2017 Technology Predictions

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The next year will certainly be an interesting one. Not only because of the forces of innovation, but also those of politics. With the new President vowing to use the bully pulpit to entice, encourage or cajole US corporations to bring their offshore manufacturing back to the states, it seems pretty clear that companies in the media industries will be affected. The likely targets will be storage, camera and computer manufacturers. I presume that Apple will become the most visible and possibly vocal of these, but that awaits to be seen.

At present, Apple is more of an engineering design and services company than a manufacturer. The exception being the Mac Pro. Given their volume and the expertise of suppliers like Foxconn, it’s hard to see how moving iPhone production to the US would be possible or at least cost-effective. However, low volume products, like the 2013 Mac Pro model are a better fit, which is why that product is assembled in Austin. But of course, there’s plenty of speculation that the “trash can” Mac isn’t long for this world. It’s sorely in need of a refresh and has been largely overshadowed by the new MacBook Pro models. Although I think from a business perspective Apple would just as soon drop it, the Mac Pro does have the advantage of servicing a market segment that Apple likes to be associated with – creative media professionals. If you add in the political climate, it’s a good counterpoint to say that Apple’s highest end product is made here.

Factoring all that in, I predict that we’ll see at least one more iteration of the Mac Pro. I don’t expect a form factor change, but I would expect newer Xeon chips, when available, and a shift to the Thunderbolt 3 protocol, using the USB-C plugs. This way it will be compatible with the same peripherals as can be used by the new MacBook Pros. The same will be true of the next iMacs. I also expect to see at least one more version of the Mac Mini, as this provides a small package that many can used as a server machine. It will sport new Xeon or new Core i7 chips and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports. However, once these new machines hit the market, there are plenty of signs to predict that those products will be the last of their kind, leaving Apple to only make iMac and laptop form factors for their macOS products. That’s a couple of years out.

If tariffs and a change in trade agreements become public policy, then imported products will become more expensive than they have been. I see this having the greatest impact with cameras, as so many (nearly all) are produced by foreign companies, such as Sony, Canon and ARRI. This may well be a very positive development for a company like RED. If all of a sudden ALEXAs become a lot more expensive as compared with RED Epics, Weapons, etc., well then you just might see a shift in the sales numbers. Of course, a lot of this is just reading the tea leaves, but if politics were ever a driver, this would be the year that we’ll see it.

Another continuing trend will be mergers and acquisitions as weaker companies consolidate with stronger competitors. The ripest of these is Avid Technology. Their financial issues have spilled over into business news and it’s hard to see how they can dig themselves out of the current holes with such lackluster sales. The smart money predicts a breakup or sell-off. If this occurs, the predictions (with which I agree) would have ProTools going to Dolby and Media Composer – and maybe also storage – going to Blackmagic Design. The rest, including Interplay, the Media Central Platform and the Orad products would go elsewhere or just be closed down.

The obvious question would be why Blackmagic Design would want Media Composer? After all, they are already developing DaVinci Resolve into an NLE in its own right. By picking up Media Composer, they add a highly respected editing application to the portfolio and thus buy into an existing marketshare, just as they did in color correction. Once acquired, I’m pretty confident that Blackmagic’s software engineers, together with the staff retained from Avid, would quickly clean up and improve Media Composer from its current state. Only Blackmagic seems to have the will to suffer through the complaints that such a move may have from loyalists. Avid editors are legendary in their reluctance to accept changes to the interface.

When it comes to nonlinear editing applications, I continue to see a rosy future for Adobe. Premiere Pro’s penetration is increasing in the world of entertainment, broadcast and corporate media, which has been Avid’s stronghold. While Avid is still strong in these areas, they seem to be selling to existing customers and not growing their base. Adobe, on the other hand, is pulling from Avid and Apple customers, plus new ones. While there was a lot of grousing about the Adobe subscription model, most users seem OK with it and are happy to be able to keep their software current with each Creative Cloud update. Likewise, Apple is doing well with Final Cut Pro X. Their market seems to be more individual users and “creative enthusiasts” than is the case for Adobe. In addition, FCP X also seems to be doing well internationally. Since Apple has another five years to go on its public commitment to FCP X development, I only see more growth for this application.

Apple has long held an outsized percentage of the creative market, as compared with its overall marketshare of all computers. However, it doesn’t take much sleuthing to see the enthusiasm expressed for the Microsoft Surface Studio. In my own travels, I see a lot of Surface tablets in regular use. So far, the ones I encounter are being used for general computing, but that will change. Since these devices run Windows, any application that can run under Windows will work. As the Surface line becomes more powerful, I fully expect to see creatives routinely running all of the Adobe apps, Media Composer, Resolve, Lightworks and others without any difficulty. Among some users, many would love to cut the Apple chord, and I predict the Surface and Surface Studio are just the tools to enable that move. Add to that the innovative menu control knob that was introduced with Surface Studio and you can see that creative design thinking isn’t limited to Cupertino.

For storage products, I see two shifts.The first is the move to the Thunderbolt 3 protocol. If you’ve invested heavily in Thunderbolt 2 or USB-3 devices, technology has just leapfrogged you. While these products will continue to be useful and can be connected via legacy ports or docks and adapters, storage manufacturers will embrace Thunderbolt 3 for direct-attached products. The shared storage providers will continue down the 10-Gigabit and 40-Gigabit Ethernet route for awhile, until Thunderbolt 3 networking really becomes viable. We aren’t there yet, but I can’t see why it won’t come soon. Right now, if you have two to ten users, a low cost shared storage environment is pretty easy to set up. The hitch is controlling the application permissions of the software being used. Avid had a lock on that, but there are now ways to enable Avid bin-locking for a few hundred bucks per seat. No need to buy expensive storage and pay annual support contracts any longer.

Along these lines is Adobe’s project sharing through Team Projects (currently in beta testing). Once they get the kinks ironed out, Team and Enterprise accounts will be able to work collaboratively and simultaneously on the same production. I see it as only a matter of time before Apple offers a similar capability with Final Cut Pro X. I certainly seems like all the hooks are there under the hood to make that possible. So maybe 2017 will be the year the project sharing comes to Final Cut users. Once both Adobe and Apple can offer reliable project collaboration in fashion that rivals Avid, you’ll see an even greater shift to these editing tools and away from Media Composer within the film and broadcast editing communities.

As laptops grow in power, expect an even faster demise of the desktop, workstation PC. More and more, people want to be mobile. Having a laptop connected to all the bells and whistles at your base station edit suite, yet being able to unplug and go where you need to be – that’s the future direction for a lot of post professionals. Wrapping this up, remember, these predictions are free and worth just what you paid for them!

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

© 2016 Oliver Peters

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