Analyst Sees 3-D Printer in Apple’s Future

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephmorris/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephmorris/

Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) notorious secrecy combined with CEO Tim Cook’s repeated promises to introduce new product categories in 2014 has raised speculation about the Cupertino-based company’s plans to a fever pitch this year. Much of the recent speculation has centered on rumors about a wrist-worn wearable tech device that has been dubbed the “iWatch.” Other rumors have focused on an iPhone-based mobile payments service or the mythical “iTV.”

However, Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry offered his own unique Apple product prediction in a recent conversation with Benzinga. According to Chowdhry, Apple is developing a 3-D printer — a device that can create three-dimensional objects via an additive manufacturing process. Chowdhry also claimed that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) was developing its own 3-D printer after learning that Apple was making one.

“It’s either Apple or Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) [that inspired Google]. But developers feel that Apple is probably the focus for Google because Google considers Apple to be its prime competitor, not Microsoft,” Chowdhry told Benzinga. “And Google really sees Apple to be a strong competitor, not Microsoft, because Microsoft has a lot of issues to worry about.”

Although it is not inconceivable that Apple would be exploring the burgeoning 3-D printer market, the Global Equities Research analyst appeared to offer little proof beyond his knowledge of Google’s 3-D printer plans and Apple’s hardware expertise. Chowdhry also noted that Apple’s interest in 3-D printing has been documented in its patents.

“Apple does have intellectual property [in that space],” Chowdhry told Benzinga. “And they often have more expertise in hardware development than, say, Microsoft has.”

Although Chowdhry did not reference any specific patents, Apple has filed several patent applications related to 3-D printing over the past year. In a 2013 patent application titled, “Inkjet Printer for Printing on a Three-Dimensional Object and Related Apparatus and Method,” Apple outlined a method for printing conductive ink on a circuit board. Several other patents uncovered by 3ders last year described methods for3-D printing of objects using Liquidmetal — a strong alloy that Apple acquired the rights to manufacture. However, it should be noted that these patents appear to be intended for internal Apple manufacturing processes, rather than consumer products.

Chowdhry also cited Apple’s acquisition of 3-D vision and motion-sensing technology company PrimeSense. PrimeSense is perhaps best known for supplying the 3-D vision and gesture technology that powered Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect system. According to Chowdhry, Apple could announce its 3-D printer device as early as June or October this year, with a product release approximately twelve to eighteen months later.

So what are the chances that Chowdhry’s bold prediction will come true? Industry watchers may want to wait and see if Chowdhry’s current iWatch prediction will come true before jumping on the latest rumor. As noted by MacRumors, Chowdhry previously predicted that Apple would have to introduce an iWatch by May 20 or “disappear.”

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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