Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, iPad… Oh my!

This week Apple dropped a big one on its users. By the end of May, there will be new, mobile versions of Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. These apps feature interfaces optimized for touch and the Pencil. Both will also include some advanced features not yet found in the desktop versions. Presumably updates of those will also come in short order to maintain compatibility.

The other two Apple professional video applications – Motion and Compressor – have been left out of the loop. At least for now. System requirements for Final Cut Pro are somewhat different than for Logic Pro. FCP will require a newer iPad Pro or iPad Air. Logic Pro will run on any iPad with an A12 Bionic chip or later. Both require iPadOS 16.4 or later.

The timing of this announcement is curious, since it precedes WWDC 2023. The speculation is that it was designed to beat Google to the punch one day before the Google I/O 2023 event, where details of the Pixel Tablet have been revealed. It’s an iPad competitor, although not equal to the iPad Pro models. However, by making this early iPad-related announcement, Apple gains the attention of the tech press and might pull some attention away from Google. Hmm…

What does the competition look like?

I reviewed LumaTouch’s LumaFusion when it was launched five years ago. At a casual glance, I would say that Apple picked up design inspiration from LumaTouch. Of course, it could be argued that LumaTouch mimicked FCP in the first place. There’s also Adobe Rush and Blackmagic Design’s port of DaVinci Resolve to the iPad. Rush uses the same UI for mobile and desktop versions, but it’s completely different than Premiere Pro. Unlike the others, Resolve’s iPad application is largely the same as Resolve on the desktop.

Blackmagic Design’s expansive NAB booth had only one demo pod showing Resolve running on the iPad. It worked well, but didn’t feel optimized. I would imagine it’s still being refined. According to Blackmagic’s PR staff, they do have an idea of sales numbers, but not demographics. So they don’t actually know what sort of users have picked up this solution, unless they hear directly from them.

Toss in iMovie and GarageBand and you now have at least five NLEs and two DAWs running on the iPad. (Search the App Store and you’ll find more, but most are ones you’ve never heard of and are not marketed for high-end use.) I have no doubt that Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro will be the most fluid performers among these various options. The obvious question is what type of user are these really designed for? 

Although I routinely use both Final Cut and Logic, I will focus the rest of the discussion around Final Cut Pro. However, if your focus is Logic Pro, then check out this video by Nathan James Larsen for some thoughts and considerations.

Who is today’s professional?

Split the professional user market into two camps. In one camp, you have traditional editors who cut commercials, corporate videos, television shows, and films. In the other, you have content creators who produce much of the media seen on social platforms. Social media editors range from individual influencers to mini-marketing firms. They produce unboxing and review videos for a fee (or ad revenue) and populate multiple YouTube (and other) channels under various channel names. The needs of these two types of pros – traditional and social – can diverge wildly, but there is also some overlap. For instance, many of the larger social media content creators have made investments into traditional high-end gear – lighting, cameras, post infrastructure, etc.

There are many traditional pros who have adopted Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro as their apps of choice – more internationally than in North America. Apple has designed these products to appeal to the single user who wants to build out the software with third-party tools to be what they need it to be. Unlike Blackmagic Design, Adobe, or Avid, Apple has decided not to toss in everything and the kitchen sink. This has been very frustrating for traditional professional editors who might adopt FCP if Apple were more responsive to their requests. But these requests come from a niche part of the market. If all of the requests were addressed, would it move the sales needle for Final Cut Pro? I seriously doubt it.

Meanwhile, Apple has been looking at a different type of pro who is working the social media side of the market. After all, the needs of social media content creators are different than those of a feature film editor. Many up and coming video enthusiasts have their sights set on being the next big YouTuber rather than the next Walter Murch. The application that works well for this new type of pro and aspiring pro is more broadly applicable to a wider set of potential buyers. Furthermore, this demographic skews younger – meaning that they are less likely to rely solely on traditional desktop computers and laptops (“What’s a computer?”). They are also more open to not owning gear and software – i.e. open to subscription models.

Current US ownership of tablets is around 66%. Gen Z (those born in the late 1990s or early 2000s) is around one-fifth of the US population. From most studies, these younger users tend to use multiple devices, prefer mobile devices, and are less patient with technology issues, like slow or less-than-fluid operations.

Designing for the needs of the “new” professional

It’s into this market that Apple is now releasing Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. The iPad itself has always been a product that’s hard to pin down. Is it a creation device or a consumption device or both? For me, the iPad Pro models still don’t make me want to use them over a standard laptop or desktop unit. Maybe I’m too old, but I also don’t produce content on location. I’m also not a fan of the less accurate touch environment. I prefer the resources available from a traditional computing device. However, there are many users of all ages who travel and produce media along the way. For them even a small laptop is more than they’d like to carry. This is another group for whom the iPad Pro is ideal.

