Tim Bajarin: Apple may be poised to drive 3D printing

“I believe Apple may be poised to do for 3D printing what it did for desktop publishing, given a recent patent I saw pop up on a U.K. news site,” Tim Bajarin writes for PC Magazine. “The folks at the Daily Mail uncovered an Apple patent that I think is quite interesting, and needs to be watched closely. It talks about a new way Apple could integrate lasers into its mobile products to map images.”

“Given Apple’s past, I believe Apple may place a solid bet on 3D image capture innovation, and take advantage of the trends in 3D printers that are poised to go beyond the world of hobbyists as early as the next holiday season,” Bajarin writes. “I would not even be surprised if it sells a branded 3D printer.”

Bajarin writes, “However, if Apple shows its hand on this soon I don’t think the rest of the market will sit back as it did during the first four years of desktop publishing”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. Yay someone said what I’ve been thinking for over a year. 3d printing and digital content distribution (I.e. 3d blueprint store) is the future. 3 D systems (DDD) already has a digital blueprint marketplace. Look for apple to buy them as soon as they decide to get serious about it.

    1. I don’t see a truly mass market in 3D printing like an iPhone has.

      3D printing is such a diverse field in materials & machines that Apple would have to restrict itself to ‘affordable’ devices unless it bought a company like Stratasys.

      3D printing can make Titanium and stainless part, various plastic & ‘rubbery’ parts and low cost machines that do starch and ABS plastic type parts.

      1. People also said that there was no market for desktop publishing when Apple started selling laser printers, but desktop publishing became ubiquitous.

        The criteria that Apple will apply is whether Apple can make profits from 3D printing and I think that there is an opportunity. At the moment, too much 3D printing is producing plastic novelties or grabbing headlines with 3D printable guns and many people imagine that’s what it’s all about, but there are many other practical uses for 3D printing and it remains to be seen if anybody can monetise that market.

    2. 3D scanning and 3D printing are STAR TREK replicator. Within ten years we will be 3D printing clothing, tools, simple electronics, and small household appliances. The “store” for these plans and the machines built to only work with that store will rule the next 25 years. This is the leapfrog. I fully expect Apple to dominate in this area.

  2. 3D ‘printing’ has some maturing to do. The hardest part is getting the object coded. The more easy that becomes, the closer to granny being able to do it, the more prominent 3D printing will become.

    Meanwhile, the industrial uses are going nuts. It’s not just for plastic any more!

    1. No one is mentioning the inherent limitations on tolerances, surface finishes, strength and toughness for plastic RP parts.

      I’ve been doing 3D RP parts starting with 3D Systems’ laser cured epoxies over 15 years ago.

      Most parts require a lot of hand finishing/coating to get them to look good. If you need parts that fit together for functional uses with tighter tolerances, it again requires hand finishing.

      Expecting Apple to get into the printers themselves this late in the game doesn’t seem to make economic sense. Getting into the 3D scanning from a cellphone and possible into 3D editing tools I can see.

      1. Hand scanning 3D objects I don’t see as likely or useful, except for casual stuff I suppose. I expect calibrated 3D scanning systems and scenarios will become common. You could use three cellphones!

        As with holograms, there’s going to be a lot of bizarro expectations and surprise limitations, as you’ve nicely mentioned, with 3D printing.

  3. Gee, around 1981 when Tim was looking at a laser printers additive manufacturing was developing. Prior to that way way back in 1966 was the beginning of a little TV called Star Trek. One of the technologies used for the TV show was the food replicator where molecules were added together for three dimensional food.

    Three D printing is not a new concept but it is a new concept for the consumer and it’s making an impact in the fashion industry and area where most techno geeks haven’t really ventured. Just look at all the babe(s) around MDN for an idea.

    So it’s not surprising to have Tim Bajarin comes in jerking off his “I came up with the name of desktop printing first” stick while postulating that Apple might sell a 3D branded printer.

    Really now? Tim is that the best you can do? Apparently so. Then this speculation: “if Apple shows its hand on this soon”

    Gee Tim how thick are those rose colored glasses. Apple’s showed it’s hand quite some time ago, I’ve talked about it quite some time ago, way back in the archives. Oh but that would involve some real work fact finding and asking the right questions and advanced rational thought that preclude the vast majority of jouranalists.

    Shake my head. I’ll say it so many time and I’ll say it again Tim see if you can focus: “Gee it would be nice is Apple made a dryer that folded clothes.”

    If that don’t help Tim go jerk off to some Dita von Teese or your regular “oooh yeah oh yeah desk on the desk oh yeah do do it, I know you are a virgin, I’ll be gentle..oh yeah right on the desktop, oooh yeah let me pop your desktop cherry. I promise I won’t show the photos to anyone.”

  4. I think people are missing the obvious here – 3D photo/video. With 3D TVs becoming much more affordable and prevalent, including 3D Blu-Ray players, and people using their iPhones as their camera instead of separate cameras, this makes sense. Plus Apple has multiple patents for 3D displays, interfaces, gestures, etc.

