The Uncertain Future of Shake

Four days ago Apple announced a new pricing structure for Shake 4.1, dropping the price from $3000 to $499. This was an interesting move, which sparked much discussion and dropped several interesting emails in my inbox. While there is currently much rejoicing amongst faithful macfans and indie filmmakers, not everyone is particularly optimistic about what this change means for Shake’s future as a viable high-end compositing package.

For starters, the official press release announcing the $2500 price cut also mentions the end of official Shake support: “Apple will no longer sell the Apple Maintenance Program for Shake. Current Shake Apple Maintenance customers can contact for more information.” Those familiar with Apple’s methods of purchasing software and discontinuing it so they can roll its features into new Apple products will recall that support is usually discontinued before the software is (I still have my original “NextStep will no longer be supported” letter somewhere).

In fact, there seems to be a lot of evidence that this may be the last version of Shake, and that Apple is already hard at work on its successor. I don’t want to spread rumors here, but speculating about what Apple is making next seems to be what blogs are for, so here goes: I hear the new Shake is codenamed Phenomenon. And I predict a great departure from its current form. Note that only the Mac version has been repriced; the Linux version is still quite expensive. Obviously, they are trying to attract more of the lower-end filmmakers and video hobbyists rather than large studios.

This has been Apple’s strategy ever since they bought Nothing Real (Shake’s developing company) in 2002. They began by squashing the Windows version, and charging more for the Linux version and Linux render nodes than the Apple flavor. At that time I was working with a number of very large studios that couldn’t afford to rebuild their entire pipeline to accommodate new Apple computers, so they paid the higher software prices to stick with their more powerful, cheaper, and more open original platforms (also, the Linux-flavored Shake has always been faster and more stable).

If Shake is truly an EOL (end of line) app, and not just getting a new name, then Apple is abandoning this market to court their already loyal fanbase of smaller-scale, video filmmakers. This Mac fanbase places a high premium on the simplicity and glossy, one-size-fits-all methodology of Apple, so I predict that Shake’s powerful, scriptable, open-ended and database-networked framework will be replaced by a single-user, one-button-does-everything program. It will be fast, flashy, and very cool, but I don’t think it will be a powerfully flexible high-end production tool.

But none of Apple’s products are. Final Cut Pro is a great NLE as far as features go, but it’s designed for one person working on one project on one computer. It’s not built around a large and fast production pipeline (part of this is OSX’s networking and file-permissions limitations, too). FCP might be a Media 100-killer, but it’s not a Media Composer-killer. Garageband is a neat audio tool with lots of filters, but it’s not a ProTools-killer. And I think Shake is being changed from a Flame-killer to Motion Pro; something with a lot of presets, designed to do a lot of the things that After Effects does in an effort to capture more of Adobe’s market share.

Which is sad, because Shake was a great program. Lately it’s been stagnating a bit with its scanline renderer and archaic resource management, but it had great potential. With proper development, it could have spent the last four years challenging and defeating Nuke, Piranha, Discreet’s fiery product line-up, and all of Quantel’s toys for top dog spot. But it kind of withered on the vine because the very things that made it great, its open and flexible architecture, brutally utilitarial UI, and vertical learning curve, aren’t things that fit the Apple mold.

I hope I’m wrong, and we get Shake back with a new name, new OpenGL and caching features, and the same pipeline-friendly back end, but I don’t really see that happening, because that’s not something that Apple users and hobby videographers need. I believe that Shake is dead, and we’re going to get Motion Pro.