Final Cut in trouble? Not so fast

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Headlines bemoaning the possible delay and dismemberment of Apple's Final Cut Studio are becoming a mainstay of the Mac press. Which would be fine, if there was any substance to the story.

The latest barrage of reports have been fueled by a Hardmac article that purports to have a source reporting on “significant setbacks” within the program’s team. But there doesn’t seem to be much substance to the report, which is only going to further confuse the professional editing community.

This isn't the first time that Final Cut Studio—which last saw an update in July 2009—has found itself as grist for the rumor mill. In February, a former Apple staffer's Twitter post about the firing of 40 employees from the Final Cut team raised some concerns about the product's future. In April, murmurs that the company was retargeting the suite for a more prosumer-friendly audience prompted not only a purported e-mail response from Steve Jobs himself, but an official statement from Apple PR. “Final Cut Pro is the first choice for professional video editors and we’ve never been more excited about its future,” read a message from Apple PR delivered to Macworld and CNET, among others. “The next version of Final Cut is going to be awesome and our pro customers are going to love it.”

Obviously, Apple's words will only go so far until there's an actual update to Final Cut. But the ongoing rumors that the Final Cut Pro team is falling into disarray don’t really help the professionals that rely on high-end video-editing applications for their livelihood—especially if those rumors are mostly smoke rather than fire.

Take the Hardmac report, which seems to be based entirely on an unnamed source claiming that Apple’s rumored roadmap for a 2010 release has suffered setbacks, and as such, the suite won’t see a release until 2011 at the earliest. First of all, given that Randy Ubillos—the developer responsible for helping create Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Aperture, and iMovie ’08—only took control of the Final Cut team in April, I’m not convinced that a 2010 release date for a completely revamped release of the suite was ever in the cards. Final Cut Studio, like Rome, cannot be overhauled in a day, or even six to eight months.

Furthermore, the Hardmac report cites problems between development groups in regard to putting together a unified interface design for the suite. Rumored back in April—under concerns of Apple “dumbing down” the program for prosumers—the interface revamp would theoretically simplify and connect the application interfaces within Final Cut Studio. Now, I buy the idea that different app groups may be having trouble compromising on feature sets and design. But Hardmac claims that the development teams having issues include “those working on Shake and those working on Motion”—which would be a pretty impressive conversation to see, since Apple officially discontinued the development and sale of Shake more than a year ago.

But Hardmac saves its best punch for last: iOS development is so much of a resource drain, it’s “drying up the teams working on projects considered less urgent: roughly speaking, all those related to Mac OS X and its associated applications.” Not only have we heard this rumor before, it seems almost absurd to insinuate that developers and engineers who specialize in non-linear video editing software are going to be borrowed to contribute to mobile iOS development. (Which isn’t to say that there’s no team squirreled away at Apple working on a multi-touch, potentially iOS-friendly version of Final Cut—I just don’t think that it, nor iOS’s $4 iMovie, which Ubillos helped also create, is going to be taking precedence over an industry-standard thousand-dollar suite.)

Is the Final Cut team running into delays? Probably. But I’d wager no more so than any other application development team on a company-imposed deadline. After all, Apple has yet to announce an official or even tentative launch date for the next version of Final Cut Studio—so the only deadline the team is really missing is their own. We’re only hearing about it because rumors make interesting news for that lull period in between Apple product releases.

At the end of the day, it’s about commitment. Apple has repeatedly said the company is hard at work on a new version of Final Cut Studio. Steve Jobs (or whoever pens his correspondence) has gone so far to call the impending release “kickass.” And as much as I would love to have it in my hands by Christmas, I’d rather have something polished, classy—and, dare I say, magical?—in 2011 or 2012.

[Serenity Caldwell is a staff editor at Macworld and a former non-linear video editor.]

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