Are Creative Pros Going to Have to Force-Quit Apple?~
“So if Apple just becomes a place where computers are a commodity item and where the romance is gone, and where people forget that computers are the most incredible invention that man has ever invented, then I’ll feel I have lost Apple. But if I’m a million miles away and all those people still feel those things and they’re still working to make the next great personal computer, then I will feel that my genes are still in there.” ~Steve Jobs
Source: Newsweek, Sep. 29 1985
This particular blog post really should be a letter to Apple CEO, Tim Cook. And maybe when I’m done writing it, I’ll decide to send it to him. Not that my opinion will make any difference.
So, for today, Gentle Readers, I’m taking a break from my photography postings to discuss some frustrations I have with some of the tools I use to create with. Frustrations that have been building in the last few years.
I looked at the dock of my Mac the other day. And I noticed something interesting. There are very few Apple software apps in it any more. And most of the ones that are there, are just Mac OS system preferences and system monitoring apps that are tied to the Mac operating system. A lot has changed in the last few years.
A little background…
We’re coming up on the 6-year anniversary of the release of Apple’s replacement for Final Cut Pro version 7, the at the time, 11-year-old film & video editing app. What was released was the re-designed Final Cut Pro X. It was June 11th, 2011, and for me and many other long time Apple users, that date turned out to be a harbinger for things to come.
I wrote a blog about it a few weeks after the release. Yet Another Final Cut Pro Opinion From a Pro Editor – It’s not you, it’s me, because a lot, and I mean a lot of people were asking me what I thought about this new software. It certainly wasn’t the update we were all expecting. We had been waiting two years for the next update to Final Cut Pro 7 – what we were now were beginning to call Final Cut Pro Classic.
Looking back to 1999, editors who took the leap of faith in those early days of Final Cut Pro, loved it. Many of us became early adopters with it. Even in our professional work during the fledgling early days of version 1. Final Cut Pro showed tremendous promise back when it was released. And Apple seemed very interested in making it what we all hoped it would eventually be. But it was a challenge in those early days because it took FCP a few versions to give us the truly pro features we needed for working with commercial clients.
I was invited a few times to meet with Apple people from 2002 to 2005 to give them my wish list of things FCP needed to do to be taken seriously on a professional level. And almost always, my wish list would show up in the next versions through versions 3, 4 and 5. We talked and Apple listened. Those were the salad days.
As editors, we went out in the world and convinced as many people as we could that FCP really was better than Avid Media Composer. Avid was what most of the industry was using at the time. And by FCP version 7, it was better. So much better than Avid.
And then, Final Cut Pro X arrived.
It was more iMovie Pro than Final Cut Pro. And it was an extremely awkward rollout on Apple’s part. Final Cut Pro X was more of an untested beta than the reliable pro software many of us were making a living using. And the insane part was, Apple pulled the old software out of circulation on the day they released Final Cut Pro X.
The reason that was such an issue was that the new Final Cut couldn’t open the older Final Cut Pro Classic’s projects. That was a jaw-dropping development. I’ll admit that was the time I realized I would never again trust Apple to build a business around. I remember thinking to myself, What will be the next “pro” app to be killed by Apple?
A few years later, the answer arrived. It was Aperture, Apple’s pro photography organizing and editing software. Which was preceded in being end-of-life-d, by Shake, Apple’s pro design and motion compositing software few years earlier.
There were many other reasons Final Cut Pro X wasn’t even close to being a pro app on its initial release, but that’s not really what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about what has happened with Apple since then.
Apple Mac Pro Hardware, wherefore art thou, Apple Mac Pro Hardware?
As of the writing of this, early April 2017, the question many of us began asking back in 2011, has even more relevance today than it did back then.
Are Creative Pros Going to Have to Force-Quit Apple?
Much like back in 2011, pro creatives, by which I mean, editors, photographers, 3D animators, designers and other artists who make their living using high performance Apple Macs, have been patiently waiting for a modern professional grade desktop computer upgrade from Apple. The last Mac Pro was released over three years ago, and hasn’t seen an upgrade in going on 1,200 days now.
In the computer world, that’s a lifetime.
