Apple’s new patent: Final Cut Pro X is a platform has reported in detail on Apple’s new Methods, systems, and apparatus for collaborative media editing patent:

Methods, systems, and apparatus for collaborative media editing. In one aspect, a method includes presenting, to an originator, an originator interface including multiple media panes; establishing a connection with a collaborator; receiving from the originator a selection indicating an item of media content associated with at least one of the multiple media panes; transmitting to the collaborator the selected item of media content; and enabling inter-user communication relating to the selected item of media content in the originator interface with the collaborator. Further, a connection can be established with a second collaborator, the item of media content can be transmitted to the second collaborator, and communication can occur in the originator interface with the second collaborator.

The ‘method’ (patent parlance) they use as a example in the abstract is shows an editor sending media clips to collaborator A and having a window-based chat session about prospective changes. Collaborator A then goes on to share the task with a new collaborator, B, who gets the footage and who can appear in the chat window of the original editor.

Here’s the picture used to illustrate the news:

They pointed out a possible code name for a collaborative media application is included in Apple’s mockup: ‘Light Table.’ In this case the role of the user on the project is ‘Assistant Director,’ the tasks listed are Storyboarding, Acquisition, Organising, Placing Media, Effects, Collaboration and Delivery.

This illustration shows that Laura G is the editor with all the media content. The patent also mentions an example when a collaborator might not have the full application on their device (the user interface for David F is different):

Moreover, collaboration on the media project can be performed even when the collaborator does not have access to the collaborative software application used by the originator. For example, the collaborator can collaborate with the originator through a chat application installed, e.g., on the collaborator’s computer system. In addition, pre-edited and post-edited versions of the media project can be accessed by the originator and the collaborator. Further, changes to the media project can be emphasized. For example, the media project can be presented such that changes are highlighted, colored, projected larger, outlined or otherwise enhanced.

So, David F can use a chat interface with window panes that show media clips plus before and after versions of an edit.

This seems like iChat with some extra windows for clips and playback, but the patent also covers non-real-time collaboration:

Communication between an originator and a collaborator also can be time-separated. For example, the originator can transmit a message to be received by the collaborator when the collaborator next connects to the communication network. The originator also can communicate with multiple collaborators in an originator interface where the multiple collaborators can independently, or collectively, review, propose changes, and/or make such proposed changes to a media project.

This means providing a way of dealing with edit conflicts:

Additionally, the collaborative software application can notify users of editing conflicts and facilitate resolving such conflicts. For example, if the collaborating users make disparate edits to the same portion of the media project, the collaborative software application can notify the collaborating users of the editing conflict.

The patent also deals with the reality of distributing large amounts of media over relatively slow connections:

For example, descriptions, names and thumbnails of video clips comprising a media project can be transmitted to a collaborator as opposed to transmitting live streaming screenshots of items of media content. In such an implementation, the collaborative software application installed on the collaborator’s computer system can retrieve other data indicative of the items of media content at a later time.

Notice that the collaborating software itself can retrieve other data indicative of the media content at a later time. For example, a thumbnail image of some footage could be replaced by a low-resolution video clip, followed by higher resolution versions if need be.

Final Cut Pro X is a platform

The patent was applied for in July 2008 and assigned on July 17, 2012, so what is the relevance to Final Cut Pro X and the future of editing?

If Apple wanted to produce an application that implemented some of these ideas, Final Cut Pro 7 wouldn’t be a good place to start. Like the majority of editing applications, its internal structure and user interface metaphors were designed in the 1990s. They would have to start from scratch when it came to internal structure and user interface metaphors.

As regards internal structure, editing projects would have to be stored in a multi-user database such that different parts could be edited at the same time by different collaborators. The user interface would have to allow for multiple versions of the same series of clips to exist on the same timeline.

It seems to me that Final Cut Pro X was specified based on the ideas in this patent. This meant writing everything from the ground up: reimplementing all of Final Cut Pro 7’s features while adding features relevant to this new way of collaborating.

Final Cut has always been around to sell Macs. This patent points to the possibility that a future version of Final Cut Pro X could be the core of  new platform: professional media collaboration using a variety of Apple hardware. Ranging from iOS devices to MacBook Pros up to the product that Tim Cook has said will make ‘professionals very happy’ later next year. If industry analysts are looking a role for high-performance hardware in a post-PC world, this could be it.

In practice implementing these Methods, systems, and apparatus for collaborative media editing will take a few years. One of the major tasks involved is prioritising feature implementation. In practice, Apple adds features to new platforms in an order that suits long-term success – even if that order makes little sense to external observers at the time (I recently compared the history of Final Cut Pro X releases with that of iOS and MacOS X).

If Apple isn’t moving in this direction, at least this patent is an interesting insight into what might have been.

In my next post I will suggest why Apple abandoned the track-based editing metaphor that the majority of the post-production industry have relied on for over 20 years.

  1. Simon Ubsdell said:

    I knew you’d have an interesting take on this – fascinating reading as always. Can’t wait to read your next post on the track-based editing issue …

  2. This seems like its the kind of thing that might make FCP the only NLE that will have a good future with collaborative editing. Nice write up!

  3. rd said:

    I think next year is all about 4K Retina, Haswell,
    smaller footprint MacPro, even more OpenCL, H.265,
    using SceneKit in Motion 3d, Physics engine, etc.

  4. Rob Mackintosh said:

    Thanks Alex for another informative piece.

    I think the connected clip/trackless paradigm Apple has embraced will make it easier to share sections of a timeline. The application only needs to keep track of the selected clips and their relation to each other, rather than their relation the whole timeline and it’s various tracks. I can imagine a “lassoo to share” feature or perhaps you’ll “compound to share”.

    Looking forward to your next post.

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