Apple continues to blur the line between pro and consumer

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Final Cut Pro X arrived in the App Store today, and though it’s one of the most expensive apps at $299.99, it’s also topping the Paid and Grossing app charts right now. That’s because it’s a relative bargain compared to Final Cut Pro 7, which was only available as part of the $999.99 Final Cut Studio suite. That kind of price drop will not only help encourage pro customers to upgrade, but it should also convince some pro-sumer customers to step up to the big leagues.

This is only the most recent example of Apple bringing significant price cuts to once expensive software. Mac OS X 10.0 cost $129.99, for example, while even a family pack of Snow Leopard was priced at only $49, and a single user license was just $29. Lion, which is said to be coming in July, will cost $29 for a copy that can be used on multiple Macs associated with your Apple ID. Windows still starts at $79.95 for entry-level upgrade pricing, and can cost as much as $219.99, depending on the edition.

But pricing isn’t the only difference. Windows also divides its software product offerings, making clear distinctions between tools it thinks consumers need vs those that professional users would want. Apple has always done a good job of steering clear of such defined lines, and although it does offer an OS X Server variant of its software, that product is much more clearly designed for a very specific use than Microsoft’s “professional” grade operating systems.

Apple also seems to be gaining ground in the enterprise thanks in part to its refusal to target professionals specifically. BlackBerry tried that strategy, and while it worked well for many years, mobile companies now appear to be following Apple’s lead, realizing that the new path to the enterprise is by convincing individual users of the value of your product, and not necessarily by selling to corporate IT. Apple doesn’t ignore business, but it definitely doesn’t unduly prioritize that market, as evidenced by the decision to stop selling Xserve late last year.

$300 is still a lot of money for a consumer to spend on a single application, don’t get me wrong. But Final Cut Studio once cost $1300. To say that it isn’t more likely that hobbyists or pro-sumers will drop the cash to take their craft to the next level than it was four years ago just isn’t realistic.

Some might claim that the disappearance of Final Cut Express, Apple’s mid-range offering between Final Cut Pro and iMovie actually indicates the distinction between pro and consumer applications is getting more defined. But Final Cut Express was priced at $199, just $100 shy of the new Final Cut Pro X, and it didn’t incorporate the same audio and color correction tools of the newer application, plus it carried a lot of limitations that made it pale in comparison to the full Final Cut Pro product.

And that’s the key: Apple isn’t narrowing the gap between pro and consumer by leaving out features and dumbing things down; it’s making things easier, certainly, but it’s also just making them more affordable. It’s the smart move for a workforce that is becoming more and more contract-based, where freelancers often have to source their own tools in order to impress potential employers and win contracts.

Apple is already a company that knows how to make a tool that everyone can use. Now that it’s increasingly becoming one that also knows how to make tools that everybody can afford, there are even fewer barriers to the potential heights it can reach.

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