Mini-Editorial: How Apple Stole SGI’s Hollywood Business

Last Sunday Apple released a number of a new multimedia software — Shake 3.5, Final Cut Pro HD, DVD Studio Pro 3 and a new application, titled Motion. Apple starts making a big name in Hollywood and many creative studios are now opting for Apple’s products to do the main editing. Once upon a time, all this market belonged to SGI. In less than 2 years, Apple has managed to overturn this market into its advantage.More and more movie studios and animators are turning to Apple lately we hear, however the switching isn’t really happening from the Windows PC side but from the aging (and still expensive) SGI workstation side. SGI has moved fully to higher-end enterprise, higher-end visualization and military market and has forgotten the movie studios. They still offer small updates of IRIX every three months but representatives of SGI told me clearly already a year ago that the media market is not on their interest anymore.

And so Apple moved in to fill up the space and hurry up before most of these studios turn into Windows’ solutions or before they port their inhouse usually-*Motif-based software to Linux. And Apple is there in time indeed.

With purchases of a couple key companies who used to create such high-end multimedia applications (Logic, Shake) and the introduction of brand new apps like Final Cut Express, Motion and Soundtrack, Apple is filling up the space real quick. And then there are the third party software multimedia vendors with apps like Maya, MS Expression, Poser, Renderman, Photoshop, Avid Express Pro etc that really make the Mac platform more multimedia-oriented than ever.

A couple of weeks ago I called my brother and asked him what computer would like me to get him (PCs are cheaper here in USA than in Greece, so I tought I should replace his ancient half-working laptop). I mentioned on getting him an eMac and he said “what are you talking about? Do I look to you like a ‘painter’?” (he is an electrician btw). That (funny) statement made me think a lot on the image the Mac platform has created with the Classic Macs on countries where it is not very popular: mostly artists, newspapers and the like have Macs. Real-life Mac users are more hard to come by than in US (but yes, they do exist). The first Mac I ever saw myself was in 1989 in a newspaper pressing shop in the town I was living for. I think it was the only Mac in the town and the only one I saw in my area until I left Greece to relocate in UK in 1996 (now I have 3 of them in my office ;-).

With Steve Jobs saying yesterday that Apple has specifically decided to not compete in the low-end desktop market (not even in the corporate desktop market according to Jobs) but instead to focus on the iPod business and in the high-end workstation market, this image of Mac being “for artists” can only become stronger on both lower-income countries whose not all citizens can afford Macs, but also in USA — the stronghold of Apple.

But that’s not really a bad thing. SGI played on the same strength for years and they saw their business flourishing in the mid-90s. The fact that they couldn’t continue on the same success was mostly because of the extremely high prices and the fact that their hardware’s speed (per-CPU speed to be exact) and software’s innovation didn’t evolve as much the last few years. Apple can completely swamp up the market if they manage to get IBM to deliver faster G5s and if they could also deliver even higher-end workstations with 4 and 8 CPUs on each box. But even if this is not possible, Apple could drive the “donkey work” of rendering to cheap PCs running Linux or Windows with special add-on software.

Overall, I am pleased to see Apple becoming –once again– such a strong player in the media market. The only thing I am a bit concerned as a non-artist and as a person who doesn’t need an iPod or iTunes’ online song shop ( does all I need for my music needs), is the state of the desktop Mac and its future. According to Jobs, Apple is extra-focusing on multimedia and that’s cool. As long as they don’t take away the R&D, engineering time and development off the desktop Mac OS X and the desktop Mac hardware line that is.


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