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Digital Audio & The Apple X-Factor

Published on September 21st, 2011 by Matt Dusenbury

When Apple presented Final Cut Pro X, a complete rewrite of its industry standard nonlinear video editing suite designed to succeed Final Cut Pro 7, to the professional community, it was almost universally despised. Immediately after its release, FCP X was met with harsh criticism, and received an alarming amount of one-star ratings on the Mac App Store, the avenue through which the program was exclusively distributed. Among the many complaints about the so-called “professional grade” product was its lack of support for several key features featured in previous versions, and the software’s completely rebuilt interface that made it look like it belonged with Apple’s iLife bundle. This led to Final Cut Pro X being pejoratively labelled, “iMove Pro,” with many professional video editors worried that Apple had left them behind in favour of courting the larger, but ostensibly less talented, prosumer market.


The new interface of Final Cut Pro X

What was supposed to be a big moment for the Cupertino company and the users of its software turned into a debacle, that has forced Apple into making the previous version, Final Cut Pro 7, for sale, albeit only by special phone order. Additionally, many users who rely on Apple software for their jobs began to wonder aloud what Apple really means by the “Pro” label on its products.

The Pro Backlash

That was back in June. Now, rumours have surfaced that Apple is readying a major upgrade to its audio editing suite, Logic Studio. Since Apple is committed to having a consistent message across its products, it’s almost certain that Logic will get the “X” treatment as well, but will it be met with the same reaction as its sister product? It’s possible, but highly unlikely for a variety of reasons. Unlike Final Cut, Logic has never been considered the leading digital audio workstation (DAW). That title goes to Avid and its Pro-Tools software. Logic, by contrast, has always been seen as more of a niche system, often used by hobbyist musicians and prosumers because of the software’s extensive MIDI and sequencing abilities.

Logic Studio 9

Logic Pro X, however, will no doubt be Apple’s attempt to move its DAW further into the professional marketplace. As some have pointed out, this move that can be facilitated in two ways. First, by incorporating WaveBurner directly into Logic itself, which will make the user’s transition from recording to mixing to mastering much more fluid. Second, by spinning off MainStage, Logic’s live performance element, into a completely separate app. By streamlining Logic Pro X’s workflow and focusing the software specifically on studio production, the software will begin to move away from its niche roots, and towards professional grade use.

Additionally, Logic Pro X will have the added benefit of being folded into Apple’s existing digital distribution structure. If FCP X is any guide, this should allow the price to drop to somewhere around $299 (instead of the current $499 for Logic Studio 9), and make for an easy upgrade process for users.

Of course, all of this hinges on the notion that Apple learned its lesson from the release of FCP X. But Apple has a rich history of angering a group of users in the short term in favour of upgrades and redesigns it sees as leading edge (re: floppy drives, optical drives, and soon, hard disc drives). An ideal compromise for the upcoming Logic Pro X would be to streamline the existing Logic suite, but maintain support for key feature sets, something the company ignored with the newest iteration of Final Cut.

If anything, Apple should look to Propellerhead for a guide on how to appeal to both professionals and hobbyists. At the end of September, Propellerhead will release version six of its popular Reason software. The upgrade combines Reason with Record, and for the first time features the integration of audio tracks as a standalone product. Much like Apple’s combining Logic and WaveBurner, Propellerhead’s stitching together of Reason and Record in the new Reason 6 is an effort to make its DAW more appealing to a wider audience, strengthening what is already a very popular workstation.

Despite Apple’s popularity, the release of Final Cut Pro X showed the company seems to have trouble walking the line at times. Though there is room to grow the DAW’s popularity, the pending release of Logic Pro X is something the tech giant should approach with caution. If anything, Apple should look to Propellerhead as a case study of how to court both sides of the marketplace with its upcoming revamped audio suite.