Electronics companies less reluctant towards enthusiasts' modifications

A great article in Washington Post about the fact that electronics companies less reluctant towards enthusiasts' modifications. what is interesting here is that you cannot suspect journals like the Washington Post to be really hacker-driven. The trend now seems to be recognized at the business level.

Sometimes, tinkerers become a consumer electronics maker's unofficial research-and-development team, with innovations winding up as built-in features down the line. (...) Saffo said he thinks it makes good business sense for gadget makers to keep an eye on the enhancements, tweaks and hacks that users are making. It's not the executives in the boardroom who figure out how to make a gadget great, Saffo said, but the "fanatics and renegades and people in garages. . . . Hackers create markets."

Unfortunately some companies are still nervous with it:

But many consumer-electronics makers discourage such activity. At the very least, anyone who cracks open the case on a new handheld computer, video game console or digital music player is probably voiding the warranty. At worst, hackers can undermine a company's business.

However Torrone has a relevant final word:

Phillip Torrone, an editor at the techie-oriented Make magazine, said Sony's hard-line stance could be self-defeating. Each attempt to thwart hackers makes them more determined to do their tricks, he said.

Even mainstream users who want to jazz up their devices wind up turning to the Internet for underground help, where they also can learn how to get pirated software and movies. Torrone, who plays a homebrewed version of chess on his PSP, said he thinks he has a better idea for gadget makers. "I think the really smart companies should release their products to the alpha geeks for six months and let the alpha geeks play around with them," he said. "It seems to me they'd save a lot of money on R&D, and they'd come out with much more solid products."

Why do I blog this? I am definitely convinced that allowing users to tinker with products is a great a source for new ideas. I've heard that Nintendo may allow users to develop their own independent game which is even more interesting. It also reminds me what Frederic Kaplan from Sony CSLtold me at the CAIF workshop: some innovation are influenced by the tremendous feedback AIBO designers and researchers receives from fans. They go to robot conventions and exchange a lot with those people, allowing them to improve their R&D ideas.