Meanwhile, Apple and Chief Design Officer Jony Ive, have been so obsessed with making their Macbook Pro laptops lighter and thinner and with longer battery life, that they’ve come up one side of the mountain of making a better pro laptop computer, reached the summit, and are now coming down the other side. In other words, the latest Macbook Pros are so thin and light, that they’ve had to eliminate many key features that pros rely on every day.
If making our pro laptops 3mm thinner means we lose most of the ports we use to get our work done, just stop it. I want my ethernet port back. I want my card reader port back. I want my power supply connection to not use up a precious remaining port. And because most of us are trying to stretch our operational budgets as far as possible, many of us are still using Thunderbolt drives. And further still, lots of legacy USB, and yes, even Firewire drives.
If I never have to curse the sky again because I forgot to bring my Ethernet dongle with me, or my Thunderbolt dongle, or my USB 2 or 3 dongle, or yes, even my Firewire dongle, I will be a much less crabby boy. I hate dongles. And most of my colleagues do as well.
And while it’s all well and good that keeping RAM down to a maximum of 16GB does make the battery last longer, when we’re doing serious pro work, most of the time we’re plugged in to AC power. So we’d be happy to take the hit on a few hours of battery, as long as we can put at least 32GB of RAM in our laptops, which is the bare minimum most of us need to do the kind of work we do.
Oh, and we need NVIDIA graphics cards in our Macs too.
Hey Jony, you know what would make future Macbook Pros even thinner and lighter? Get rid of the keyboard and the screen too. You could probably shave another 5mm off that way. And battery life would go through the roof!
What Apple seems to have forgotten, is the most basic rule of good design: form needs to follow function.
“A computer frees people from much of the menial work. Besides that, you are giving them a tool that encourages them to be creative. Remember, computers are tools. Tools help us do our work better.” ~Steve Jobs
Source: Playboy, Feb. 1985
Tim Cook, back in December, and again in February, vaguely stated that pro creatives are still very important to Apple, and that the company are planning more pro hardware to come, aimed at that segment of the market. But his statements have been so lacking in specifics, that it’s very possible he might mean that new beefier iMacs are coming. Not a new Mac Pro, but a new iMac “Pro.”
Here’s the thing about that. Many editor colleagues and I have used and are using iMacs in our professional work. Yet, that’s always been a compromise. Gone are the days of the old Mac Pro “cheese graters,” where you could easily upgrade a graphics card, or add more ports if you wanted to. Those cheese graters were customizable and expandable. The iMacs, aside from being able to add more RAM, are not.
Yet, I know editors, photographers and other creators who are still holding on to and doing work on their 5-year old cheese grater Macs. Because they were able to update them and customize them in a way that you can’t do with more modern Mac Pros, including the newest, 3-year old “trash can” Mac Pro. And by the way, that 3-year old Mac Pro is still for sale at the same price as it was the day it came out. That’s gotta be kinda embarrassing for Apple, right?
Remember when Apple dropped the word “computer” from their company name? Apple Computer became Apple, Inc.
Which is fine. Any company with the success Apple has had can pretty much do whatever they want. iPhones account for 60% of their annual revenue. I get it.
But it’s not just about the Apple hardware.
The Glory Days of Designing Great Software to sell Great Apple Hardware
“Now, you know, one of the pioneers of our industry, Alan Kaye, has had a lot of great quotes throughout the years, and I ran across one of them recently that explains how we look at this, explains why we go about doing things the way we do, because we love software. And here’s the quote: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” Alan said that 30 years ago, and this is how we feel about it.” ~Steve Jobs
But back to my dock, and the recent lack of Apple software in it these days. It’s true that Apple has built quite an ecosystem for a modern social media age. Not wanting to give up the buddy address lists we’ve amassed over the last decades and use with Apple Messages now, is a powerful reason to stay with an iPhone instead of moving to a Google Pixel, for instance.
In fact, I’m old enough to remember how painful and nearly impossible it was just to sync my address book from my Palm Pilot to my Macintosh IIsi 25 years ago. I had to manually re-enter my entire address book of contacts many times in the 90s. The old Apple tagline, “It just works,” was a watershed moment when I would change an address book listing on my desktop Mac and my Macbook address book would update the listing automatically. And later, the same thing on my iPhone.
