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Forget the iPad. Kindle Fire’s real competitor will be Facebook

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is no iPad-killer. And clearly it wasn’t meant to be.

Rather than trying to copy the iPad, with its multipurpose functionality and enterprise-friendly software — a strategy sure to meet the same fate as HP’s TouchPad — Amazon is launching an integrated media platform that combines an extensive content library, an innovative browser, cloud-based storage and an inexpensive device that’s just good enough to consume it on.

“I think of it as a service,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told the New York Times. “Part of the Kindle Fire is of course the hardware, but really, it’s the software, the content, it’s the seamless integration of those things.”

From a strategic perspective, in fact, the nearest parallel to Amazon’s approach (and thus the nearest competitor) is really Facebook’s newly launched media platform, not the iPad. Both Facebook and Amazon are attempting to build self-contained content ecosystems that leverage their individual strengths and are designed to increase media usage and consumption rather than to sell more multipurpose devices.

In Facebook’s case, that means making media consumption and discovery part of the core social experience of using the platform, through the new ticker and by integrating your use of media services like Spotify and Netflix into your Facebook profile. In Amazon’s case, it means integrating your media consumption with the Amazon Web Service architecture and the new “smart browser,” Silk, to deliver a personally optimized experience.

While the experience each delivers is different, both the Amazon and Facebook strategies are more platform- and content-centric than Apple’s device-based strategy.

The parallels are likely to get even more keen when Facebook launches Project Spartan, which could happen within weeks. Project Spartan (presumably a code name) is an HTML5-based mobile version of Facebook that will allow the social network to overlay its own platform atop native-mobile operating systems like iOS and Android, and avoid funneling transactions  (and user data) through proprietary app stores.

According to the scuttlebutt, in fact, the first iteration of Project Spartan is built specifically for the mobile Safari browser that runs on the iPhone and iPad. Its launch, originally scheduled for this summer, apparently is tied up with the launch of Facebook’s iPad app, which has been delayed by ongoing negotiations between Facebook and Apple.

Eventually, however, Facebook’s HTML5 mobile platform will launch and will be extended to Android and BlackBerry devices and to other mobile browsers. At that point, consumers will have a clear choice between a socially optimized mobile media consumption and discovery platform from Facebook, and a personally optimized mobile media and e-commerce platform from Amazon.

Content owners and distributors, too, will face an interesting choice. Facebook’s socially optimized platform promises to turbocharge media discovery by making all content essentially viral. Facebook’s networked architecture will also enable new media use cases built around sharing and conversation, some of which will translate into new monetization opportunities for content owners.

The Kindle Fire platform promises to make media usage highly personalized and therefore targetable. The “split architecture” of the Silk browser, moreover, which can shift heavy-lift processing to the cloud, will enable new levels of richness and functionality in media applications that would not be possible on mobile devices that rely entirely on local processing.

Content owners and developers, then, will need to think about where they’re likely to find the most upside: Will it be in enabling new, social-based use cases and discovery or from building personalized, rich-media applications?

Bottom line: Both Amazon and Facebook are playing a different media game than the one Apple is playing, but they’re playing it against each other.

Question of the week

Can the Kindle Fire thrive alongside the iPad?