Why Google Sold SketchUp and What It Means for 3D Printing

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Google Sketchup at Maker Faire

Google acquired upstart SketchUp in 2006, made the product free, and drove tens of millions of users. Now Google is selling the SketchUp product and staff to Trimble, a company best known for GPS technology.

On the SketchUp blog, John Bacus, Product Manager, SketchUp wrote:

In its time at Google, SketchUp has become one of the most popular 3D modeling tools in the world. With over 30 million SketchUp activations in just the last year, we’re awfully proud of our accomplishments. But there’s still so much we want to do, and we think we’ve found a way forward that will benefit everyone—our product, our team and especially our millions of users.

That’s why I’m sharing today that the SketchUp team and technology will be leaving Google to join Trimble. We’ll be better able to focus on our core communities: modelers who have been with us from the beginning, as well as future SketchUppers who have yet to discover our products.

Why Did Google Sell SketchUp?

The simple answer is focus. As founder and new CEO Larry Page wrote in his 2012 update to investors, ”Since becoming CEO again, I’ve pushed hard to increase our velocity, improve our execution, and focus on the big bets that will make a difference in the world.”

SketchUp apparently is not included in Google’s big bets.

Good Move by Trimble

Google made the investment to turn SketchUp into a popular software platform. Trimble can capitalize on that brand. Trimble announced in a press release that SketchUp would “enhance its office-to-field platform”.

Trimble will also continue to partner with Google on running and the SketchUp 3D warehouse, an online repository where users find and collaborate on 3D models. And Trimble will keep offering a free version of SketchUp.

“SketchUp and the corresponding 3D Warehouse provide an important element of our long term strategy by enhancing the integration of our field presence with the wider enterprise,” said Bryn Fosburgh, Trimble vice president.

Did Google Make a Mistake?

Google’s move is surprising to those who believe 3D printing is at an inflection point and will be a disruptive force on our global supply chain by empowering a new generation of product creators.

We reviewed Autodesk 123D, Sketchup and Tinkercad and later featured Anarkik3D, a crowdfunding hopeful. Although SketchUp was not necessarily the best design software for 3D printing, it was one of the most popular free 3D design software packages on the planet and inspired many people to get into design. Google has now lost that audience.

We have previously suggested that giants like Amazon would get into the 3D printing field. It would surprise us if Google stayed out of the industry altogether.

Perhaps SketchUp was too technical of a product for the mainstream. Should we prepare for a new 3D modeling software from Google? A web-based 123D of their own? Or perhaps a different play.

Impact on 3D Printing?

Not much today, as summarized by Fabbaloo:

Is this a big change for 3D print operators? We think not so much, because SketchUp just isn’t the best tool for modeling solid objects. It doesn’t even output the STL format used by all 3D printers unless you install a special plug in.

But the long term impact depends on whether Google re-enters the 3D printing field with a new product.


Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, used under Creative Commons license.

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9 Responses to Why Google Sold SketchUp and What It Means for 3D Printing

  1. guest says:

    SketchUp was a Mac and Windows only product. That would make it harder for them to integrate it with their linux-based systems in the longrun…

  2. on3dprinting says:

    @guest Why do you think Linux is important?

    • guest says:

      Google’s infrastructure is linux-based. They also have competing operating-systems that are built on top of linux like Chrome and Android. Its probably increasing difficult for them to support applications on enemy territory…

  3. [...] Why Google Sold SketchUp and What It Means for 3D Printing [...]

  4. guest says:

    A web browser is an inherently multi-platform technology whereas 3D graphics are extremely difficult to support on different platforms, even with just OpenGL…

  5. [...] the announcement of Google selling SketchUp to Trimble, there was talk (here, and here for starters) about what to do if SketchUp goes away (or at least the free version). I mentioned on [...]

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