“Software is the user experience. As the iPod and iTunes prove, it has become the driving technology not just of computers but of consumer electronics.” ~Steve Jobs
Source: Fortune, Feb. 21 2005
Yet last week, after realizing my iPhone was no longer syncing contacts with my iMac and my Macbook Pro, I took a few hours to investigate. The problem has its roots in Apple’s habit of updating our Apple IDs and how they’ve changed over the years, leaving all of us with a trail of vintage Apple email addresses.
Raise your hand, Gentle Readers, if you have an email address like, email@example.com. And then one like firstname.lastname@example.org. And another email@example.com. I do. And I’ll bet more than a few of you do as well. In Apple’s attempt to rebrand their identity every few years, moving away from the “mac” nomenclature and to something less computer-centric, they’ve left a wake of abandoned domains. At least the old ones still work, or that would be a nightmare, but for those of us with a little OCD, it’s untidy.
The answer to my contacts not syncing issue turned out to be that any updates I was making were going into my “On my Mac” folder and not to my iCloud folder in my Contacts app. I honestly didn’t even know I had an iCloud folder in my contacts app. But there it was.
But my Contacts app also contains folders for my two Gmail accounts, one business and one personal. If I make contact updates to a contact that happens to be only in one of my Gmail accounts, does that sync? Who knows. It depends on what folder I have highlighted. And I’m tired of not knowing if my contacts are up to date and syncing properly. I’ve been burned before trying to find a contact on my iPhone that I know I updated on my iMac hours before.
Plugging your iPhone into your Mac to sync your contacts has become a white knuckle ride as of late. Will I lose contacts from one device syncing to another. Maybe. Who knows. It just doesn’t work as effortlessly as it used to.
My Contacts app had become a mess of missing and duplicate entries I need to keep track of. I needed something better to keep all of my contacts in sync with all of my accounts. And I needed to not have hundreds of duplicate contact listings and no idea which was the most current.
And so, the Apple Contacts app lost it’s place in my dock to a new third-party app called Full Contact, which does a much better job of keeping my over 2000 contacts organized and in sync on all of my devices. Apple used to be so good at this.
What else is missing from my dock now that was there five years ago? Here’s a list in no particular order, and some replacements are even more than five years old.
Apple Mail has been replaced by Airmail.
Apple Calendar has been replaced with Fantastical.
Reminders has been replaced with OmniFocus.
Apple Keychain has been replaced by 1Password.
Time Machine, while not exactly replaced, but it kinda has, by Backblaze.
Disk Utilities has been replaced by DiskWarrior.
Facetime has been replaced with Skype.
The Apple Podcast app in iTunes (and iOS) has been replaced with Overcast (and it works brilliantly on iOS but I do have to use an app called Fluid to make a desktop app of Overcast to run on my Mac.)
Safari has been replaced by Google Chrome.
Apple Pages has been replaced by Open Office.
Apple Font Book has been replaced by Font Explorer X Pro.
The discontinued Apple Aperture (and it’s anemic replacement, Photos) has been replaced by Adobe Lightroom.
and of course, Final Cut Pro has been replaced by Adobe Premiere Pro.
There are probably even more software apps I can’t remember off the top of my head, but you get the idea. And the reason that I have acquired such a collection of non-Apple apps for things I used to use Apple apps exclusively for, comes down to one thing.
In Apple’s attempt to make software as simple as possible for the masses, just like with their hardware, they’ve oversimplified everything. They’ve taken away features that might be confusing for non-power users, but that people like me desperately need to be efficient day-to-day.
And every one of the replacement apps listed above won a spot in my dock, one by one over the years, because I needed my Apple app to do something fairly basic in my mind and I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. Or I needed something it used to do in the past, that it now didn’t do well or at all anymore. I simply got tired of trying to work around it.
Finding the freakin’ “play” button on the iOS version of iTunes shouldn’t take a minute of scrolling and searching.
The reason to pay a premium for a Mac, back in the day, was because the software and hardware were so well-integrated. They were made by the same company. Apple could test new software, including the Operating System and new hardware, together, in-house, before releasing it out into the wild. That’s why they could say, “It just works.” And they came up with things we didn’t even know we needed, and once we saw them, we couldn’t live without those things.
