I really do love the concept of 3D printing, but I also have a problem with it. A 3D printer is a powerful tool which serves no purpose. The idea that this machine can print any basic shape (or even a circuitboard) is really cool, but people don't have much need for printing any basic shape or circuitboard.
There is a miscellany of things that they might want to print, sure. Coat hangers. An iphone case. Maybe a set of allen wrenches. But being able to print them in your basement is not of greater utility than being able to drive down to the hardware shop and buy them there, usually at roughly the same price as manufacturing it in your basement, and without the hassle of a complicated machine.
Now I think 3D printers are probably going to really take off, because my whining sounds an awful lot like people suspecting that nobody would ever want a computer in their home. I think that, following that curve, we can expect that all geeks will have a 3D printer in 20 years, and most everyone else in another 15 after that. But what will cause the 3D printer to become popular?
It won't be its ability to print itself. That's little more than a cute gimmick as long as we have the ability to buy parts on line. It won't be its ability to print random pieces of plastic, because it's pretty rare that someone wants a different-shaped plastic widget each day.
There's some kind of breakthrough application. I can think of a few things it might be. The ability to print wifi points, for example. Or the ability to print solar-thermal panels and pipes. But it'll still be a while before someone invents Visicalc for the 3D printer.
What's your opinion?