    I don’t see 3D printing as anything your average person wants to do anytime soon. As Derek Currie said above, it’s just too immature of a market with too many technical issues to resolve. That and it will be easier and cheaper for people to go out and buy most of the typical stuff they could print for quite some time.

  5. I know many are bullish on 3D printing, but why would the average joe print-out a bunch of parts and take the time and effort to assemble them together when they can just order the finished product online and have it delivered in an hour or so (coming in the near future)? And printing out parts for repairs? The vast majority of people don’t even know how to change a tire.

    Some might argue that 3D printing is just like the beginning of PC’s and “it will take time”. In certain ways this might be true, but some of the magic sauce in the early personal computer days was the spreadsheet and word processor. These tools were game changers for most businesses. In contrast, the killer app for 3D printing has yet to be invented.

    The only way I see 3D printing becoming mainstream is when the device can replicate most finished products within a few minutes or so. Until then, 3D printing will remain a niche item.

    1. Say we end up in another official world war. Where are your parts made now? How are you going to get them when the manufacturing facilities are made unavailable half way around the world in a land now considered an enemy? How long can you afford to be down? Have the code, make the part overnight and be done with it.

      Taking organs from humans right before the parts are no longer viable? Rejection a thing of the past? Make your own body parts. It is already happening at the cell level and simple organs are being duplicated in 3D machines today. Forget human DNA in mice or rats to grow an ear and sacrifice the animal to use that part in surgery. Do it yourself and grow a pair! Now that body part can be just the right size.

  6. I disagree with Tim Bajarin. I believe that Apple is working on 3D displays (or 3D representations on a 2D surface), and that this patent is not about 3D printing.

    Back in 1988 (27 years ago) Apple released a concept video called ‘Future Shock‘. In that video, we see things that didn’t commercially exist at that time, but do exist now (flat screen computers, display mounted digital cameras, voice control, digital assistants, computer connected devices like digital scales and microwave ovens, and even something that looks like the Apple Watch.)

    In the video we also see the users maneuvering in a 3D space with hand gestures and controlling virtual 3D objects using the same hand as the Apple wristband.

    Since 1988 Apple has explored various 3D interface objects (like the original Apple TV interface, 3D icons, 3D Chess, Scene Kit framework and even the 3D parallax wallpapers in iOS 8). Apple has even acquired companies like PrimeSense (the company that developed the depth sensing technology used in the Microsoft Kinect) and Poly9 and C3 (3D mapping technologies). And, of course, Apple has created worldwide patents that include use of 3D navigation and natural human interaction with computers through advanced sensors. It is obvious that Apple is interested in and is investing in 3D technologies.

    For those that are curious, the PrimeSense technology uses an Infrared (IR) light source along with a camera to detect distance and position of the user. If Apple does include a laser in future iOS devices, it will be an IR laser and will be mounted near the camera module. This way the iOS device will be able to correlate the images from the camera with distance (depth) information. Combine that information with the motion sensors, GPS and date/time information, and you can use these information packed images to capture 3D analogues of the real world.

    Passive InfraRed sensors are used in devices like motion sensors. Active InfraRed are used for night-vision devices and other scientific, industrial and medical applications. However InfraRed lasers can be dangerous to human vision (even though we cannot see IR, it can still damage our eyes). It will be interesting to see how Apple solves the safety issue.

    I can envision how these technologies could be combined to enhance iOS applications.

    The Camera could store depth information for single frame images. The images could then be viewed in parallax (like iOS 8 wallpapers).
    The Video Camera could use the 3D and motion sensors to include volume, and planar or curved surface mapping.
    The Maps application could allow users to contribute 3D images that could be used to enhance the Maps with 3D street level views.
    Scanned 3D objects could be imported into and manipulated in applications like Keynote, Numbers, Pages, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, QuickTime, etc.
    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 3D information incorporated into technologies like: Scene Kit, HomeKit, HealthKit, iBeacon, iBooks, Maps, Game Center, CarPlay and Accessibility.
    The sensing and gesture recognition would be incorporated into OSX, iOS and Apple TV.
    Third party software developers could incorporate these 3D objects into their 3D applications (CAD/CAM, Architecture, Real Estate, 3D Modeling and imaging, etc.)

    In short, I can envision these technologies being used to enhance existing applications across all Apple platforms… 3D image acquisition, manipulation and display. While I have no doubt that someone will find a way to print these 3D images on existing 3D printers, it is my belief that the existing printers are far too limited (and expensive) for general use.

    When Apple moves into the 3D printing world, it will be when the technology has matured enough to create general purpose printers, the legal issue have been worked out (who owns a 3D replica of an art object?), how do inventors, companies and artists get paid for derivative works, etc.

    In the meantime, I believe Apple will be happy to be the leader in 3D image acquisition, manipulation and display (using Apple devices). Apple may even open up the App store to include 3D objects (once the legal issues are resolved), but I believe that Apple will leave the 3D printing to others until the market matures.

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