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A new service launched by Amazon.com this morning is designed to expand the company’s Kindle devices beyond the nightstand and the beach, giving them a bigger presence in the office and the classroom.

The service, dubbed Whispercast (not to be confused with Amazon’s Whispernet), is a tool that lets companies and schools centrally manage large deployments of Kindle e-readers and tablets — distributing books and other digital materials, controlling settings, and restricting how the devices are used. (Sorry, kid, no web browsing for you.)

Whispercast works with Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and Kindle Fire tablets, and also with Kindle apps on iOS, Android, Windows PCs and Macs.

Amazon says Whispercast it will also support “bring your own device” programs, letting workers and students link their personally owned Kindles to the centrally managed Whispercast account to receive content. In addition, the company says a future update will also support managed distribution of Android apps to Kindle Fires.

Could this be a tipping point for digital books in the classroom? So far that has been a slog for the company, with many college students in particular still preferring physical books. In the news release announcing Whispercast, Amazon makes a big pitch for e-books as an alternative in the classroom, citing the need to no longer carry heavy textbooks, plus the ability to add and share notes and highlights.

Separately, however, the company appears to be discontinuing the Kindle DX large-screen e-reader, which is particularly suited to textbooks.

RelatedAmazon unit to unveil new kids sites Bookworm.com and AfterSchool.com Thursday

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