Well, this just got interesting. There’s been a bit of a backlash over Apple’s Final Cut X Pro, which is considered a step down from previous versions by many professional videographers, as they claim it lacks countless features – leading to the nickname ‘iMovie Pro’. Former Shake product designer and former Apple employee Ron Brinkmann has now weighed in on the situation. His advice to professionals? Don’t rely on companies like Apple.
Ron Brinkmann isn’t some random nobody – he co-founded Nothing Real, the company that developed the image compositing software Shake. He was a product designer for Shake, and before that, worked on the special effects in Hollywood movies – he won a BAFTA award for his work on Speed. In 2002, Nothing Real (and thus, Shake) was bought by Apple, and from then on until 2007, Brinkmann worked for Apple.
His point is that the professional market is simply of little interest to Apple, as it’s too small, but still requires a lot of attention. “From a company perspective high-end customers are a pain in the ass,” he argues, “Before Apple bought Shake, customer feedback drove about 90% of the features we’d put into the product. But that’s not how Apple rolls â€“ for them a high end customers are high-bandwidth in terms of the attention they require relative to the revenue they return.”
Apple doesn’t really know how to deal with these professionals, Brinkmann argues. “After the acquisition I remember sitting in a roomful of Hollywood VFX pros where Steve told everybody point-blank that we/Apple were going to focus on giving them powerful tools that were far more cost-effective than what they were accustomed to… But that the relationship between them and Apple wasn’t going to be something where they’d be driving product direction anymore,” he recalls, “Didn’t go over particularly well, incidentally, but I don’t think that concerned Steve overmuch…”
He further details that the way Apple works internally is not conducive to the creation of high-end products for the professional market. Most features in these types of products are not very ‘demo-able’, and in Apple’s company structure, that’s a problem.
“See, here’s the thing with how features happen at Apple to a great extent â€“ product development is often driven by how well things can be demoed,” he explains, “Maybe not explicitly â€“ nobody ever told me to only design features that demoed well â€“ but the nature of the organization effectively makes it work out that way. Because a lot of decisions about product direction make their way very far up the management hierarchy (often to Steve himself).”
“All the mid-level managers know that they’re going to have a limited window of time to convey what makes a product or a feature special to their bosses,” he continues, “So they either 1) make a sexy demo or 2) spend a lot of time trying to explain why some customer feels that some obscure feature is worth implementing. Guess which strategy works best?”
His conclusion is that if you’re a professional, you really shouldn’t want to depend on a company like Apple, and considering his recollections, that’s advice that strikes me as very sensible.
“So if you’re really a professional you shouldn’t want to be reliant on software from a company like Apple. Because your heart will be broken. Because they’re not reliant on you,” he concludes, “Use Apple’s tools to take you as far as they can â€“ they’re an incredible bargain in terms of price-performance. But once you’re ready to move up to the next level, find yourself a software provider whose life-blood flows only as long as they keep their professional customers happy. It only makes sense.”