Why Apple dares to change your apps

Apple recently introduced the long-awaited update to its Final Cut Pro video-editing application

Apple recently introduced the long-awaited update to its Final Cut Pro video-editing application. Final Cut has been around more than a decade, and it’s become quite popular with those who do professional video work. It’s in many ways the standard for the industry, and there are more than a few commercial films that have been made with the program.

When the new version (now called Final Cut Pro X) was introduced, controversy ensued. I mean real controversy. In fact, I haven’t seen this level of user protest over a product change since the Coca-Cola company decided to mess with its time-tested formula and introduce New Coke to nearly universal disdain.

With the caveat that I’m not a professional video editor (but having spoke to those that are) I don’t think Apple made a terrible move with this revision. Yes, some key features that some users depend on are missing—Apple has posted a FAQ that lists the most pressing issues and offers ideas for workarounds, what might be updated in future releases and what users will just have to live with.

But the overall experience is much friendlier to a prosumer user like me than previous versions were. The fact that the price is $299, not $999, is important as well. No matter your thoughts on the specifics of the app and what if offers, Apple’s moves here show a good deal about how Apple works, its overall strategy, and how it thinks about growing its business.

Apple keeps its own counsel. Sure, lots of folks have advice for Apple. I think some of the suggestions, such as introducing this new version of Final Cut Pro under a slightly different brand name, might be good ones. But in the end, Apple does as Apple sees fit. When financial analysts kept offering “advice” for Apple to introduce a netbook, time and time again Apple said it would stay out of that market and held its price points even as the products sold well each quarter. From the iPod to iPhone to iTunes music to Apple retail stores and the iPad, Apple has faced a host of critics who all suggested Apple’s approach was wrong. In the end, Apple keeps its own counsel on what it will and won’t do, and has generally been proven right.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Sure, it would be great if Apple catered to the faithful. The ones that made the company what it is today and stood by the company through thick and thin (and there were some very thin times indeed). Ever watch the documentary “MacHeads?” You’ll see Apple enthusiasts bemoaning the fact that Apple now markets to the average user. That there’s nothing special about being an Apple customer.

Yep. At the end of the day Apple’s willing to sacrifice the tens of thousands for the hundreds of millions. (Although of course the company would love to keep both groups as loyal customers.) Apple has said publicly that its primary goal is to make the very best products it can. Of course, as a company it also wants as many people as possible using those products. Sure, the video pros are upset with Final Cut Pro X, and perhaps Apple should keep the old version around until some of the feature issues get addressed. But the reality is, the new version will attract a multitude of new users who would have never needed, purchased or learned how to use the old version. Change is hard. but at the end of the day Apple will keep pushing the technology ahead, even if that means alienating some along the way.

Apple does listen to customers. No matter what, Apple is still a customer-driven company and it does listen to customers. The quick feedback to the Final Cut user base is evidence of the company’s ability to listen and respond. Apple’s also not afraid to make changes as the market demands. The third-generation iPod shuffle lost all navigation buttons in favor of a tiny form factor which I loved, but many hated. Users made their voices clear, and the fourth generation of the shuffle combines the VoiceOver utility of the third generation while restoring the navigation buttons of the second generation.

In a similar vein, when Apple revamped iMovie a few years back, the company also faced similar criticism from long-time users, and kept the old version available for download for those that wanted it for nearly two years. At that point, the current version met just about everyone’s needs.

It would be nice if Apple could accommodate every user desire and focus special attention on long-time users. But that’s not how you build a mass-market audience with broad product acceptance. While some might lament that fact, the reality is Apple really has transitioned from being a company for a few of us. It’s now, at last, truly the company for the rest of us—with all that implies.

Michael Gartenberg is an analyst and long-time Mac user who covers the world of the interconnected consumer for Gartner. The opinions expressed are his own.

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