Shake Product Designer Ron Brinkman on FCP X and the demise of Shake

Tue, Jul 5, 2011


Over the past week, the Apple blogosphere has been rife with stories of Apple’s revamped FInal Cut Pro X. As most of you are already aware by now, professional video editors are deriding the update and are crying foul over what they deem to be a step backwards in functionality. The list of professional complaints is long, and though Apple has promised to address many of them in a string of frequent updates, there’s no denying that Final Cut Pro X delivers a more powerful solution to the prosumer market while at the time watering down its appeal to the high-end professional market.

In light of Apple’s controversial new software, debates have been ongoing regarding Apple’s allegiance, or lack thereof, to an editing community whose livelihood often depended on Final Cut Pro. Lost in the mix, however, is that Apple is a company like no other with a responsibility to its shareholders to maximize profits. As has been relayed before, it’s simply in Apple’s interest to shape FCP X for the mainstream at the expense of a minority of professional editors. Indeed, former Apple employee and Final Cut Pro engineer Sachin Agarawal recently explained that Final Cut Pro X will “expand the market of video editors” and that FCP X isn’t trying to accumulate a long list of features to compete with Avid. Rather, Apple is trying to bring video editing to the prosumer market in a way that iMovie was never able to do.

Now video editors can certainly grasp that, which is why many of them are deriding Apple’s decision to simply stop selling Final Cut Pro 7. “Okay, go after the prosumer market with FCP X”, they reason, “but don’t forget about our professional needs!”

And therein lies the rub.

Apple doesn’t care about the professional market to the extent that it’s relatively small and insignificant to Apple’s bottom line.

And if I may channel an late night infomercial here, don’t just take my word for it, take Ron Brinkman’s word for it.

Brinkman was part of the core group at Shake and joined Apple when Apple acquired the company a few years back. For those of you unfamiliar, Shake was a popular visual effects and post-production app that served a high-end customer base and was used quite consistently in big time feature films.

Upon being acquired by Apple, Brinkman and co. were worried that Apple wouldn’t be willing to keep on serving the high-end market Shake catered to. Unfortunately, Brinkman writes, that fear eventually materialized a few years later and culminated with Apple completely discontinuing the software in 2009.

In a recent blogpost written in the wake of FCP X, Brinkman writes bluntly that Apple doesn’t camre about the high-end professional market.

First off, there’s the economics of it all. Again, why cater to a few thousand high-end editors when you can attack a mainstream userbase that’s “at least an order of magnitude larger”?

Second, Brinkman writes, high-end customers aren’t terribly easy to work with.

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 – for them a high end customers are high-bandwidth in terms of the attention they require relative to the revenue they return.  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.  Didn’t go over particularly well, incidentally, but I don’t think that concerned Steve overmuch… 🙂

Furthermore, Brinkman writes that many of the features that appeal to high-end customers simply don’t translate well when it comes to product demos and broad mass market appeal. While sexy demos wasn’t necessarily in the job description for Brinkman and co., he writes that that thread was implicit in Apple’s culture.

“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,” Brinkman writes. “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?”

So as applied to FCP, Brinkman sums things up thusly:

In the case of FCP, they’d rather introduce a new and easier and arguably better method for dealing with cuts, or with scrubbing, or whatever, even if it means that they need to leave out something standard for high-end editors like proper support for OMF.

So it will be interesting to watch the fallout from FCP X and see what some of the more high-end video editors choose to do. Stay with Apple and wait for FCP X to evolve and add more features, or perhaps jump ship to other solutions either out of frustration or perhaps necessity.


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