According to Canalys, worldwide 3D printer shipments rose 52% year on year in the first half of 2015. The research group predicts that the worldwide market will reach US$20.2 billion by 2019. Some folks think that Apple should enter this market. Perhaps they're right, but I don't think our favorite tech company will make its own printer.
“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."
He adds that 3D printing has become an established technology for making prototypes and concept models of products. However, Shepherd says that, as it matures, there's potential in other areas, such as engineering and architecture, aerospace and defense, and medical (such as the fabrication of customer prosthetics).
Global Equities Research Analyst Trip Chowdhry is one of those that thinks Apple will enter the 3D market. The analyst provides few details on those 3D plans. However, he points out that Apple bought PrimeSense in 2013, and the company's 3D sensors were used in the development of Microsoft's Kinect technology.
Data from Juniper Research says that even though 3D printers for home use will excel one million unit sales globally by 2018, consumers still don’t understand how the technology will benefit them. Apple could help in this area.
Instead of making its own printers, I think Apple will instead work with 3D printer manufacturers to make sure that their products work seamlessly with OS X and iOS devices. For example, Apple could team up with a 3D printer maker on an Apple pro application with complementing hardware-for designing, re-creating and printing using 3D printers. Apple could even offer an iTunes style online store where it sells packaged 3D file parts.
Probably won't happen, but, if it did, imagine this scenario: you want to print out a chess set. You could go on line to the Apple 3D Parts Store and pick the chess set design you like. Download the 3D part file and then print the parts out with the Apple pro app-compatible 3D printer.