Big Mac Attack!

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By Steve Oppenheimer

(September 2002)

Apple Computer’s recent purchase of Emagic sent shockwaves through the recording industry. The acquisition was surprising enough, but Apple’s decision to discontinue Emagic’s Windows products as of September 30, 2002, made the deal a real stunner. Talk about a Big Mac attack!

Logic Windows users have every right to be outraged. Steinberg and Cakewalk quickly offered reasonably priced crossgrades for Logic Windows users who wanted to switch to Cubase SX and Sonar, respectively. That’s good, but it won’t sweeten the dispositions of committed Logic users who thought Emagic was committed to them, too.

Emagic’s abandonment of the PC leaves Steinberg as the only well-established cross-platform vendor of professional sequencing software. (Digidesign is primarily a Mac developer; Pro Tools for Windows hasn’t had much impact.) Years of intense competition in the sequencer market have consistently resulted in improved products. Now, a major innovator has abandoned the PC. That’s bad news for Windows users.

For Mac users, the picture is murkier. According to Apple, Emagic will continue as a division of Apple, but what does that mean? It seems likely that Apple wanted Emagic’s technology more than its applications and will use the Emagic audio engine in other products, especially Final Cut Pro. Perhaps it will morph the entry-level MicroLogic into some sort of iMusic to go with iTunes, iMovie, and so on. Apple could and should incorporate Emagic’s high-resolution audio and MIDI interface technologies into future Mac hardware. It also seems likely that Emagic products will be sold through the Apple Store, Mac Warehouse, MacMall, and the like.

Apple is notorious for sudden changes of direction, and it is always possible that the computer maker will decide to cannibalize Emagic’s technology and blow off its products. However, if Emagic’s software remains profitable and its development team continues to be productive, dumping Logic, at least, makes little sense. Rather, I expect Apple will enhance the development of Logic and its plug-ins for OS X.

Given that Apple specializes in friendly user interfaces, it is possible that Logic will get a face-lift. It will be interesting to see how Emagic’s development team, with its strongly held opinions about how user interfaces should be written, handles working for a company with very different and equally strong opinions on that subject. Can the differences be resolved so that Emagic’s top engineers will stay for the long haul?

If Apple keeps and enhances Emagic’s software and can find common ground with Emagic’s engineers, this deal could turn out to be good for Mac users — assuming Apple also continues to work closely with developers that have suddenly become competitors, such as Digidesign, MOTU, and Steinberg. Fortunately, Apple’s larger interest is in building a strong Mac community, not in cutting out competitors in order to sell a few more sequencers. Furthermore, MOTU has a strong hardware business, Digidesign’s Pro Tools TDM is firmly entrenched worldwide, and Steinberg offers a wide variety of software. Even if Apple comes to dominate the Mac sequencer market, these companies could probably remain successful.

But at least in the short run, this deal has generated far more questions than answers.

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