Apple blew it. But to appreciate just how they blew it, we need a little context. Here’s a good place to start: BBC News Magazine asks “What Will Be A Luxury in the Future?” Their answer is wrong. The correct answer is “everything.” Everything, with the exception of Final Cut Pro X.
We used to think of luxuries as things that would be very nice to have, but aren’t really necessary: an exquisite and rare wine, and exotic food, something indulgent and hard to come by. But more recently, luxury has been about assembling an identity. Specifically, postmodern luxury is all about using consumer goods to cobble together a collage that represents that image of ourselves that we want others to see. Whatever you want us to think you are, there’s a brand for sending that signal. You want us to think you’re a tortured writer? Ditch that $0.99 spiral-bound notebook from Staples and get a $7.99 Moleskine. Want us to think your a gourmet chef? Break out the All-Clad. Consumerism is everything you want to max out your credit cards to be.
It is precisely this meticulous construction and curation of identity is behind the explosion of “professional-grade” this and “high performance” that over the last decade. Luxury is not about comfort, style or class anymore, but about the elevation of a specific feature set within a product that a customer associates with their own identity to such a superlative degree that it would attract the most demanding and discriminating professional or connoisseur. And because these aspiring consumers want others to see them as that connoisseur or that professional, they purchase the product as a way of signalling that identity. (As always, the person’s actual identity is irrelevant.) For example, if a power drill is “pro-grade”, it means it is for consumers who want to be thought of as not merely handy but as builders. Every category of goods has it’s luxury or pro brand: cars, drills, cookware, notebooks, cellphones, teas, tequila, and software.
You buy the product to identify yourself with it. You don’t need the professional grade skillet because you are a professional, you need it to simulate that professional for others. It doesn’t mean that a consumer will always by the pro-grade of every product, it means that for that one characteristic that is important to their identity, the only limit to how much they’ll pay to signal it is their credit limit. For example, the person who cares about being thought of as a gourmet will pay up for All-Clad and a Viking stove, but won’t think twice about driving a Honda Civic.
Apple is great at this (as they are at a lot of marketing). Apple is the first luxury brand computer, not because it communicates status but because it projects a very specific identity–the creative aesthete. But make no mistake, the ability to project this is not simply due to branding. The features and performance have to be there. The fact that most people will never use those features or that power is irrelevant. Most people who buy Apple computers are not creative professionals just like most people who buy Bosch drills are not craftsmen. What matters is that these consumers want to be thought of as professionals in these fields, so they gravitate towards these devices. It’s identity as aspiration.
That said, Apple really blew it with Final Cut Pro X, and in so doing they made a very serious miscalculation that marketers everywhere should pay very close attention to.
Final Cut Pro X is Apple’s high-end video ending suite. And by high-end, I mean that Oscar-winning film editors edit with it. It was a video editor that did what professional film editors wanted.
But most of the sales of Final Cut did not go to professionals. It went to people who wanted to be professionals. Buying Final Cut Pro meant you were serious about video. (Did I say video? I meant film.)
But then Apple released Final Cut Pro X. And now everyone hates it. What happened?
To put it simply, they took the “Pro” out.Apple’s first mistake was attempting to redesign the product for consumers. Apple’s high-end products have an implicit problem. Lots of people want them because they are advanced tools and devices that professionals use, but all those things can make it very complicated to use if you’re an amateur and don’t know what you’re doing.
Now Apple could always sell “Final Cut Elements” for novices and amateurs, much like how Adobe sells a consumer-grade “Elements” version of it’s flagship Adobe Premiere video editing software. But amateurs who care about being seen as film people don’t really want that low-end stuff. You can’t call yourself a filmmaker if you use the stuff that is designed for regular people. And this is doubly true if you want to call yourself a filmmaker but haven’t actually made anything longer than a 3 minute Youtube clip.
The redesign was intended to make things simpler for amateurs by hiding advanced and esoteric features they would never use to avoid confusion, and by making certain behaviors automatic or the default so things would just work. And they succeeded. Final Cut Pro X is much easier for amatuers to use.
But the professionals–the people who actually make a living using Final Cut–hated it. And because they hated it, the consumers hate it even though it is actually easier for consumers to use. Yeah, it’s great for amateurs, but who aspires to be an amateur?
Now go read the professionals’ complaints: obfuscated multi-camera editing, no sharing workspaces with other editors, no support for RED or P2 cameras, no output to tape (tape?), no exporting edit-decision-lists, etc. Not only are these not the kinds of problems that amateurs would ever have, I’m not sure amateurs even understand them.
What happened is that the backlash from real professionals destroys any semiotic meaning conveyed by the “Pro” in Final Cut Pro. When the pros are dissatisfied with the product and can make their dissatisfaction known immediately through blogs and social media, your upscale “Pro-grade” whatever is immediately exposed as the commodity it always was underneath the marketing and Po-Mo identity bricolage.
And yes, this happens with cookware, table saws, guitar picks, aftermarket fuel injectors, mechanical pencils, imported coffee, and organic burritos. Every single one of these has their blogs and their outspoken professionals. They moment you cut a corner on your pro-grade widget and still call pro, these actual pros will let the entire market know about it. And if the pros say it sucks, then prepare to see your pro-am aspirant customers disappear overnight.