The Shapeways API: Why it’s important

Just in time for SXSW this week, Shapeways debuted their new API, which allows developers to build consumer facing applications that can access the Shapeways printing network and marketplace.
Why is this important? First and foremost, you need to understand that Shapeways does its biggest chunk of business directly with creators, people who upload their own 3D printed designs and are savvy with 3D printer software. However, the much bigger opportunity is in a broader audience, those who want access to 3D printed creations but don’t know or necessarily want to know how to use 3D design and CAD software.
That’s where the API comes in. In my opinion, the gateway to mass-market 3D device creation is through software, much more so than lower cost and easier to use 3D printers. While I’ve stated that low-cost 3D printers for consumers will eventually arrive, the services are much more accessible and affordable today.
So what does the API have to do with this? Well, by making an API available that accesses the Shapeways printing network (with controls over materials, etc) and the marketplace, savvy app developers can create offerings that make 3D printed creations even more accessible. Combine in the fact that Shapeways allows you to build your own storefront, the Shapeways API will help usher in the coming wave of “Shapeways millionaires” which CEO Peter Weijmarshausen talked to me about recently.
What are some future possible outputs? Imagine, for example, Rovio putting a feature in the next Angry Birds app that allows  users to create an Angry Bird 3D model, with a handful of different features or variations.  A menu of these options are preselected and built into the app, and the API quickly accesses all the necessary information and delivers it to the fulfillment engine of the Shapeways marketplace.
Today you already see this on a small scale with MixeeMe. I think you’ll see a whole bunch more interesting uses of Shapeways printing services and marketplace enabled through their new API over the next year.