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What does 2009 hold for Final Cut Studio?
Now, 2008 has been a year of frustration for us editors. We've seen few Final Cut Studio updates (and some of those have broken more things than they fixed), we've seen matte displays replaced with glossy ones, we've seen no Apple at NAB 2008 and we've seen very little in the way of Mac Pro updates.
Has Apple abandoned pro users? Are they more interested in making iPods? Yes and no. Yes, of course, they will want to put a lot of resources into something that contributes strongly to their bottom line. However, I don't believe they have abandoned pro users at all.
Everything changes with Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard is Apple's way of telling us it still cares. Look at the feature list - Grand Central, OpenCL, QuickTime X, even the 2.2 gamma change - is there anything there that will benefit the average Joe Bloggs user when he's checking his email? No, this is a lean operating system designed for performance. And it's also designed to sell Mac Pros of course, and make the 8-core Mac Pro you bought a year ago worthwhile. This is an operating system designed to put the Mac back on top of the list of pro must-haves. Apple has a massive head-start on Microsoft here.
And what better way to promote Snow Leopard and the Mac than with a highly-optimized version of its flagship pro suite, Final Cut Studio.
I don't think Apple is abandoning us at all. I think they are just diverting their pro app resources into something much better. Think how the number of patches and the number of fixes has dwindled lately. Updates are rare and they only fix major issues. It makes sense that Apple would only put resources into fixing major bugs if Final Cut Studio 2 was at the end of its life.
Another thing I find interesting is that Apple is putting Shake updates in Pro Applications Updates but it is not putting Logic or Aperture updates in there. This would suggest that there may have been a merging of the Shake and Final Cut Studio teams.
And let's look back at the original launch of Final Cut Studio 2. If you remove Color from the equation, there's really not much there. Worth upgrading, sure, but no big architectural changes like FCP 4.0 to 4.5 or 4.5 to 5.0. Could it have been a version designed to tide us over until the big changes came along? Only Apple knows the answer to that question.
So here are my predictions:
1. Final Cut Studio 3 launches in 2009 to coincide with the release of Snow Leopard. I don't know how backwards-compatible it will be, it could well be Snow Leopard-only (which also means Intel-only). It will be largely rewritten to take advantage of new Snow Leopard features and hardware acceleration.
2. LiveType will be killed off and its features will merge into Motion. Motion will inherit some of the features of Shake. This will better position it to compete with After Effects. It remains to be seen whether Apple will keep the node-based interface from Shake or spin it off as a separate application. I don't think Apple will completely merge the two together as they have different target markets and different complexity levels.
3. There will be greater interoperability between Final Cut Studio applications. Color will be redesigned to better fit into the studio. Interfaces will be improved so that there is greater coherence between applications.
4. Media management will be redesigned and there will be tighter integration with Final Cut Server.
5. The current NLE fashion is to have an automatic transcription tool. I would imagine Apple would implement this too, as it has great potential, even with the inevitable inaccuracies. Imagine this with Final Cut Server - you could easily search for that elusive line of dialogue within hundreds or even thousands of media files.
Ok, some of these are predictions, some of these are wishful thinking. But I believe Apple will at least optimize FCS3 for Snow Leopard technologies, because Snow Leopard is pointless if software isn't written to support it. At the end of the day, performance is what matters most.
Other features that may not come but I'd like to see anyway:
1. Why do we have to keep exporting to XML? Why not just make the FCP project file XML?
2. Add scripting abilities to the applications in the Studio and improve their expandability. Apple can't possibly think of everything - let third party developers fill in the gaps. It might also win over some larger companies who will be able to integrate it with their other applications and databases.
3. Blu-ray - Who even knows? It might interfere with Apple's iTunes business model but either way, BD support in Adobe Encore is proving that there is a demand for it and it is possible to provide it in an authoring application despite the draconian licensing issues.
Roll on 2009!