I generally avoid commenting on Apple rumors, lest I find a severed horse head atop my MacBook Pro, but this one seems simply to be obvious. Apple took a radical approach to Final Cut Pro X (and Motion), giving them full overhauls and new UIs, 64-bit support, and distribution through the online Mac App Store instead of exclusively through online distribution. It stands to reason that their current Logic Studio will get something along the lines of the same treatment.

Sure enough, rumors are surfacing saying as much. (I’ve gotten at least one email, secondhand – no, Apple, no Apple employee has said anything to me; if they had, I wouldn’t even think of posting this story). For instance:
Apple Moving Toward Release of Logic Pro X? [MacRumors]

Now, of course, what I’ve heard even more than rumors is users of Logic in an absolute panic that Apple will muck around with their product. Putting it diplomatically, feedback to Final Cut Pro X has not been overwhelmingly positive. I have no idea what the next version of Logic will look like, so it’s very possible Apple will indeed screw around with Logic in a way that makes its existing user base unhappy. But, since I feel free to speculate idly simply because I really, truly don’t know anything and thus can’t get anyone fired / violate any NDAs (again, Apple, please, please, please don’t hurt me), I’ll say this:

Assuming Apple is “running away from pro users” is probably wrong. This was a widespread reading of Final Cut Pro X. I think it’s fair to say Apple hoped their adjustments would attract new users put off by previous versions and other pro non-linear editors. Otherwise, though, I have to disagree. Apple’s pro user base is hugely profitable, in direct sales and high-margin, high-end Mac sales, and there are a lot of those users out there – I’ve sat with that team at Apple as they talked video pro sales numbers, for actual sales from pros, not even including pirated copies. (Anyone who thinks Apple likes to see their product pirated so they can sell more Mac hardware? Highly unlikely, that, too.) There’s a big difference between wanting to alienate your pro user base, and doing it inadvertently. I think Apple’s reputation is such that people have come to believe that everything they do is part of a grand plan, even when it’s not.

Developers want to make changes. Big changes don’t always work as expected, or work right away. Users are resistant to changes, and far more resistant the more the use of software is part of their pro, up-against-deadlines, demanding workflows. That’s the bottom line. I’m not going to be terribly complimentary here, though: I think the problem with Final Cut isn’t that it was designed for non-pro users, but that it wasn’t finished or fully fleshed-out. Enough has been said about that – see The Internet – but I can imagine anything similar in Logic would cause some (rightfully) unhappy users. And quality and implementation are everything; there’s a reason I gave Motion a positive review in Macworld, and you haven’t heard similar complaints about it, even though it uses some of the same UX paradigms and underlying engine. I hope future updates to Final Cut are more like that version of Motion in terms of user experience. (This is not a Final Cut review; that’d be glib. Suffice to say I tried Final Cut Pro X and decided to do editing in another program, and that I do appreciate some of what I believe Apple was trying to do, and that I do hope future versions are more successful. This is the reality of using pro tools.)

That said —

Apple is probably not overhauling Logic as thoroughly as Final Cut. Final Cut’s code base, as of Final Cut Pro 7, was not 64-bit and was dependent on deprecated video frameworks; it’s not unreasonable to assume that Apple felt they had to start over from scratch. Logic already has 64-bit support, and is already built atop parallel audio frameworks like Core Audio and Core MIDI that haven’t changed so radically. So while file management, save and undo, and other Lion-style features would likely call for changes, that doesn’t mean you’ll lose the old Logic, necessarily. And Logic has already undergone one Apple-administered UI overhaul, which was able to preserve the way Logic users work with the tool. Part of what’s admirable about Logic is its longevity, love it or hate it, so while a UI reskin is almost certainly in the works, that doesn’t mean Logic Pro X will be like Logic Studio X.

Apple will probably try to do Mac App Store distribution and take out some bundled apps. You don’t need rumors to figure this one out. App Store distribution? Almost certain. Unbundling tools like Soundtrack Pro or the rarely-used WaveBurner, each of which has robust competition from other developers? Certainly not unlikely. The interesting question here will be how Apple handles the sheer size of things like bundled audio content, and whether Logic’s support for plug-ins will mean either adjusting App Store rules, or whether Logic will get a special exception because it’s Apple (fully within their rights).

Apple probably won’t dump support for plug-ins. Apple continues to actively develop its Audio Unit plug-in format and push validation, and if they didn’t support plug-ins, they’d disrupt users and the entire vendor ecosystem. I’ll be stunned if that goes away. One thing they almost certainly will dump is technologies like Pro Tools interface compatibility – Avid has been moving toward Core Audio support, anyway – and possibly even ReWire. But while any change anywhere in a DAW will impact someone, neither of those would be likely to radically change user relationships to the tool.

Also, as a reader points out, Final Cut Pro X supports plug-ins.

The most interesting thing to me about all of this is whether the appearance of Logic on the Mac App Store, if it happens, will impact other audio apps. So far, it’s been a desert there, as I and some others (read: developers) predicted, partly because music software is so dependent on the plug-in ecosystem and sales to users through direct channels or music stores.

Additional evidence: GarageBand is already in the App Store, and supports plug-ins (AU). So the real question here is more the question of whether other hosts would try to / be allowed to follow the same model, and whether even plug-in distribution, using approved Apple frameworks, were allowed. (The former seems more likely than the latter: you can run a host without a plug-in, but not visa versa.)

What I’m interested in is whether other software follows suit at all. Aperture, Motion, and Final Cut haven’t necessarily produced an onslaught of other pro tools for visual Mac users – at least, not so many high-end or flagship tools, though there are many really useful smaller ones. Will audio be different?

Disclaimer: I know nothing. All of the above is purely speculative, based on things that to me seem pretty obvious. I’m not divulging secret, privileged information, my brain isn’t under an NDA, and all of that means I could be completely wrong. Take with a box of salt.

Updated: I neglected to link, by way of contrast, this editorial from around the time of the most heated Final Cut followup:
The End Is Night…

In it, Chris Randall (himself a plug-in developer tasked with supporting Logic and AU validation) argues basically the exact opposite of what I do here.

In review, my entire analysis above could be summed up as this: Logic will be on the App Store. It’ll still be more or less the Logic you love, or don’t love, as the case may be, but it’s unlikely to introduce radically new feelings even if you aren’t getting a stack of DVDs.