Canalys predicts that the worldwide market for 3D printers, and associated materials and services will reach a value of $4.9 billion by the end of 2016, so you have to wonder if Apple has any interest in the technology.
The total market is expected to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 43.5% from 2015 to 2020, reaching a value of $22.4 billion, according to the research group. Shipments of 3D printers are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 67.2%, to reach 2.4 million units by 2020.
Worldwide, vendors shipped 182,000 3D printers in 2015, a 37% year-on-year increase, with strong performances in both the enterprise and consumer sectors. While industrial expenditure on 3D printers fell, educational establishments ordered thousands of systems for their students, according to Canalys.
Instead of making its own printers, I think Apple will 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.
The latter 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.