3-D printing is starting to enter the mainstream, and startups in the space are making news with mergers, acquisitions and new products being announced seemingly every day. Now comes a partnership between online retail and reselling giant eBay and 3-D startups MakerBot, Sculpteo and Hot Pop Factory to create eBay Exact, an iOS app that allows users to browse and buy custom-created merchandise.
You might think: Finally, 3-D printing for the masses unable to plunk down thousands for their own printer. Upon closer inspection, however, we're not convinced that eBay Exact is worthy of breaking out the champagne. At least not yet, anyway.
After downloading the app, you see there are fewer than 20 items available for purchase, ranging from iPhone cases to jewelry, and users must choose from existing templates. Some might find the "customize" option somewhat disappointing for most items, since in many instances it allows only a choice of colors or finishes. In the case of one avant-garde wooden necklace, the only option was a gold or silver chain. Custom iPhone cases allow for more creativity, with your choice of several colors and styles of case, adjustable shapes and the option to add a name or other statement.
The eBay Exact app is free to download, and prices for items range from $9 for an iPhone case to $350 for a metal ring. Purchased items are shipped directly from the manufacturer, with promised delivery within two weeks.
While the eBay Exact app might not be the incredible print-things-from-your-iPhone app one might have wished for, it's a start. The app's appeal largely lies in how you can order goods that are created specifically for you by a 3-D printer, even if it isn't from your personal printer.
For now, eBay Exact is largely a novelty item, selling novelty items, but it does certainly open up some interesting future possibilities for small businesses and manufacturers. And this partnership can be another opportunity for startups in the 3-D space to leverage eBay's gravitas in online retail to highlight some of their own products and capabilities.
And shopping sites like Shapeways already bring 3-D printing to consumers, and offer apps that allow users to easily design items for Shapeways to print. But the idea that someone could conceive of an idea, open an app on their smartphone, design the object and have it printed and sent to them creates numerous entrepreneurial opportunities.