At the time of Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s CEO, it was the funniest story on the Internet: “New Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘I’m Thinking Printers.'”Â It so perfectly mocked the fears Apple fans had that Cook would launch Apple off on some foolish errand and destroy the beautiful corporate machine that Steve Jobs had built. It was a silly fear in many ways, but that’s part of what made the story funny.
Here’s the thing, though: Tim Cook should be thinking printersâ€”3D printers. The technology is rapidly maturing, it has a potential to change society and disrupt industries, and it could create for Apple an enormous and profitable ecosystem. You can read about the state of 3D printing on Wikipedia. Hobbyist type 3D printers are now $2000. Apple’s manufacturing expertise and economies of scale could probably halve that cost. Apple’s design expertise could make it easy enough for virtually anyone to use. It could drive Apple sales growth in the same manner as the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. That’s a stunning claim, I know. But how can the potential to create real world objects at home by clicking “print” not be utterly tantalizing? Who wouldn’t buy one of these, if Apple does it right?
So, my prediction: Apple will have a 3D printer on the market within the next 5 years and probably sooner. If this isn’t an opportunity to change the world in the way that Apple loves to, I don’t know what is.