“Customers can’t anticipate what the technology can do. They won’t ask for things that they think are impossible. But the technology may be ahead of them. If you happen to mention something, they’ll say, ‘Of course, I’ll take that. Do you mean I can have that, too?’ It sounds logical to ask customers what they want and then give it to them. But they rarely wind up getting what they really want that way.” ~Steve Jobs
Source: Inc, Apr. 1989
However, something has gone very wrong lately. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because Steve Jobs isn’t around. Although who knows what Apple would be making today, both in software and hardware if he were healthy and alive and still running things.
No, I think, Apple has had such phenomenal success with more consumer oriented products like the iPhone, that’s it’s easy to see how their Mac division, hardware and software, isn’t as shiny and exciting and inspiring and innovative as it once was. From a business and profit standpoint that makes sense. The desktop computer industry in general isn’t what it once was when everyone you know has a computer in their pocket.
But the thing to remember is, people who make apps for those iPhones, people who create the movies and TV shows and the still images and the animation and the music we play on our iPhones, those people need powerful computers to make that stuff. And good professional grade software to create with.
Wouldn’t it be a bit ironic if all of that creative content that we view on our iPhones and iPads wasn’t made at all on Macs anymore? It’s already heading in that direction. A lot of creative shops I know, already have or are starting to look outside of the Apple ecosystem. They need pro grade hardware to create with, using software that doesn’t exclusively run on Macs. And they’re buying PCs.
People doing creative work who you would have had to drag kicking and screaming to the PC side a few years ago, are just shrugging their shoulders now, because Apple is leaving them no choice.
I mean, what are the high-end programmers and creative content creators at Apple using on their desktops, for cryin’ out loud? If they’re using the current crop of Macs on the inside at Apple, they’re likely as frustrated with the situation as those of us on the outside.
So why stay with Macs?
That’s an incredibly fair question. It isn’t, as some people suggest, because we like to use “elite looking” products. That the Apple logo somehow makes us feel superior. Yes, certainly the look of the computers themselves and the look of the operating system do have an appeal to those of us with an aesthetic sensibility. But at the end of the day, our computers are merely tools to help us get our work done. All things being equal, I do prefer working on an elegant machine, both in design and functionality. But that’s not the only rationale I of why prefer to work on Macs.
The main reason I, and many like me have been sticking with Apple computers long after maybe we should have, is that we’re good at them. Many of us have to be our own IT departments these days. Even with their long-in-the-tooth quirks and lack of expandability in the recent models, Macs are the devil I know. I can troubleshoot my way out of nearly any situation on my machines. I’ve been working on Macs since 1984.
And I’ve also worked on plenty of Windows PCs at shops that are PC only. And even with a strong and capable IT department working with me, PCs have different issues. A few years ago I was editing a very high-resolution project at a top graphics and design firm. But when it came time to output our approval postings, I would routinely have to set up export renders on 3 different PC workstations for those client postings. The reason for that was it was the only way I was going guarantee a completed output on the 8k video files we were working on. Because more often than not, 2 out of the 3 PCs would crash in the middle of a 3-hour render. But if just one made it, I was good.
Sometimes I would export the working files I needed to a portable hard drive and take them home and render them out on my iMac. It might take a little longer than the PCs outfitted with the best graphics cards, but my iMac never crashed during a render and export.
So, neither PCs nor Macs are the perfect solution. But Apple’s lack of attention to the pro market in recent years, even though Tim Cook says otherwise, is palpable. And waiting for pro level support from Apple does seem to be a fool’s errand these days.
Seeing is believing. Actions speak louder than words. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Pick your cliché.
“If anybody’s going to make our products obsolete, I want it to be us.” ~Steve Jobs
Well, Steve, maybe mission accomplished. Although perhaps not in the way you intended.
Correction: Alert Gentle Reader Jonathan Wing pointed out that Final Cut Pro version 7 and not version 6, was the last of the Final Cut Pro Classic’s versions. I appreciate the heads up and the blog has been updated with that correction. Thank you Jonathan.
And a tip of my hat also to Dave Barry, for the “Alert” part of that correction, as well as the fact that my term, Gentle Reader, has always been an homage to his tremendously wonderful writing.