Meet Kindle’s Big Brother

On Wednesday morning, Amazon confirmed reports that had been circulating about the company’s upcoming release of a large-screen version of its Kindle electronic book reading device. The Kindle DX, now available for pre-order and expected to ship some time this summer, boasts a stunning, 9.7” electronic ink screen that rotates horizontally. It retails for a staggering $489.

Aside from a reconfiguring of the keyboard, the basic hardware design and menu navigation is unchanged, as our video below shows.

Amazon Kindle DX Hands-On from Arik Hesseldahl on Vimeo.

So, who’s going to pay nearly $500 for an essentially one-purpose device? With the Kindle DX, Amazon appears to be beckoning professionals. While introducing the device to the press, CEO Jeff Bezos displayed Kindle versions of SEC filings, sheet music, pilot charts, and cookbooks. Clearly, he thinks the e-reader can change how many people do their jobs.

Amazon is also giving a kick-start to two potential markets for the DX: college students and newspaper readers. As previous reports predicted, the company is partnering with six universities to subsidize the cost of the device to select students; and the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post plan to offer discounts on Kindle DX’s to certain subscribers. Amazon and these partners will be watching and testing to see if these pilot programs are worth expanding.

Aside from these specific types of consumers, it’s doubtful the general public has much appetite for such a costly device. For $489, you can currently buy a high-end netbook with features the Kindle lacks, like surfing the Web and sending e-mail, or a smart phone.

“Typically when you broaden a product line, you try to expand the audience that you can attract,” says Avi Greengart, analyst with IT researcher Current Analysis. “Amazon has expanded up market, and actually come out with a product that’s considerably more expensive than a product that was already rather pricey to begin with.”

I spoke with Lauren Albert, a dedicated Kindle user who has purchased both previous versions. She was excited when she heard about a new, larger device but was a little taken aback by the price tag. Will she buy it? “I’m on the fence. I will probably pre-order it so I have the option, and save up my pennies this summer.”

By the way, BusinessWeek launched on the Kindle today - click here for more information.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.