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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Final Cut and Logic arrive on iPad: Questions and (some) answers

Back in November 2015, Apple released the first iPad Pro, and I was hooked. But in the intervening seven and a half years, it’s felt that the iPad’s hardware has constantly been let down by its software—and Apple’s failure to support its own pro iPad hardware with its pro-level apps was a perfect example of the problem.

“At least Adobe is investing in the future of the iPad Pro—something we’ve yet to see from Apple’s own pro software team, which still hasn’t offered versions of Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro for the iPad,” I wrote back in 2018, still lamenting the situation, as I did once again in 2021. When Apple released the M2 iPad Pro last fall, it was able to boast about video performance—but only by trumpeting the third-party app DaVinci Resolve, since Apple’s own video editing software still wasn’t available on the platform.

That all changes this month. Apple announced on Tuesday that Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are coming to the iPad starting May 23. And beyond the obvious “what took them so long,” I had a lot of questions about both of these apps. Fortunately, I’ve got answers to some—but definitely not all—of them. (For the rest, May 23 is two short weeks away.)

What took them so long?

I said beyond the obvious one! I honestly don’t know, though it’s clear from what I’ve seen that Apple has put an enormous amount of effort into both of these apps. I really wonder what finally made Apple decide to build and ship iPad versions of these apps. (Surely it’s not a project seven years in the making!)

How different are these apps from their Mac counterparts?

Really different in a lot of ways—while also being strangely familiar. Apple clearly intends them both to be touch-first apps, just as the iPad itself is a touch-first device. You can swipe up and down in the center of the Final Cut Pro window to make the timeline larger (and the preview window smaller) or the reverse. A swipe from the left side in Logic makes the channel strip labels and controls wider, and there’s a loop navigator that can slide in from that side, too.

Apple seems to have done just what you might expect: these are apps that are familiarly Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro but modified to support touch gestures. I was especially impressed with the new jog wheel interface in Final Cut Pro, which lets you place a circular interface element on either the left or right edge of the screen and use it to move quickly (or slowly!) through the timeline.

But just as what makes the iPad special is that it’s not just a touch tablet but can take other forms, these apps also seem to embrace those other forms. There’s full support for Apple Pencil, and when you put the iPad Pro in a Magic Keyboard case or attach a keyboard, the app will use familiar keyboard shortcuts and responds to the trackpad-driven pointer as you might expect.

Due to the limited size of the iPad’s display, some items have been relocated—the Logic Pro mixer is its own window, for example—but everything seemed usable, even on a smaller iPad Pro. (I use Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro on a 13-inch MacBook Air without any trouble, so this shouldn’t be an issue—and it isn’t.) That said, the moment I saw Final Cut Pro running on an iPad, I immediately saw the potential of Apple making an iPad Pro with a larger display.

After seven years of editing podcasts on the iPad using Ferrite Recording Studio, I’ve come to appreciate the productivity enhancement that comes from using multi-touch features as the touch equivalent of keyboard shortcuts. The moment I configured Ferrite to toggle playback on and off by using a two-finger tap gesture, my productivity soared. At an initial glance at video demonstrating these apps, I didn’t see any hint of such gestures. But if users have to reach up to the top left corner of one of these apps every time they want to pause or play a video, it will get old really fast. I hope Apple has embraced multi-touch gestures—and if they haven’t, I hope they get with the program soon.

Are these apps compatible with their Mac equivalents?

Logic Pro appears to be more or less directly compatible. According to Apple’s press release, you can roundtrip projects back and forth between Logic on Mac and Logic on iPad without trouble.

Except… there’s just one thing. Many Logic users also use third-party audio plug-ins. You may not know it, but iPadOS supports Apple’s Audio Unit plug-in format and has for a while now. I’ve been using plug-ins inside Ferrite Recording Studio for years now. (And while the early days were pretty shaky, plug-ins are much more reliable today.)

The only catch is that the maker of the plug-ins you rely on must make iPad versions available, or your “roundtrip” Logic project really won’t be. Some pro filter makers, like FabFilter, support the iPad. Others, like iZotope, seem to not have even heard of the iPad. Your mileage may vary.

The compatibility story with Final Cut Pro is less good. You can import Final Cut Pro projects into Final Cut on the Mac in order to take advantage of object tracking and other pro features. That last sentence contained numerous red flags—I hope you caught them.

Final Cut Pro for iPad seems to be a subset of the Mac version. You can start on iPad and move to Mac, but the migration won’t work the other way, and a bunch of features from the Mac just aren’t there on the iPad.

This is disappointing. Yes, the lack of feature parity is unfortunate—but perhaps a bit understandable? But as someone who rarely uses those pro-level features, it’s also frustrating to realize that even my simple projects won’t be portable in case I need to leave home and run off somewhere with an iPad.

Still, there are a lot of cool features that did make it to Final Cut Pro for iPad, including multi-cam support (up to four cameras) and a bunch of “fast cut” features, including a nifty scene-removal mask. There’s also a machine-learning-driven “auto crop” feature that analyzes your video and chooses the best crop to preserve the content across different aspect ratios, like when you’re pulling 16:9 video into a vertical project.

Do these apps mean iPadOS’s sound subsystem has been improved?

iPadOS’s sound subsystem is remarkably rudimentary, as anyone who has tried to play audio from more than one app or record video while also playing back audio has discovered. There are some rumors out there that iPadOS 17 might give the iPad a serious audio upgrade, and I hope they’re true.

I doubt any major sound improvements will surface in iPadOS this month, but it is worth noting that Apple’s press release specifically says that these apps require iPadOS 16.4. That suggests to me that at least something in one or both of these apps requires a little bit of a modification to the operating system in order for them to run smoothly. (Third-party app developers wait for years for Apple to address roadblocks in its operating systems. Apple’s apps release alongside an OS update. That’s the ultimate advantage of being a first-party app.)

What will they cost?

These apps mark what I assume is a long-term policy shift with Apple’s pro media apps, joining tech giants such as Adobe in offering them only via subscription. Apple says each of them will cost $5 a month or $49 a year, and as always, there’s a free one-month trial. There’s no bundle discount, nor are they available in a bundle with their Mac counterparts.

Insert your own debate about subscription software here. Some hate it; some love it. I think, in many ways, it makes sense for apps that are on a pretty constant update schedule (as the Mac versions of these apps are), and I like the idea that you can buy a few months of Final Cut Pro for a project and then stop paying when you’re not using it. Then again, it also commits you to $49 a year — or $98 for both — for as long as you use the apps.

Whether that’s worth it is up to you. But I have to believe that this is the future of the Mac version of these apps, too.

Do these releases validate the iPad Pro as a product?

I love the iPad, but it’s true that in recent months I’ve begun to wonder if Apple truly believes that the iPad is the future of computing. I do think that Apple believes in the iPad Pro as a versatile, productive computing device—and that these apps help fulfill the promise inherent in the sheer power of the top-of-the-line iPad. (Logic Pro will also run on iPads powered by the A12 Bionic or later, but Final Cut Pro requires an M1 or M2 model.)

So, a promise has potentially been fulfilled. I want to praise Apple for (presumably) shipping these apps while also pointing out that it’s taken seven-plus years from the original iPad Pro announcement to get them out the door. There are still some serious questions about what Apple sees as the future of the iPad Pro. But as of this announcement, one big question mark has—finally!—been resolved.

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