Whatever the ideal market may be, Apple still has the need to convince buyers that an iPad Pro is a comparable creative tool to any of its other computers. From this angle, shouldn’t a product labelled Pro also have software labelled Pro if it comes from the same company? Whether it really is or not.

To meet that objective, Apple has seemingly diverted the significant engineering and design resources of the ProApps team away from a big series of updates for the desktop applications in order to create Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. I have no inside knowledge, but it’s quite possible that this has helped drive some the recent leadership departures within the ProApps team. Or maybe that’s just coincidence. Whatever the case, it will be difficult to maintain parity between the two versions of these applications.

Features

I have not tested either of these two applications. However, this iJustine “first look” video is a good place to start if you are curious. Based on the early videos that I’ve seen, I believe the claim that these versions will only differ slightly from their desktop siblings is hyperbole at best. These are a 1.0 version of a reimagined application.

One feature that has received positive response on forums is the Scene Removal Mask for FCP on the iPad. The demo shows a person on a solid white background. This is an easy replacement. The feature is much like Keyper by Sheffield Softworks (available through FxFactory). I have tested that and the use cases are minimal. Once you use a real-world background rather than a white cyc, it’s hard to perfectly refine the edge of a moving person. Keyper – and presumably the Scene Removal Mask as well – is fine when you want to place text behind a person or add some visual effect to the background, but not the person. In such situations, the edge refinement issue is less obvious. Maybe Apple’s in-house approach yields better results, but I’m skeptical.

On the other hand, there are two features that look intriguing to me. The first is Live Drawing, which takes advantage of the Pencil. Draw lines on the screen to highlight something and FCP will then “animate” those lines by stacking a series of connected title clips. The other is an elegant form of music retiming. Adobe Premiere Pro and Audition have had a similar feature for years. The FCP version “automagically” lengthens or shortens a music track to fit your video as you slide the end of the clip. It seems to work more elastically than Adobe’s feature. It’s not clear yet what the actual control variables are nor what audio artifacts occur when you do this. 

Things to consider before you leap

There are several things to consider, such as getting media in and out of an iPad and whether or not you can work with an external drive. According to iJustine, media is ingested and stored within the FCP library file on the iPad itself. If you intend to do serious work, you’ll probably want a 2TB model. Right now a fully loaded 2TB iPad Pro with Pencil, Smart Keyboard Folio, and AppleCare (2 years) is about $2,900, plus taxes and cellular service plan.

Then there’s your Apple iCloud plan. This is optional and not required for FCP or Logic to work on the iPad. However, how many iPhone and iPad users actually bother to manage their cloud back-up settings? Mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad are designed to back-up to iCloud. So, if you do intend to back-up a device with a lot of media on a 2TB internal drive, then you will likely also have to increase your Apple iCloud+ premium account. Apple has historically been stingy with storage, limiting free space to 5GB. While iCloud+ plans aren’t onerous, a 2TB plan in the US is $9.99/month. iCloud is also more of a consumer solution and doesn’t compare well to Dropbox or Google Drive in professional scenarios.

I imagine that Apple sees the ideal workflow this way. Start by shooting with an iPhone, the iPad itself, or a DSLR. Media is then brought into the iPad via AirDrop or an SD card. You do a preliminary edit in FCP on the iPad. Or even finalize it there. If you need to refine it further, transfer the FCP library file to your Mac or MacBook Pro computer and complete the project.

In this first iteration, you cannot move a project/library from the desktop version of FCP back to the iPad. There are also no third-party Motion templates or plug-ins available for the iPad, although that’s listed as “coming soon” by Apple. Watch Larsen’s video for Logic Pro. He also makes a good point about third-party audio plug-in development for the iPad.

The subscription pricing model

This brings me to the biggest change. Both Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad are only available through subscriptions ($4.99/month or $49 annually for each) with a one-month free trial. It’s the first time Apple has used subscription pricing for any of its key applications. This indirectly brings into question how pricing will be handled going forward for any of the desktop applications and even macOS, iOS, or iPadOS. WWDC is coming up, so hopefully many of these questions will be answered.

I’m not sure the mechanisms and regulatory guidelines for the two Apple App Stores are the same. Subscription pricing for mobile apps was introduced a while back. If you are a Filmic Pro user, the most recent version is only offered though subscription. If you purchased Filmic Pro before this change, you can still use the legacy version on your device(s) without change. But if you want to update, then you shift to a subscription for the new version (free download with in-app purchases).

Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro users have become quite comfortable with the idea of buying the app once and getting free updates, including content in the case of Logic Pro users. Potentially Apple could shift to paid updates or in-app purchases instead of subscription. However, based on their experiences with the legacy version of Final Cut, this introduces complex tax implications in how a corporation realizes revenue. Ultimately such a move could impede the timely development of new features.

My understanding of the current App Store rules is that a developer (presumably including Apple itself) can only charge for an update if the changes are so significant that the application can be released as a new product. Pixelmator did this in the change from Pixelmator to Pixelmator Pro. In May, Pixelmator released Photomator as a new desktop application. It is a hybrid between Apple Photos and Pixelmator Pro designed specifically for photo editing, a la Adobe’s Lightroom. This is priced in a similar manner to the updated Filmic Pro. Download the application from the App Store for free, but then pay a subscription or a one-time charge via the in-app purchase mechanism.

Hypothetically, if a new whizz-bang version of Final Cut Pro were released – let’s say Final Cut Pro XI – then maybe Apple could legitimately charge you another $300 (or whatever). But this would be a completely separate application and not an update to your existing installed software. At the moment, what I’m discussing is nothing more than pure speculation and we’ll need to wait to see what happens.

Final thoughts

Will a shift to subscription – at least for mobile apps – stick for Apple and is it even a good move? As with any professional subscriptions, if you are making money from your work – as opposed to the hobbyist or student user – then application subscriptions are a cost of doing business. That’s typically how most Adobe customers have reconciled this. However, if you are only a casual user, why spend the money, especially when there are other options? Part of the reason Apple creates software is to showcase the potential of their hardware and generate hardware sales. For a mobile app, you may well spend $10 – $50 (once) to become an occasional user. By going subscription, I contend that Apple risks losing this tier.

As I said earlier, I’m viewing this through the lens of an older person. Apple is seeking a demographic that seems to be willing to rack up a large amount of cumulative monthly expenses, from Netflix and Apple TV+ to HelloFresh and software. This isn’t all bad and some of it can even be a trade-off in cost versus time savings. Also, this market segment’s view of owning perpetual software licenses is different than mine. Or as iJustine pointed out, cut out a couple of Starbucks trips a month and you’ve paid for the subscription.

Apple is also seeing that Microsoft, Adobe, and Avid have successfully made the switch to subscription pricing plans, so maybe they can do it, too. I would caution that a shift to subscription for a brand new product will probably fly. But if they intend to shift the existing products to subscription, then they may want to consult with Waves first. Just sayin’. In any case, I hope they leave the price structure of their desktop software alone.

I’ll close my thoughts with the issue of innovation. Will any of these changes – mobile versions, subscriptions, etc – spurn new and significant features in their professional desktop applications? I don’t know. All I can say is that for traditional professional editors, Apple is running a distant third behind Blackmagic Design and Adobe. Even Avid is picking up innovation awards for items that Final Cut Pro editors would love to see in their favorite tool. However, as I’ve been pointing out, Apple’s target user is different and Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are positioned accordingly.

I do think this move is an interesting development that might expand the user base for the desktop applications as well. But, it’s not for users like me – traditional professional editors. I need access to more than just Final Cut Pro. I need my mobile editing applications to match my desktop applications. For me, that’s a powerful laptop and not an iPad. Ultimately the market will decide the path forward for both Apple and its customers.

UPDATE – May 24, 2023 – Yesterday Apple officially released Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. Alongside these, Apple also released companion/compatibility upgrades for the desktop versions of Final Cut Pro, Motion, Compressor, Logic Pro, iMovie, and an accompanying pro video formats pack.

If you want to understand the “who” and “why” of the iPad versions or these apps, then a good place to start is with popular indie musician and YouTuber, Mary Spender. Never mind the sales pitch aspect of this – I think it does a better job than Apple’s own marketing videos or any of the techie reviews. But if you do want a deeper dive, then check out these for FCP (desktop), FCP (iPad), and Logic Pro (iPad).

On a side note – if you are running these apps with macOS Ventura, then things have changed with Audio Units and some third-party audio plug-ins will no longer work in Logic Pro and/or Final Cut Pro. Unfortunately it’s different ones in each application. The reason is that AU validation will fail and, therefore, the offenders will be disabled. Of course, they work just fine in the Adobe apps or Resolve. Most of the time you can fix the issue by updating the plug-in to a newer version. On my system, this affected certain plug-ins from iZotope, Acon Digital, and Sonible. Updates will also be required for certain video plug-ins.

©2023 Oliver Peters

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