Personally, I doubt we’ll ever see a 3D printer from Apple. However, the company is looking into the possibility, as evidenced by a newly granted patent (number 9,868,245) for a “method and apparatus for three dimensional printing of colored objects.”
While 3D printing technology has been around for many years, it hasn’t until recent years that the printers have become widely available commercially. As a result of their wide availability, applications for 3D printing have been extended to architecture, construction, automotive, engineering, dental and medical industries. However, to extend the use of 3D printers to more industries and encourage more household use, it may be desirable to improve the 3D printing technology to make objects that are more versatile and useful to an everyday consumer, Apple notes in the patent filing.
Apple’s invention involves systems, computer readable media, and methods for printing of 3D objects in color. In general, a 3D object may be produced and colored by a 3D printer using the same digital 3D model. The digital model for a desired 3D object may be revised to include a process for coloring the object by the 3D printer.
In one embodiment, this may involve coloring to the object after it has been made. In an alternative embodiment, color may be added as the object is being made. Because the 3D model provides knowledge of the surface, contours and all the coordinates of the 3D object being printed, the object can be colored using the same digital model.
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.
Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.