It needs something to pull AE users into the FCP/Motion world.

  4. Really interesting way to look at things. By comparing the development of iOS and OSX to FCPX, I think you’ve been able to infer more of Apple’s development strategy than I would have though. Certainly the hindsight matches well – let’s see what happens with the foresight!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: