Sometimes, tinkerers become a consumer electronics maker’s unofficial research-and-development team, with innovations winding up as built-in features down the line.

Fans of the TiVo digital video recorder have discovered how to break it open and install a larger hard drive. Early users of the Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner, are rewiring it to serve as a “mobile security robot.” Owners of the new Sony PlayStation Portable have figured out how to use the game machine to surf the Internet and exchange instant messages.

In the digital era, every consumer-electronics product comes with microchips and software programming, and for a new generation of tech-savvy users, these are the raw materials needed to make a digital toy or appliance do tricks that its creators didn’t envision.

TiVo’s most ardent fans came up with a way to record TV shows by sending commands via the Internet long before the company got around to officially offering that feature.

And before the iPod was the ubiquitous gadget it is today, early users of Apple’s digital music player enabled it to store addresses and text files — a feature the company now promotes.

Customers also came up with the idea of recording their own talk and music shows and making them downloadable for the iPod — a phenomenon called “podcasting” that has become so popular that Apple recently rolled out software to streamline the process.

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