Pro Tools 2018, FL20, Studio One 4 and VocalSynth to name a few recent ones, the stream of new product launches is seemingly relentless, no sooner have we got to grips with the current version than the new one is upon us.
It has been a long-held view and often attributed to Ben Franklin that “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” I think if he had been alive today he would have added that when a new product is announced then nothing is more certain than critics.
There was a time when if you wanted a critics opinion then you had to go looking in newspaper columns but now wherever a story or video is posted then there they are, ready to give an opinion even before the proverbial baby has cried.
Not all opinions are wrong, some are good, in fact some are so gushingly positive one imagines they would be delighted with a stone with the brand logo on it. We have affectionately given such people the pejorative term of fanboys, one can only assume by this gender-specific moniker that this is a male-dominated pastime.
One can hardly blame some for this rise in cult thinking around a brand it was intentional. Back in the early days of Apple, one hire was Guy Kawasaki, Product Evangelist. His job was to enthuse people to become followers and unpaid evangelists for the brand, it worked! Love or hate Apple they are the masters at motivating their customers to talk positively about the product, in some cases irrespective of how good some products really are. Several videos made by Apple in recent years and usually featuring Head of Design Jony Ive are so earnest, it leaves me thinking does he realise he has designed a new power supply and not cured cancer? It's not fake though, it's a deeply held conviction he has that something has been created to make life better.
I'm over fifty and the older I get, the less impressed I am by stuff, less tolerant of most things and find myself liking fewer people. That said, as each year passes, I'd rather have a fanboy than someone who wants to quickly find fault, I find enthusiam a far more attractive quality than fault finding.
Give Me Strength!
As I've already said, you can't miss those comments nowadays, be that on a YouTube video, social media, forums or blogs such as this. What I have concluded, having read some of them, is the feature that many of these critics are most in need of is a spelling and grammar checker, or indeed a new keyboard as the CAPS LOCK SEEMS TO BE STUCK ON.
They also seem to lack originality too (which as we are talking about products for creatives should be something the critic should be far more worried about) as the lines are all too familiar and indeed often lack any considered thought.
"There's nothing in this update for me." OK so don't update, you were happy 5 minutes before you knew of its existence so carry on as you were and keep the cash, updating your software is not mandatory. No one is holding a gun to your head, most of these brands just about have the budget for a Marketing Manager so a hit man is well outside their budget.
"Haha, lol (yep there's a lot of lols in these comments), they've just copied this feature from (fill in the blank)." Yep, that's the nature of design, be that an oven, car or software. Product design is not an originality contest it exists to make the brand money by giving you the features you need. Why complain if they are adding things you've seen in another DAW which not 5 minutes ago you were whinging your favourite DAW didn't have?
"They didn't implement the feature I've been ranting about in every forum for the last five years." Nope, it was a stupid idea and so niche only four people on the planet would want to use it. If you want evidence of this type of behaviour, check out the Pro Tools Ideascale forum with suggestions that have less than 5 votes for them.
"If I designed..." We would all be in deep shit, product design is nowhere near as simple as some would like to believe. Imagine trying to implement new ideas in millions of lines of code, here's an infographic to show just how many lines of code it takes to create some of your favourite pieces of software. The code that enables morons to leave stupid comments on Facebook, post a picture of their cat, or fix an election takes 62 million lines of code. In reality software development is like playing Jenga on a unicycle that is on fire with several thousand people shooting at you with a submachine gun. Reading the comments made by those who claim they could do a better job makes it clear they couldn't. I have a lot of friends who work in software development, they are some of the smartest people on the planet. When I see people make comments like "Can't they just add" or "It would be easy to add this" I know they don't have the first clue about developing software.
"£150 for an upgrade, what a rip-off!" Don't confuse value with affordability, they are not the same thing. I can't afford a Boeing 777, it costs a lot of money, a list price of around $320million, more than I earn in a week and frankly it's not made for me. But calling it a rip-off because it's out of my league is dumb.
"I don't like the colour." Really? It's a tool to make record and edit with not a pair of shoes.
"I use a competing product, and I think this is rubbish compared to my DAW of choice." So why the f*ck are you even talking about it then, if your DAW is so fantastic then off you go.
"I was hoping for more." We all are, the older you get, the more you realise that. My favourite line in any movie is when Bart Simpson says to his Father, Homer, "this is the worst day of my life." To which Homer responds, "So far!"
OK, by now I hope you realise that a lot of what I'm writing is somewhat parody and tongue in cheek. If I'm honest it's how I survive the relentless stream of what, on the whole, is meaningless noise surrounding a product launch, most comments take little thought and judging by the appalling spelling and grammar little education either.
Is It Time To Reset?
Setting aside all of that, I think our response to new products often says more about us than the product. In our post-industrial consumer-led world have we become far too dependant on the 'next big thing' to meet our needs.
As I'm speaking to an audience of creatives, can I ask "are we putting too much of an onus on a product?" If we are that reliant on features to deliver our creativity, then that speaks more about our deficiencies than that of the product. When this blog started ten years ago, it soon became apparent that some of the most popular articles are those that show workarounds, or hacks, like the Pro Tools preset track hack. This article was one of our consistently most popular articles, and may I add discovered by community member Philip Nicholl who decided to solve a problem rather than complain about it.
Necessity is the mother of invention, it's when we find something lacking in a tool, be that physical or software, that triggers us to reach into our imagination to solve the problem. I'm not talking about bugs, the genuine ones ARE on the developers and with millions of line of code I'm glad it's not my problem. But in our constant need to be given everything on a plate, that sense of entitlement is a sad indictment of us as creatives. It's when we cross the line and go from being creators to consumers, we forget who we are and what these things are, tools in our arsenal to help us make something new.
I've been a user of the Adobe Cloud for several years now. Adobe delivers updates on a regular basis with new features. In the years I've been using it I couldn't tell you one new feature that's been released, I'm sure they are useful, perhaps even life-changing for some, but I'm too busy using it to even notice them.
I think it's time for many of us to reset, not our expectations of quality or indeed our quest for innovation, but our over-reliance on the features in these tools, after all, give a decent musician an instrument, whatever the quality and they will make it sing like a bird.
I encourage/challenge some of you, use the creativity you have to get the most from the software you use, nothing has given me more pleasure during the years of blogging than to be given a problem and finding a solution and then sharing it with the world to benefit from. My online comments will be forgotten as soon as they are read but the answers I discovered and shared to help others will be remembered for a very long time.
The next time your favourite product gets an update, and you think to yourself "this is the worst version" remember it might be the worst version "So far!"