By Greg Mills, Associate Editor
Recently there is a lot in the press about the 3D printing revolution. Apple watchers are thinking 3D printing is the next big thing for Cupertino to disrupt.
The industries Apple tends to disrupt are cutting edge technologies with some track record but limitations Apple can fix with the ol’ Apple flourish. Look for a new 3D Apple iPrinter, a new iWork 3D Part program, stock 3D part files sold on line, a 3D copy function and Apple brand plastic filament cartridges.
The infant 3D printing industry is a prime candidate for Apple disruption as all the elements are well within Apple’s synergy spectrum.
1. iPrint Software: The existing software that runs 3D printers is generally expensive and not “Apple intuitive.” While you can buy 3D modeling software that runs on a Mac, it is not an easy thing to learn to use and mostly uses software obviously ported over from the Windows version. The awkwardness of creating a novel 3D computer file is certainly a task Apple software engineers can do with ease. It takes modeling software to create something new and to execute stock part files. The software would most likely be given away with the purchase of an Apple 3D-iPrinter.
2. Stock iPrint 3D Part Files: The iTunes style on-line store is perfectly adaptable to sell or give away packaged 3D part files. Let’s say you would like 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 3D-iPrinter. The 3D files could be uploaded and sold with the person who created the copyright protected, 3D part file sharing the price of files sold with Apple, much like an iBook. There could also be free files donated from which to pick. There would be pictures to scroll through to pick your parts.
3. 3D Part Copy Feature: Recent patent applications filed by Apple relate to photographically creating 3D files. Imagine using a small turntable on the 3D printer to slowly turn an object in front of an iPhone in video mode. The physical item could thus be “3D scanned” to create a file that a 3D printer could use to print out an exact copy of the item. The size of the part would be scalable. Let’s say you have a chess set part you want to replicate. You pop your iPhone onto a cradle with a connector on it, and the 3D-iPrinter automatically begins to turn the turntable as a video file converts the video of all sides of the item into a part file suitable for printing.
4. 3D iPrinter Product: The 3D-iPrinter would be a new hardware item that Apple could get some pretty good margin out of. At US$500 or so, a tabletop, high quality 3D printer would be a great product for both hobby and industrial use. Apple could add color printing and high quality detail to have a best-of-class device. The iPrinter would use cartridges of colored or clear plastic filament to create nicely colored parts.
5. 3D iPrinter Plastic Filament Cartridges: There would be an ongoing supply steam for Apple to sell cartridges of the filament on line and at the Apple stores. A proprietary cartridge design and filament size would allow Apple to control the market for the material Apple 3D printers use. This would support an ongoing income stream much like ink cartridges do for paper printers.
It has been long enough since Apple disrupted something cool. I think we are overdue for something like an Apple 3D-iPrint revolution.
That is Greg’s Bite.