"We are looking at a period of consumer experimentation on a grand scale," says Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates, who studies trends in new media.
Though it's too soon for hard data, anecdotal evidence suggests that shoppers aren't shy about making a gadget designed for one purpose perform an altogether different function. For example, Sony's PlayStation Portable isn't just popular as a game device or media player, but as a traditional TV set. Users are jacking the PSP's built-in wireless Ethernet Web connection to a go-anywhere streaming device such as a Slingbox so they can watch National Football League games at Starbucks.
And LG Electronics' Internet-enabled refrigerators aren't necessarily being deployed as intelligent shopping assistants but instead as radios. The fridges have a Web connection and can deliver feeds from AOL Music or even Rush Limbaugh.
Garmin International, a provider of global positioning and personal navigation systems, is seeing its sleek Nuvi navigator used not only as a map and radio device, but also as a media viewer. The Nuvi also doubles as a picture output device for most popular digital cameras.