Could Apple do for 3D printing what it did for desktop publishing?

From AppleWorld Today: How could/should Apple get involved in the 3D printer boom?

3d printerCanalys has predicted that the worldwide market for 3D printers, and associated materials and services will be worth $22.4 billion in 2020, so you have to wonder if Apple has any interest in the technology.

“This is a market with enormous growth potential now that the main barriers to up-take are being addressed,” says Canalys Senior Analyst Tim Shepherd. “Advances in technology are yielding faster print times and enabling objects to be printed in greater combinations of materials, colors and finishes. Crucially, prices are also falling, making the technology an increasingly feasible option for a broad variety of enterprise and consumer uses, restricted only by computer aided design competencies and printer availability – both of which are set to improve significantly.”

Apple was at the forefront of the desktop publishing era; it could be an integral part of the 3D printing. Dell plans to offer MakerBot Replicator 3D printers and scanners “to create an end-to-end 3D design solution for small and medium-sized businesses enabling fast and affordable prototyping…”

Data from Juniper Research in 2017 found that consumers still don’t understand how 3D will benefit them. Apple could help in this area.

My take: That ship may have sailed. Consumers may not understand how 3D printers will benefit them, but parents and teachers get it. School designers tell me that 3D printers are among the hottest new pedagogical tools, and that “maker rooms” equipped with computers, programmable robots and 3D printers are popping up in schools across the country.


  1. Chris Ferebee said:
    The success of today’s Apple lies in creating products and services that are accessible to anyone – by simplifying everything until diehard Windows users scream out in pain. 3D printing isn’t ready for that now, if ever.

    March 3, 2019
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Here is much better idea: Get into the clinical trial business, which already costs pharma companies $65B. Included in that is a $32B out-sourcing business.

    Apple is already involved in this field leading the efforts to standardize the interfaces and working with partners and regulators. Clinical trials has two major failure points, in addition to many minor ones. First: The cost of clinical trials hammers the ROI for bringing new therapies to market. Second: Clinical trials fail in term of diversity, starting with recruitment and then in complying with all the steps through the trials. Data privacy, data ownership, and security are essential ingredients. Clinical trials fits into Apple stated focus on services and Apple’s wearable products. We just learned wearables are growing at 50% p.a.

    Tim Cook has declared that Apple will be remembered for what they do in health. Clinical trials may be just one piece of their efforts in the health care industry which is already $6T.

    OK, back to 3D printers. They have health care use cases.

    March 3, 2019
  3. John Konopka said:
    3D printers are far too diverse and the technology is changing too fast for Apple too be dominant.

    Apple could have a large presence in supporting the 3D modeling software and printer drivers. Even if Apple didn’t make the software itself they could corral the other software makers into a standardized UI and file format system.

    Right now you plug a printer into a Mac and print. It would be great to do the same for 3D printing. Generate a 3D model with something from the Mac or iOS App Store then plug into any mainstream 3D printer and make a model.

    March 3, 2019
    • David Emery said:
      Same would hold for laser cutters and engravers (“Cricut”) machines. Something like PostScript, where you don’t need device-specific drivers maintained (poorly!) by every device maker. That would also substantially lower costs for design tool developers.

      March 3, 2019

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